Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster proposed reforms Thursday to stop debt collection practices that he believes unfairly target minority and low-income residents. The concerns were raised by the Missouri Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness during a review of racial disparities following the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Koster on Thursday sent a letter to the court commission seeking changes in court rules that he believes will help prevent what he calls unscrupulous collection practices. The commission, convened by Gov. Jay Nixon, cited overzealous debt collection as among the issues that needed to be addressed.
Koster wants the commission to require debt collectors to prove at the outset of litigation their right to pursue a debt. He wants to stop the practice of collectors repeatedly asking consumers to appear in court, since frequent court dates are costly and make it difficult to hold a job. He also wants tougher guidelines on what creditors can recover for attorneys' fees. The AG’s office received 1,217 complaints about debt collection issues last year. Koster, a Democrat who’s running for governor in 2016, said Missouri and the rest of the nation has seen a dramatic rise over the last decade in debt-collection litigation. He believes debt buyers take a "no-holds-barred" approach to collecting that debt, including lawsuits. "These proposed regulations would expose these types of debt-collection practices for what they truly are — unfair and deceptive,” Koster said at a news conference in St. Louis. "The problem needs to be fixed. I think the experiences of the last year have changed all of our attitudes and understanding and is putting the pressure on all of us to step up and do better."