Susan Tompor- Debt collectors may be willing to negotiate

by HealPay | | Articles

What’s a sure-fire reason to pay off an overdue $500 credit card bill — or a $3,000 medical debt?

James Angelo chuckles a bit at the question.

“What we don’t ever know is what it’s going to take to get someone to pay their bills,” says Angelo, who joined his brothers in their debt-collection business in 1986 and now is president of J.J. Marshall & Associates, a collection agency in Shelby Township.

Angelo recalled one case in which all it took was one letter from his agency to convince a man to send a $10,000 cashier’s check to cover a debt. But at the other extreme was one consumer who had to be taken to small-claims court over a $400 dentist bill.

Many of us know one side of debt collection — people harassed by calls, or debtors illegally threatened by rogue collection agencies.

But Angelo pulled out his mini-recorder and played for me bits of the nasty calls he’s gotten — including profane tirades from people who say, basically, no, they’re not going to pay any money — but in far more colorful language.

These days, it’s tough to collect, and that hurts a business in which fees are based on a percentage of money recovered.

Angelo said his company, operating out of a small office building on Collection Drive — seriously — had 36 employees in 2008 before the financial meltdown but is down to 24.

His employees also took a 15% pay cut — “every one of us, including me.” As business has improved somewhat, 5% of that was restored in July.

Angelo said there is plenty of debt out there to recover, but layoffs, declining incomes and Michigan’s eroding population have made it harder. Nationwide, gross collections are down roughly 40% from the heyday of the 1990s.

That was triggered by the rush to refinance homes, which required consumers to pay up on old outstanding debts. They willingly wrote checks to collection agencies and others to clear up their credit reports, Angelo said.

“Without even really trying, we were really booming in the late ’90s,” he said.

These days, collectors may be more willing to negotiate.

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