Economy is tough on debt collectors

There's a sign in Jim Coy's otherwise bland Raytown office that reads: "God's last name is not damn."

"People come in and they're upset, and they use profanities," Coy said. "So we decided to put the sign up."

Debt collection might be stressful in these economic times, but it doesn't have to be ugly.

Coy and his brother Cliff, co-owners of Elite Financial Services Inc., have been collecting debt in Kansas City for more than two decades, starting in the business with their father.

Over the last 23 years they've recovered money from dishwashers, dentists, lawyers, doctors, even professional athletes. And they know how most people think of them – heartless bloodsuckers who will chase you down a dark alley and brain you with a trash can lid to get their money.

The reality is far less draconian. Still, debt collectors are held in almost universally low regard. Just hearing the words "debt collector" causes unemployed Roeland Park resident Marcee Stewart to frown.

"I can't really tell you what I think, because a lady doesn't use those kinds of words," she said. "Let's just say I don't like them."

She's not alone. The Federal Trade Commission says grievances against collectors topped its complaint list for the last three years. More debt equals more debt collectors. Ten years ago there were 383,000 debt collectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now there are more than 430,000. By 2016, that number is expected to swell by 23 percent, a projected growth rate that far surpasses other occupations. And while our debt is rising – today Americans owe nearly $2.6 trillion – a slumping economy doesn’t necessarily mean a windfall for collectors.

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