Wednesday, July 05, 2006

N.Y. Times' Debt Story Owes Us More Of An Explanation

Should We Be Shocked That People Owe Money and Collection Agencies Want That Money? The Horror!
On the front page of today's New York Times is a piece that goes across the bottom of the top fold headlined An Outcry Erupts As Debt Collectors Play Rough
Is this news? Collection agencies aren't exactly known for playing patsy with deadbeats, but now they apparently have been getting a bad case of the nasties.
I guess the Times felt that it's readership in Scarsdale and Short Hills, not to mention Riverdale and Murray Hill, needed to be reminded that not everyone is like them, and, jeepers, aren't able to make their credit-card payments every month.
The nub of the story, by hyper-prolific Sewell Chan, is actually contained in the 19th paragraph:

Robert J. Hobbs, the deputy director of the National Consumer Law Center, an advocacy organization based in Boston, attributed the rise in complaints about abusive collection practices to three broad trends: the rapid growth in the number of collection agencies, the tightening of bankruptcy-protection laws last year and the record level of consumer debt, now totaling $2.2 trillion, complicated by rising interest rates and stagnant personal incomes. Identity theft and Internet fraud are also cited as factors.
All well and good, assuming you jumped to B4 to read it.

What would have been a lot more helpful, not to mention, gasp, more explanatory, is for a breakout box that explains what abusive collection practices are, and the rights consumers have under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In other words, what you can do to fight back if you're the victim of what Chan spends the better part of 1,500 words talking about.
Or maybe Joe Sexton and the well-compensated denizens on the Metro desk simply assume that if you can plunk down a buck for the paper, you and bill collectors shall never meet. How blithe of them to make that assessment.
But beyond that value judgment it's a matter of good journalism to fill in the blanks. First you say that complaints about collection practices have soared, but there's virtually nothing about how to fight back.
Time to empty the news vacuum on West 43rd St. and suck in some of the real world.

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