According to a recently published study from the Urban Institute, 35 percent of Americans have had their debt and other past due bills reported to collection agencies.
Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, explained that often consumers get behind on their credit card payments or their hospital bills. Mortgages, car loans and student loans are also put aside, unpaid. Sometimes gym membership fees and cellphone bills can also go to a collection agency if they remain unpaid for too long. Once debt ends up in the hands of a collection agency credit scores and job opportunities can be negatively affected.
“Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections,” Ratcliffe said. “It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.”
The results of the study showed that 35.1 percent of all people with credit cards have been reported to collection agencies for debt averaging $5,178, based on records from September 2013.
The vast majority of this debt is concentrated in southern and western states. Texas is overly represented to collection agencies, with 44.3 percent in Dallas, 44.4 percent in El Paso, and 51.7 percent in McAllen. Las Vegas has about half of its residents with debt in collections.
Ratcliffe blames frozen salaries for much of the debt problem in the worst hit states. In many places wages have been struggling to keep up with inflation during the past five years of economic recovery. In an unrelated survey Wells Fargo discovered that after-tax income dropped for the lowest 20 percent of earners during the same time frame.