ACA International, the largest trade group for the third-party debt collection industry, responded Thursday to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s annual report on debt collection complaints. 

“As an industry that takes complaints and their resolution with consumers very seriously, the CFPB’s report offers helpful perspective but isn’t valuable for setting public policy," ACA International CEO Pat Morris said. "As important as these raw data are, it seeks to justify the CFPB’s existence but falls short in looking at the underlying causes that better explain this information."

Among the key points ACA identified as missing from the CFPB’s analysis:

  • The CFPB’s definition of a complaint is subjective. While a consumer may not like something (such as being contacted about a debt or receiving multiple calls) it does not mean that the collector actually did anything wrong. Neither the CFPB nor the Federal Trade Commission investigates complaints as to whether a complaint actually violates the law. 

    Painting the collection of consumer debts with a broad brush and then alluding it ties to bad behavior paints an inaccurate picture of an extremely necessary, yet sometimes uncomfortable, activity. ACA advocates that the CFPB adopt a more meaningful definition of what constitutes a complaint that is limited to consumer allegations of wrongful conduct and does not include the amorphous concept of general consumer dissatisfaction outside of wrongful conduct.

  • Some factors that contribute to being contacted about a debt they may not owe are the mobile nature of society and the unwillingness of most consumers to communicate with debt collectors. Further, federal law prohibits disclosure of specific information about a debt until a consumer’s identity has been verified. Hearing from a collection agency that they don’t know and never had interaction with can often be confusing.  

  • A closer look at concerns over call frequency leaves out discussion of a very significant “catch-22,” which is a significant underlying factor prompting debt collectors to call more often instead of leaving voice mail messages.

    Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a debt collector can't divulge the existence of a consumer debt to anyone but the consumer or their attorney, and it also says that a debt collector must identify themselves. There is currently no safe harbor language for leaving a voice mail that assures a debt collector can comply with the FDCPA. ACA is calling on the CFPB for the creation of safe harbor language to allow collectors to leave voice mail messages that comply with FDCPA.

ACA conducts its own analysis of the publicly available data to gain insights to try to improve customer service and the future collection of consumer debts.
Earlier this month, ACA’s Research Department released a white paper analyzing 14,328 complaints received by the CFPB from July 2013 to mid-February 2014. Based on that review of the publicly available data, 96 percent of complaints are responded to in a timely manner and 94 percent are “closed” in some manner.

ACA plans to analyze the data each quarter and encourages consumers to communicate with collectors.

“We believe that when given the chance, debt collectors do want to work with consumers to resolve their concerns,” Morris said.

 

 

 

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