Communication with debt collectors is key, especially in challenging times. Collectors have resources to help consumers manage their payments, contrary to media reports. Editor’s note: This article is available for members only.
In response to a recent media report on medical debt collection practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, ACA International President Scott Purcell reminds consumers and the media that collectors are here to help and have hardship program options available to consumers in need.
ACA member companies are well versed in setting up alternative payment arrangements for consumers experiencing unexpected hardships or, for example, during natural disasters like floods or storms.
“COVID-19 just happens to be a hardship occurring on a larger scale and for a longer period of time, but the empathy and tools we use to help are well-practiced and proven,” Purcell said.
ACA’s member companies are very sympathetic to the health and financial concerns that American families face today because of COVID-19. Now more than ever, consumers benefit from working with debt collection professionals to resolve outstanding legal financial obligations and are empowered by learning about their options.
Collecting legitimate debt owed helps everyone in the community avoid increases in costs, to the tune of roughly $706 for every American family (including the person being asked to pay their debt), and ensuring access to credit, according to the 2020 State of the Industry Report created as part of a partnership between ACA and the Kaulkin Ginsberg Company.
Medical debt is one of the top forms of debt that collectors help consumers resolve, according to the report. When accounts are resolved and that money is returned to creditors, it helps consumers access credit in the future.
“Times are tough right now and we encourage consumers if they receive a call or letter from a debt collector or creditor to respond,” Purcell said. “That’s the first step to helping consumers resolve their account or determine if we can delay payments and come up with a long-term plan.”
ACA understands medical bills present added difficulty because they are often unexpected, but hardship programs and payment plan resources are part of the solution. There are financial assistance programs created for this very purpose for not-for-profit hospitals based on the IRS 501(r) rule, and ACA members are well-equipped to help consumers understand these options.
“Articles that portray collectors in a negative light ultimately hurt consumers who read the reports and develop a bad impression of our industry and therefore do not communicate with collectors who are ultimately there to help,” Purcell said.
ACA has heard from multiple member companies who have received positive feedback from consumers in recent months.
“ACA members get compliments from consumers all the time—but since COVID-19, I can tell you the number of compliments coming in is even higher,” Purcell said.
Here are some examples of these compliments:
- “My name is Julia and I am a nurse in Nashville. I had some hospital bills at Harris & Harris from a couple of years ago. I had this wonderful representative at Harris & Harris who helped me organize my bills and what I was trying to accomplish, including buying a home for my family. I needed a letter to help buy the house and the CEO submitted it within 24 hours to help me move forward in buying a home while resolving my debts. They stepped up to help me pursue my dreams and I wanted to thank Harris & Harris for helping someone like me.”
- “On Friday, April 27, 2020, I spoke with Maryrose, who made sure I was well informed of all the information I needed. Especially during these hard times, it was very helpful that Maryrose provided excellent care with my accounts. I am very appreciative to have spoken with Maryrose because she went above and beyond to help me with my situation. Given that the bills were sent to the wrong address, I would really appreciate it if these collections were deleted off my credit.”
Purcell also cited the work of Nobel laureate Dr. Richard Thaler.
“Thaler’s work concluded that rational people want to be in control of their financial future,” Purcell said. “That’s one of the goals of ACA members—to help consumers understand what options they have so they can make choices and be in control of their financial future.”
Read more on how collectors help consumers and the economy in the 2020 State of the Industry Report.