A new Federal Trade Commission report concludes that the system for resolving consumer debt collection disputes is broken, and recommends significant litigation and arbitration reforms to improve efficiency and fairness to consumers.
The report, “Repairing A Broken System: Protecting Consumers in Debt Collection Litigation and Arbitration,” reflects information gathered at roundtable discussions the FTC held throughout the country in 2009, as well as public comments and the FTC’s experience in debt collection matters. The roundtables followed a February 2009 report that identified some concerns with debt collection litigation and arbitration, but concluded that more information was needed about certain debt collection litigation and arbitration practices before further recommendations could be made.
The FTC’s 2009 report found that debt collection litigation raised concerns about collectors failing to properly notify consumers of suits they have filed, collectors filing suits based on insufficient evidence of indebtedness, courts frequently granting default judgments against consumers who do not appear or defend themselves, collectors seeking to recover on debts beyond the statute of limitations, and banks freezing funds in bank accounts that are exempt from garnishment by law. In its new report, the Commission’s principal recommendations to address these concerns in litigation are:
The FTC’s new report also addresses concerns about requiring consumers to resolve debt collection disputes through binding arbitration without meaningful choice, bias or the appearance of bias in arbitration proceedings, and procedural unfairness in arbitration proceedings. In its new report, the Commission’s principal recommendations regarding debt collection arbitration are:
The FTC committed to closely monitor debt collection arbitration and evaluate whether creditors and arbitration forums provide consumers with meaningful choice and a fair process. The Commission also said that, as appropriate, it will report its views on new debt collection arbitration models to policymakers, industry, consumer groups, and the general public.
The FTC believes that reforms such as those discussed in the report should be made to ensure that the debt collection litigation and arbitration systems adequately protect consumers without unduly burdening the debt collection system, which helps to keep credit prices low and helps to ensure that consumer credit remains widely available.
The Commission vote to issue the report was 5-0. Commissioner Julie Brill issued a concurring statement in which she urged Congress to enact a temporary ban on the mandatory arbitration of consumer debt collection disputes. “Such a ban should remain in place until the arbitration process can be shown to be fair, transparent, and as affordable as traditional litigation, and until consumers have a meaningful opportunity to opt out of pre-dispute arbitration without losing access to the credit services they seek,” she said. An electronic version of the report text is available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2010/07/debtcollectionreport.pdf.