Job of the Day: Debt Collector

Jake Halpern at the Times spent the day at a debt collection agency, even going so far as to jump on the phone — at the agency’s insistence — and hound people with outstanding debts.

Halpern got some good stories but was not successful at collecting any debts or setting up payment plans, perhaps because he lacked the motivation to really cross the line and be pushy about it. Reading about the financial situation of most debt collectors, I understood the air of desperation I heard in their voices on the very occasions (like, once) I picked up the phone when they called:

On average, bill and account collectors in the United States make $16.66 an hour. Many are in debt themselves. The owner of one agency told me that, quite by chance, he occasionally bought debts that belonged to his own employees. “I call the collector into my office and tell him that he had to start paying me $20 a month,” the owner said. I visited one collection agency, on the impoverished East Side of Buffalo, N.Y., where the employees were paid entirely on commission. One payday, I witnessed two dejected, middle-aged men getting paid for the week: One earned $115 and the other just $88.

Inevitably, this induces some collectors to up the ante from persuasion to harassment.

Much of the work of debt collection is detective work, tracking down the debtor, and getting in touch with a scornful ex is of course, a boon. Ugh. Talk about the ultimate betrayal. And if you were wondering / as you might imagine, the debt collection business itself is THRIVING. As Halpern puts it, it’s “middle-class and poor people, being pitted against even poorer people, to the benefit of much richer people.”

Photo via Flickr

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