How Do Collection Agencies Work?

When asked about “what collection agencies do?” most people think of the debt collector that has been trying to contact them about some unresolved debt. What people don’t realize is that there are two, very distinct, business models in the collections industry which go about collecting delinquent accounts in different ways.


In short, a debt collector is simply a person trying to collect an outstanding balance. In most cases they work for a third party collection agency, however, they can be from the original creditor as well. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) currently only covers third party collection agencies.


Essentially, collection agencies offer a service to businesses that allow creditors to outsource collections to a third party. When accounts become delinquent (in many cases 60 or more days late) creditors may contract with a collection agency to pursue payment. What’s important to note in this scenario is that the collection agencies do not own the debt. The amount owed by the consumer is still owned and controlled by the original creditor. In this situation, the collection agency works as a middleman between the consumer and the creditor in exchange for a percentage of the amount collected. A large majority of collection agencies operate this way, meaning that they are compensated only when they are able to successfully collect on an account.

How is this different from a debt buyer?

When the original creditor decides they no longer want to own the account they sell the debt. In this scenario, the creditor will put together a “package” of delinquent accounts and sell it to a “debt buyer”. The advantage of purchasing these hard-to-collect debts for the buyer is that they have claim to all the money they can recover and are no longer required to involve the creditor in what settlement to offer. After obtaining ownership of the debt, the debt buyer may try to collect on the account themselves or they might hire a collection agency on commission to complete the work as described above.

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