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|March 12-18, 2009
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Death, taxes... And debt collectors
by Jim Hightower
These are hard times for debt collectors. After all, who can pay their bills these days? Not Wall Street, Detroit, millions of homeowners, the rising number of jobless folks — not even several states and cities.
But, wait — here are some lively prospects for debt collectors: the dead. Yes, there’s a boom in dunning the deceased!
We’re not talking about collecting from big-time debtors who still owe several hundred thousand dollars on their yacht. No, these are workaday people who died while still owing maybe a couple of hundred bucks on their bank credit card, health insurance or utility payment. It’s not possible, of course, to squeeze money out of a corpse, so the target becomes the bereaved next of kin. “Hello, I’m very sorry for your loss, but there’s this $211.36 balance on your mother’s Visa, and we wondered who will be covering this?”
By the way, there is no legal requirement whatsoever that the debt of those who’ve passed on must be paid by relatives out of their own pockets. Thus, what the industry calls “deceased collections” requires a delicate dance to cajole money out of the family without actually demanding it. The industry actually rationalizes its work as a service to those who have departed. As one insider asserts: “We want the dead to rest easy, knowing their obligations are taken care of.” How benevolent.
The actual work is done by a corps of specially trained agents working from cubicles in companies that specialize in this rather macabre fishing for cash. The job is so distasteful that about half of those hired quit within three months. Those who stick it out get such on-the-job stress relievers as yoga sessions, foosball games, free snacks and neck massages.
They tell us that we can’t escape death and taxes, but it appears that one more thing we can’t escape is debt collectors.
For more information on Jim Hightower's work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown — visit www.jimhightower.com.
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