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More Than 35% of Americans Are Facing Debt Collections, Study Finds

First Posted: Jul 29, 2014 06:09 PM EDT

More than one-third of Americans are facing debt collectors because their bills are past due, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

These consumers fall behind on a variety of different bills including credit cards, hospital bills, home mortgages, auto loans and more. Even cable bills and cell phone bills can get turned over to collection agencies.

All of these unpaid bills and collection activity can lead to negative marks on consumers' credit reports, possibly lowering their credit scores. When their scores go down, it's harder to be approved for loans and credit cards.

"Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections," Caroline Ratcliffe of the Urban Institute said. "It can tip employers' hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment." 

The study also found that the average debt in collections was $5,178, based on September 2013 records. Even though the official end to the Great Recession came to an end in 2009, and many consumers paid down their credit cards, Americans are still facing collections.

These numbers are surprising to many because American's debt levels compared to their income levels are at the lowest levels in more than a decade. More people are paying down their entire balances each month. 

The 35.1 percent of Americans that were included in this study nearly matches the 36.5 percent of Americans that were in collections back in 2004. 

The collections industry employs 140,000 workers and they collect $50 billion in recoveries each year, according to another study released by the Federal Reserve's branch in Philadelphia.

Texas residents are especially likely to be in collections and so are Southern and Western states.

Minnesota residents are better at managing their accounts, with only 20.1 percent in collections.

Department of Labor figures show wages are barely keeping up with inflation during the five-year recovery period from the recession. 

College graduates too are struggling. A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that students who have taken out loans have a median net worth of only $8,700 after adjusting their income to their loans owed.

Soon after graduation, students must begin to pay back those loans. Many end up defaulting their loans and facing the same collection agencies.

What do you think about this? Should the government or another agency get involved to help those facing debt collectors? Leave us a comment below.

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