If you have bill collectors blowing up your phone, you aren’t alone. More than 35 percent of Americans have unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, found a study by the Urban Institute.
Of course, this can hurt your credit score and even your job prospects since many companies will now review your credit history.
“Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the think tank. “It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.”
The study found the average debt reported to agencies was $5,178, based on September 2013 records. And even though many Americans cut back on credit card spending, the share of Americans in collections has remained relatively steady.
“As a share of people’s income, credit card debt has reached its lowest level in more than a decade, according to the American Bankers Association. People [are] increasingly pay off balances each month. Just 2.44 percent of card accounts are overdue by 30 days or more, versus the 15-year average of 3.82 percent,” reports The Associated Press.
Despite this about the same percentage of people being reported for unpaid bills is about the same, according to the study, which was conducted in conjunction with researchers from the Consumer Credit Research Institute. This trend has kept collectors well employed. A different study from the Fed’s Philadelphia bank branch revealed that the collections industry employs 140,000 workers who recover $50 billion each year,
Interestingly, the past due debt is concentrated in Southern and Western states with several Texas cities having a major share of their populations being reported to collection agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent).
And nearly half of Las Vegas residents have debt in collections. Other Southern cities with the residents in debt include Orlando and Jacksonville; Memphis; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.
The good news is that only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have any debt at all. And even still, high debt don’t result in more delinquencies. This is because the debt is mainly from mortgages.
In San Jose, the average resident has $97,150 in total debt; 84 percent of it is linked to a mortgage. By contrast, citizens of McAllen, Texas, on average has just $23,546 in debt. However more than half of the population has debt in collections–the highest number in the United States.