Brian Bucks is a Senior Economist at the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (BCFP) and leads the Credit Information and Policy section. He has played a primary role in the BCFP’s survey data collection, including leading the design and analysis of the Survey of Consumer Views on Debt, the first nationally representative data on consumers’ experiences with debt collection. His research has examined household mobility; manufactured housing; income inequality; bankruptcy and financial vulnerability; borrowers’ knowledge of mortgage terms; and survey methods for measuring income and wealth. Between 2004 and 2011, Mr. Bucks worked on the Survey of Consumer Finances at the Federal Reserve Board.
This report presents the results of the Survey of Consumer Views on Debt (“survey”) which was conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“Bureau”) between December 2014 and March 2015. The survey results substantially expand the understanding of debt collection in the United States by providing the first comprehensive and nationally representative data on consumers’ experiences and preferences related to debt collection.
A debt collector generally contacts a consumer when the collector believes that the consumer owes an unpaid debt. Debts for which a collection may be attempted can include both loans, such as a car loan or student loan, and past-due bills, such as a doctor’s bill or a phone bill. The collector may be the original creditor or another entity that is trying to collect the debt on behalf of the creditor, on behalf of a third party that has purchased the debt from the creditor, or on its own account as a purchaser of the debt obligation (collectively, debt collectors).
The survey provides a more comprehensive picture of consumers’ experiences with debt collection than has been available from other data sources. Consumer complaint data, for example, reflect only the experiences of those consumers who contacted the Bureau or other governmental agencies and therefore may not be representative of consumers’ experiences generally. Administrative data from specific debt collection firms can provide detail that is helpful for understanding collection processes and practices of particular entities, including some of the larger firms engaged in debt collection. Information from firms, however, generally cannot provide a market-wide perspective or capture the consumer’s perspective, and it may not be representative of collections by firms of different sizes or debt types. In contrast, as described in Section 2, the Bureau’s survey sample was selected from credit records maintained by one of the top three nationwide credit repositories, and the survey data were adjusted for differences in response rates for different types of consumers. As a result, estimates from the survey are representative of U.S. consumers with a credit report.…
 The Bureau released some preliminary findings from this survey in July 2016. See Appendix B of CFPB, “Small Business Review Panel for Debt Collector and Debt Buyer Rulemaking” (July 28, 2016), available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/20160727_cfpb_Outline_of_proposals.pdf. This report provides more detailed results.
 This report refers to third parties attempting to collect a debt as “debt collectors” and uses the term “creditor” to refer to first-party collectors, including lenders or billers to whom the consumer has an outstanding debt, regardless of whether that debt is a loan or a bill. This shorthand aligns with the wording of the survey, which defined a debt collector as “a person or company other than the creditor that tries to collect on a debt, such as an attorney, a debt collection firm, or other third party” and defined “creditor” to include both lenders and those seeking payment on a past-due bill.
 This report uses the term “consumer” for brevity, but because the sample was drawn from a random sample of consumer credit records from one nationwide credit repository, the sample and population are, more precisely, consumers with a credit record from that firm. Prior Bureau research indicates that one in ten adult Americans do not have a credit record.