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Debt Collectors Continue Filing Lawsuits During Pandemic

(Pixabay)

Third party debt collection companies continue to file lawsuits in Indiana, but new cases will not proceed until the public health emergency expires.

ProPublica reported Encore Capital Group, the largest publicly traded debt buyer in America, filed almost 1,000 repayment cases in Indiana in August 2020. All the cases have been paused. 

Pamela Foohey, professor of law at the IU Maurer School of Law, said the spike in cases is not a symptom of the pandemic. She said the backed-up cases are pre-existing debts not paused by federal moratoria. These debts include auto loans and credit cards.

While every state took action to protect consumers during Covid-19, Foohey said individual states differentiated between new collection cases and pre-pandemic debts. Some states limited garnishments of federal relief, some outlawed garnishments entirely, and others suspended new collection cases from proceeding in state courts.

“Some states put stops on the actual suits going forward,” Foohey said. “So they’re kind of sitting there, and when the floodgates open, they will all kind of hit people.”

Indiana is waiting behind a floodgate.

On April 3, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court announced state courts would not issue new writs of attachment, civil bench warrants, or body attachments until the public health emergency ends. On April 20, the court went further and announced a cessation on all garnishments of stimulus funding.

While collections cases appeared to increase under state halts, Foohey said delinquencies actually dropped last year. 

According to Experian’s Consumer Default Index (CDI), the average default rate across auto loans, first and second mortgages, and bankcards decreased .49 percent over the last year.

Foohey said most people have been able to make payments on pre-existing loans because of federal relief.  

But she warns that we are only in the eye of the storm.  She expects federal moratoria to end within the year, forcing new debts into collections.

Foohey said the real effects of Covid-19 will not be evident in court until people are required to make normal payments again on debts such as student loans and mortgages.

“At that point, people’s budgets are most likely not going to realign such that they can continue to pay everything,” Foohey said. “Particularly if some of the foreclosure deals they entered into tack on extra payments.”

Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb extended the public health emergency through the end of this month.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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