That is the question tackled by three researchers in a new paper for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. On the face of it, third-party debt collection should have no place in our financial system. “Informational, legal, and other factors”, the researchers note, “suggest that original creditors should have an advantage in collecting debts owed to them”. Not to mention that, when doing the job themselves, the original creditors keep all they can recover, whereas when relying on others, they only get back about 80 percent of the collected debt, on average. Yet, third-party debt collectors not only exist, but they thrive, employing more than 140,000 Americans and recovering more than $50 billion each year. How can that be?
Well, the researchers identify one major factor, which they believe is giving third parties a sizable advantage and is the reason why original creditors are hiring them. It all comes down to the collection methods employed by the two parties. The original creditors, the paper argues, convincingly, tend to use softer debt collection methods, because they care about their reputation. Lenders don’t want to antagonize debtors who may, in due time, become profitable customers once again, nor do they want to create a bad name for themselves and scare away potential new customers. Oh, and they certainly don’t want to attract regulatory attention.
Third-party collectors, for their part, exist solely for the purpose of recovering debt, which means that they don’t have to worry about maintaining customer relationships. After all, debt collectors’ customers don’t choose to do business with them — they simply fall into their laps. The customer whose happiness a debt collector really cares about is the lender who hired her. All that being the case, we can understand why a third-party agency would be less lenient with debtors than the original creditor could afford to be.
But the paper’s main point is that third parties do bring efficiency to the debt recovery process, which is why lenders rely so heavily on them and is also why we have developed a specialized payment processing solution for them. The paper also lends support to another recent Philadelphia Fed paper, which found a direct negative correlation between the level of strictness of debt collection regulation and the availability of consumer credit. But let’s take a look at the new paper...