The Debt Collector

* make us famous

Debt collection is a shady business. Aside from the broken-legs variety of collections, the Great Recession spawned hundreds of semi-legitimate businesses, all based on the aggressive collection of a variety of unpaid debts.

I missed the gravy train created by the economic breakdown - I worked in debt collections during the summer of 2007. On my floor, the cube farm was occupied by a bunch of people who were as poor as I was. Imagine a bunch of car salesmen from one of those shifty dealerships on Claiborne, if those same salesmen, dressed up in ill-fitting JCPenney suits, were selling “financial freedom” on commission.

And yes, this is the incentive to collect. Every time a debt collector elicits a “promise to pay” or (god forbid) coaxes a payment from a dwindling bank account, he or she earns a commission on it. This is why debt collectors call twelve times a day, harass your grandma, or tell you you’re a bad person if you don’t straighten this or that unpaid credit card out. In my experience, collectors barely cling to financial security, and one $300 commission can mean the difference between rent and eviction.

We got paid on Fridays, and everyone cashed their checks at the convenience store nearby. Scratch-off lotto tickets were a favorite afternoon diversion. During that time, I’d sit at my desk, letting the auto dialer ring and ring. Almost every number was disconnected, or people knew better than to answer. Occasionally I’d amuse myself by using a “skip trace,” where you can watch people move from Gentilly to Marrero to Arabi to Baton Rouge. I hardly ever talked to my debtors, skipping the grilling perfected by my cubemates. I was just too scared.

These days, eating ramen and tied up in an embarrassing amount of debt, I don’t know what I was afraid of. So we were calling car accident victims and cancer patients- so what? When it’s either you or me who starves, I’ll pick you every time. I’d sell you on your perfect credit, swear you had to pay it back. I’d say I knew where you lived. Honey, it’s not personal. I’ve got bills to pay.