On November 5, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report detailing debt collection complaint statics received from older consumers between July 2013 and September 2014.

From a broader perspective, the CFPB reports that since September 2013, consumers of all ages have filed more complaints with the CFPB about debt collection than about any other product or service (e.g., credit reporting and mortgages) generally.  The report specifically notes that more than one-third of the complaints from older consumers relate directly to debt collection.

The report detailed the types of complaints made by older consumers, including the following:

  • Medical Debt: Complaints describe frequent and repeated attempts to collect medical bills that are covered by insurance.  As a result, older consumers are facing the task of attempting to correct billing mistakes and/or waiting for providers and insurers to resolve any disputes.
  • Collection of a Deceased Family Member’s Debt: Complaints describe older consumers receiving calls to collect on a decedent’s debt, even after telling debt collectors to stop contacting them, resulting in confusion and frustration.
  • Harassing Calls and Offensive Language: Complaints describe debt collectors’ use of abusive communication tactics to intimidate or coerce older consumers into making payments.  These types of communications can even include the use of derogatory language towards the consumer (such as “fraud”) and name-calling (such as “liar”).
  • Garnishment of Federal Benefits: Complaints describe threats to garnish older consumers’ Social Security payments, Supplemental Security Income, or Veterans’ benefits despite funds from these types of programs ordinarily not being subject to garnishment, causing anxiety and stress.

The report concluded that “[a]ccording to complaints, older consumers experience a range of problems—from the dearth of basic information about the debts being collected, and collection attempts that target the wrong consumer, to collectors’ use of coercive, offensive or misleading communications.”  In response to the report, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated, “[i]t is increasingly common for older Americans to carry debts into their retirement years, and consumers living on fixed incomes often struggle to pay off these debts.  Older Americans deserve to be treated with the respect they have earned.”