Cracking Down on Abusive Debt Collectors

This article first appeared in OtherWords

Have you ever picked up your phone to find an aggressive voice on the other end demanding payments on a debt you know nothing about? You’re far from alone.

Once you’re in the sights of a debt collector, the impact on your life can be devastating: Your wages can be garnished and your credit ruined. You might lose your driver’s license, or even your job.

And it could happen over a debt you don’t even owe.

In a recent analysis of 75,000 complaints about debt collection practices submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — just a sample of the total number — this was the most common complaint by far. Over 40 percent of people being harassed by collectors said they didn’t owe the debt in the first place.

Other complaints charged that the collectors made false statements or threats to coerce people to pay.

The government created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — or CFPB ­— to address abusive financial practices after the 2008 financial crash. This year, the bureau is considering strengthening rules to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices.

Abusive collection tactics impact people with all kinds of debt — including credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgages, and automobile loans. Collectors often strike when people are most vulnerable, such as when they’re recovering from illness or desperately seeking work. They aggressively target the poor, immigrants, and people of color.

About 77 million people — or 35 percent of adults in the United States with a credit file — have a report of debt in collections. That alone makes a compelling case for the bureau to crack down on abusive tactics.

When my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, analyzed the complaints for ournew reportUnfair, Deceptive, & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics — we tallied the complaints in the database and built a list of the 15 companies with the most complaints.

The list is topped by heavy-hitting debt buyers like Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, whose business models hinge on buying portfolios of consumer debts for pennies on the dollar and then wringing payments out of alleged debtors. Both of these companies more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

Major student loan servicer Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) also makes the top 15 list for complaints about its debt collection tactics.

But it’s particularly worth noting that six out of the top 15 offenders on this list are original creditors, not third-party collectors. They include Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Synchrony Financial (the largest issuer of private label credit cards).

This is important, because the primary protection most consumers have against unfair collection tactics — the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — applies only to third parties, not original creditors. This is a troubling double standard.

The new rules must also to apply to the original creditors — including payday lenders, credit card companies, and big banks — along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.

The rules should limit phone calls to prevent harassment and require collectors to have complete documentation before attempting to collect. The rules should prohibit selling, purchasing, and attempting to collect old, paid, or expired “zombie” debt.

Finally, the bureau should toughen the penalties for collectors breaking the rules.

Living with debt isn’t a personal failing — it’s a national crisis. The bureau needs to stand up for everyday people and put a stop to abusive collection tactics.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

REPORT: Debt Collectors Profit From Aggressive Tactics

For Immediate Release
January 26, 2016
Contact: Kathy Mulady, (206) 992-8787
kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org
REPORT PROFILES COMPANIES WITH THE MOST COMPLAINTS ABOUT
ABUSIVE AND DECEPTIVE DEBT COLLECTION TACTICS

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should write strong rules to protect
consumers from abusive collection practices

SEATTLE – Companies engaging in debt collection activities use abusive and deceptive practices that include harassing people for debts not owed, threatening illegal actions, calling people at work, and contacting their employers and neighbors.

These are among the findings of a new report, Unfair, Deceptive & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics, released today by the Alliance for a Just Society. Researchers analyzed 75,000 consumer complaints filed during the last two years with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The report profiles the 15 companies with the most complaints. The list includes:

  • Encore Capital Group – San Diego, CA
  • PRA Group – Norfolk, VA
  • Enhanced Recovery Company – Jacksonville, FL
  • Citigroup – New York, NY
  • Expert Global Solutions – Plano, TX
  • JPMorgan Chase – New York, NY
  • Navient (the student loan servicer) – Wilmington, DE
  • Wells Fargo – San Francisco, CA

The CFPB is considering whether new rules are warranted to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices. Next steps in a rulemaking on debt collections are anticipated as early as February.

About 35 percent of adults in the U.S. with a credit file have a report of debt in collections, leaving a broad swath of households vulnerable to abusive collection tactics.

“This analysis makes it clear that debt collectors routinely engage in unfair, deceptive and abusive practices to maximize their profits,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “We need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to stand up for consumers and write strong rules that ends these abusive practices.”

The report includes detailed recommendations to end abusive collection practices.

Meanwhile, secretive groups with undisclosed funding sources have launched a series of dubious attacks on the Bureau since November, seeking to undermine its work to strengthen consumer protections in the financial sector.

“We need the CFPB to stand strong in the face of these deceptive attacks from dark money groups with financial industry ties,” said Hall. “It’s time to rein in abusive debt collection practices and we need strong leadership and a strong rule from the CFPB to do it.”

Findings from the report include:

  • More than 40 percent of the complaints were about continued attempts to collect debts consumers said they did not owe.
  • Nearly 20 percent of complaints were about collectors’ communication tactics; 8 percent cited false statements and 7 percent cited the collector taking or threatening an illegal action.
  • Complaints tied to credit card debt were most common, followed by medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgage debt, and finally auto debt.
  • The two companies with the most collection-related complaints, Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, each more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

The report’s recommendations for the CFPB’s rulemaking include:

  • Apply the new debt collection rules to original creditors – such as payday lenders, credit card companies, and banks – along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.
  • Strengthen remedies and increase penalties to stop abusive debt collection practices.
  • Require debt collectors to have complete documentation before initiating collection actions.
  • Set specific limits on phone calls from debt collectors to prevent harassment.
  • Prohibit the sale, purchase, and collection of time-barred debt (also known as “zombie debt”).

#   #   #

The Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization that focuses on social, economic and racial justice issues.

The full report can be found here: http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016.01_Debt.Collectors_FINAL.pdf

Instead of Building Walls, Build an Economy That Works for All

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will take up a case that challenges President Barack Obama’s executive actions that deferred the deportation of 5 million undocumented immigrants.

News coverage of this development naturally was dominated by the two words that are sure to make any news story go viral: “procedural battle.”

Okay, perhaps such a phrase doesn’t rise to the level of virality as the groundbreaking revelation that Kim Kardashian washes her hair twice a week. But that’s exactly what’s wrong with this system — with so much at stake for so many families, it is a shame that people aren’t paying more attention.

While it can be easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of “SCOTUS,” “DACA” and “DAPA,” debates over the technical merits of the President’s executive actions should not detract from what’s truly at stake here — that families are being separated by outdated, arcane and draconian immigration laws.

So far during this presidential campaign, the immigration debate has been front and center. And, with the Supreme Court taking on this case, we’ll be assured that it will continue.

The anti-immigrant message focuses again on fear – fear that there aren’t enough jobs or enough money to go around, and it resonates, not because it is true, but because we know the majority of people in this country are struggling. They call it the 99% movement because, unless you’re among the filthy rich 1%, you are probably struggling.

The Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series research by the Alliance for a Just Society shows people quite simply aren’t making ends meet. And so, by cranking up the fear of scarcity, people are more likely to perceive others as a threat to their own economic security. When people are drowning in debt and can’t find a decent-paying job, they see immigrants as competition in an already-tight workforce.

The reality is that immigration strengthens our workforce.

“This case is profoundly impactful not just for the Latino community, but for the entire nation,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. “The expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA could potentially help more than 4.4 million eligible immigrants, create nearly 30,000 new jobs and grow our GDP by $230 billion by 2025.”

And so the conversation we really need to be having is not about how to keep immigrants out of the country, but how we can shape our economy so that it works for everyone. The answer to the scarcity mentality is not to build walls, but to build the economy and equitably share our resources.

We do that by increasing an embarrassingly low minimum wage, making higher education affordable and accessible, providing health care to everyone who needs it, and stop giving tax breaks to large corporations that drain local economies of good-paying jobs and replaces them with bad jobs.

But tearing apart families, living in the politics of hate, and rejecting those yearning to breathe free is not our way.

Promising Practice: Moving from Coverage to Care

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of people in the United States have gained health coverage, often with the help of professional enrollment assisters. But getting people signed up for insurance is just the first step toward ensuring that they get needed health care. This Promising Practice Policy Brief discusses the role that assisters can play in helping people understand their coverage and put it to use.

Promising Practice: Making Medicaid Part of the Welcome Home

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many adults are now eligible for health care coverage, such as Medicaid, that had been closed to them before. Among these newly eligible adults are many people leaving prison — and Medicaid can make a big difference in helping them transition back home. This Promising Practice Policy Brief discusses options for states.

Promising Practice — Making Medicaid Part of the Welcome Home

Winning the Fight for $15 in 2016

Millions of low-paid Americans rang in 2016 with a raise, as a handful of state minimum wage increases went into effect on the first day of January.

Many of those raises are a barely noticeable 15 or 20 cents an hour — little comfort to people struggling to make ends meet. But workers in the cities and states that voted for more robust wages last year saw much more significant gains.

Minimum wage workers in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, for example, are finding a dollar-an-hour increase in their paychecks. Workers in Hawaii are enjoying an extra $1.25 an hour. In Seattle, some workers at bigger companies are seeing a substantial $2 hourly increase as the city’s $15 minimum wage is phased in.

The national campaign for a $15 minimum wage emerged as a leading economic justice issue last year. It’s also a critical racial justice issue: Half of all African-American workersand almost 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15 an hour.

The momentum to raise the minimum wage will only increase in 2016 as public support grows. Yet too many states — 21 of them, concentrated mainly in the South — haven’t budged from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.

Many of these holdouts have deep pools of poverty. Most deny poor families health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, and nearly all have held the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers to $2.13 an hour for 25 years.

The problem with efforts to raise the wage city by city and state by state is that it leaves out workers in states without a citizen initiative process, or in communities without strong unions or leadership. Millions of low-wage workers are at risk of becoming a left-behind underclass.

That means it’s time for Congress to increase the national minimum wage — and to abolish the lower, sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. If they aren’t sure how to do it, leaders from New York to Los Angeles have provided plenty of examples.

Research from my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, shows that a living wage for a single adult ranges from $14.26 in Arkansas to $21.44 in Hawaii. On average, a worker would have to put in 93 hours a week just to get by on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The numbers underscore the crisis facing families in our country.

Often, low-wage workers are told that the solution is to go get a better-paying job, but the reality is there are nowhere near enough jobs that pay a living wage. The occupations with the most job openings — in retail and restaurants — pay the least, and they’re most likely to be part-time.

We’ve become a low-wage nation, with implications that reach far beyond just low pay. Low-wage jobs also mean part-time hours, unpredictable schedules, and no benefits or paid sick leave — making it impossible for workers to break even.

It’s unacceptable that anyone who works full-time in our country should go hungry, homeless, or without care for their child. This is the year to make all wages living wages. Without action, Congress is endorsing the creation of a new class of poverty among our workers.

Jill Reese is the associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organization focusing on economic and racial justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

This article first appeared in OtherWords.org
http://otherwords.org/winning-the-fight-for-15-in-2016/

Today in Medicaid: Big Win in Louisiana

Today, Louisiana’s new governor, John Bel Edwards, made the most of his first full day in office.

Through an executive order, Gov. Edwards expanded Medicaid to about 300,000 uninsured Louisianans, many of whom will be eligible for health coverage for the first time. This move makes Louisiana the 31st state to extend the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to its lowest-income residents.

Edwards’ action marks a big win for community leaders in Louisiana – and the culmination of a long fight for health care justice.

The battle began in 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion. Emboldened by this decision, former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal dug in his heels and refused federal funding rather than make health care available to his constituents.

This intransigence resulted in Louisianans going without a potential 7,600 mammograms and 28,000 cholesterol screenings each year, according to one estimate. The state was also losing out on an average $1.5 billion in federal funds annually.

There were also grave racial justice implications to Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid, with African Americans accounting for more than half of those shut out of health coverage as a result. (Almost two-thirds are people of color.)

A diverse coalition of organizations fought back. A Community Voice and Southern United Neighborhoods – partners of the Alliance for a Just Society – joined this fight, knocking on hundreds of doors, holding community meetings, and rallying in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere. As the issue played out in the legislature, they showed up again and again, undeterred by setbacks.

In 2015, with Jindal’s term coming to an end – and his popularity plummeting – A Community Voice and their allies made a final push to place Medicaid front-and-center as the race for governor was taking shape. Meanwhile, they kept the heat on the legislature.

These efforts bore fruit in the spring, when lawmakers passed a resolution allowing the incoming governor to pick up the Medicaid expansion without further legislative action.

From there, it was a matter of keeping attention focused on Medicaid as the candidates vied for governor. When Bel Edwards won in November, he assured Louisianans that Medicaid would be one of his top priorities.

His executive order makes that promise a reality. Louisianans eligible for Medicaid expansion should begin receiving their coverage by July.

Community leaders have a lot to celebrate.

“Years of base-building, actions, and skirmishes have led to the day when the people have won health care for another 300,000 Louisianans,” said Lanny Roy, ACV president.

“A Community Voice is proud to have been a part of it, and we’re proud of our new governor John Bel Edwards. Now to the task of effecting it and making our people healthier.”

Meanwhile, millions of other low-income people, disproportionately people of color, remain without coverage in the 19 states that have yet to expand Medicaid. Today, Louisiana points the way.

It’s a Matter of Life and Death: Insurers Must Cover Language Services

A 14-year-old girl accompanies her Somali-speaking father to his medical appointment. Because the clinic doesn’t provide an interpreter, the girl has to inform her own father than he has been diagnosed with cancer. She remains his interpreter through eight years of treatment, sometimes hiding information to protect him from the bad news.

A group of Spanish-speaking farmworkers enters a pesticide-laden field and soon, sickened and vomiting, must rush to the hospital. No medical interpreters are provided, and one of the farmworkers must handle communications between her coworkers and health care providers – while she is suffering from her own symptoms.

A Vietnamese-speaking woman is admitted to the hospital. When doctors or nurses need to talk with her, they call in an orderly with no training as an interpreter and no familiarity with medical terminology.

Cases like these are far from isolated. Every day, children, other relatives, friends, and even untrained hospital staff are asked to step in to do a job only competent, professional medical interpreters should be performing.

These dangerous practices persist despite federal law requiring hospitals and other health care providers to offer language services.

These institutions should be meeting their obligations. But it’s also long past time to require insurance companies to make medical interpretation available just as they cover exams, prescription drugs, and other health care essentials.

So far, we’re not holding insurers to that kind of requirement.

As we continue transforming our health care system through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we need to incorporate professional medical interpretation into those efforts. The federal government should require insurance companies to make medical interpretation available to all patients who need and want it in their course of care.

Letting insurance companies off the hook puts people’s health at risk, allowing insurers to deliver substandard care to people whose health they’re supposed to protect.

Ample research shows that medical interpretation is a necessary component of health care for people with limited English. Without proper interpretation, doctors can misunderstand patient complaints, inaccurately diagnose their conditions, and prescribe inappropriate treatments. Patients receive medications but may not know how to take them.

Often, patients with limited English don’t even make it to the doctor’s office at all. Studies show that patients with limited English are less likely than other patients to have a regular source of health care.

Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies are signing people up in record numbers. They’re marketing health plans to many new enrollees in languages other than English. They’re also enrolling new patients in languages other than English. They should also be able to make health care available in those languages – rather than just pocketing the premiums from those enrollees.

The ACA gives us new tools for holding insurers and providers to their language services responsibilities. We need to do a better job of using all of these tools.

In early September, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed long-awaited rules to implement the ACA’s ban on discrimination in health care, including discrimination faced by patients with limited English proficiency.

The proposed rules make it clear that oral interpretation is key to combatting that discrimination. They also establish that the new anti-discrimination rules apply to health insurers offering coverage through the ACA. And they require entities covered by the rules to make sure they’re relying on qualified interpreters.

With this language, HHS is building on longstanding civil rights law recognizing people’s right to oral interpretation. But HHS is also building on a history in which that right has been violated, again and again, with violators abetted by inadequate enforcement mechanisms. Patients still are receiving substandard care because of the language they speak.

In a health system increasingly concerned about quality, insurers should make sure all their patients are receiving good health care.

There’s precedent for requiring insurers to step up. Under California’s SB 853, insurers must provide language services at all access points, including the doctor’s office. And, in many states, Medicaid pays for interpretation to help make sure providers are offering it.

If Medicaid programs can cover medical interpretation, so can private insurers. The federal government shouldn’t be letting insurers off the hook while also letting them collect premiums. Patients with limited English have a right to quality health care – and we need to make sure they’re getting it.

(This article was originally published in Huffington Post.)

Hate Has No Home Here / Hate Has No Business Here

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The Alliance for a Just Society joins with Main Street Alliance and businesses all around the country who are standing up to racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric from political candidates and others in recent weeks. We reject collective punishment for individual acts and join other in saying “Hate has no business here” and “Hate has no home here.”

If you are a business owner, we encourage you to download the store sign letting people know All Are Welcome.

You can also Download the #HateHasNoHomeHere House Sign here to post in your home, office or dorm:

8×10 Black & White poster

8×10 Color poster

11×17 Black & White poster

11×17 Color poster

HateHasNoHome-11x17-color

 

#HateHasNoBizHere

#HateHasNoHomeHere