The Debt Collection Pandemic
California Law Review Online (2020 Forthcoming)
20 Pages Posted: 13 May 2020 Last revised: 27 May 2020
Date Written: May 1, 2020
As of May 2020, the United States' reaction to the unique and alarming threat of COVID-19 has partially succeeded in slowing the virus’s spread. Saving people’s lives, however, came at a severe economic cost. Americans’ economic anxiety understandably spiked. In addition to worrying about meeting basic expenses, people’s anxieties about money necessarily included what might happen if they could not cover already outstanding debts. The nearly 70 million Americans with debts already in collection faced heightened anxiety about their inability to pay.
The coronavirus pandemic is set to metastasize into a debt collection pandemic. The federal government can and should do something to put a halt to debt collection until people can get back to work and earn money to pay their debts. Yet it has done nothing to help people deal with their debts. Instead, states have tried to solve issues with debt collection in a myriad of patchwork and inconsistent ways. These efforts help some people and are worthwhile. But more efficient and comprehensive solutions exist. Because debt collection brought by the COVID-19 crisis will not dissipate anytime soon, even after the crisis ends, the need to implement comprehensive, longer-lasting solutions remains. These solutions largely fall on the shoulders of the federal government, though state attorney generals have the necessary power to help people effectively, provided they act in concert. If the government continues on its present course, a debt collection pandemic will follow the coronavirus pandemic.
Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, debt collection, consumer credit, foreclosure, repossession, garnishment, CARES Act, student loans, auto debt, mortgages, mortgage servicing, debtors' prison, attorney general, CFPB, FDCPA, UDAP
JEL Classification: D10, K36
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation