Letter to the Editor: Mischaracterization of debt collectors hurts consumers

To the Editor: 

If you’ve checked the news, odds are you’ve seen or heard the misleading reports about debt collectors targeting consumers during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This is simply not true, and perpetuating this misinformed criticism further hinders our ability to help find solutions for all parties involved. Our industry is dedicated to ensuring consumers land on their feet when this is all over, while doing our part to contribute to our country’s broader economic recovery.

Unfortunately, as the unfair criticism grows, so do the misguided mandates from state authorities that hinder our industry’s ability to be a part of the solution. Misinformation and common misperceptions about our industry are shaping public policy that threatens consumers and small businesses at a time when financial certainty is critical.

On March 26, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued guidance restricting phone calls from collections professionals for 90 days. Despite her best intentions to protect at-risk families, AG Healey’s directive had the opposite effect and ended up hurting consumers. While a Federal District Court shot down Healey’s mandate for the time being, it is important to note that any measure restricting consumers’ access to critical financial information leaves them in the dark at the worst possible time.

As a small-business owner who serves as president of Action Collection Agency of Boston, I can assure you that collections professionals are committed to helping consumers manage difficult times, while leading them to a path toward financial independence. This is why maintaining open lines of communications with consumers is more important now than ever. We are trained to access emergency hardship programs and offer accommodations and payment plans that are flexible to each individual situation. Disrupting our ability to engage with consumers regarding their options just makes their financial hardship more difficult to overcome.

Our industry also plays a critical role in maintaining healthy credit markets and ensuring creditors — especially small businesses — receive compensation for their work. We understand every individual has unique circumstances and work closely with both parties to achieve the best outcome. Our priority is to identify solutions that protect consumers’ credit, while ensuring our clients are able to continue successful business operations.

Currently, many small- and medium-sized businesses need our help as they are struggling to stay afloat. These companies have little or no access to the cash reserves or capital markets that sustain larger corporations during a downturn and need some semblance of predictable cash flow to pay employees and serve customers. Restricting collections professionals from providing services only hurts consumers, potentially resulting in even more lost jobs as these businesses face the possibility of closing their doors for the last time. Our industry is both pro-consumer and pro-business, so accuracy in the current discussion surrounding our industry is critical.

As a small-business owner, I want to protect the jobs of my employees who show up to work every day to help consumers and other businesses. Our primary focus remains on bridging the gap between small businesses and at-risk consumers who need a plan during these hard times. I urge lawmakers to support policies that allow us to use our training and resources to help businesses and consumers as we all work together to chart a path toward recovery from this crisis.

Article By Jay E. Gonsalves