According to Smart Money (February), probably no group has profited from debt more than debt collectors. "From big agencies to one-man shops, a growing army of collectors is chasing you down for that $1.92 you owe the video store — in some cases even if you have already paid it."
All told, the number of collection agents has doubled since the early '90s, and industry revenue has tripled to $15 billion. Last year, agencies recovered nearly $40 billion in debt — or $133 for every man, woman and child in the United States, the magazine reports.
The upshot, says Smart Money, is that consumers are getting tough treatment over debts they had long regarded as minor annoyances. "These days everyone from your lawn care man to part-time eBay entrepreneurs can find a collection agency willing to take their case."
The most obvious explanation is overspending. "Since 2001, non-mortgage consumer debt grew 26 percent to $2.3 trillion. Meanwhile, investors discovered that debt collection can be profitable in good times and bad," which helped fuel the growth of the debt-collection industry.