Debt collection cases dominate civil court dockets throughout the nation, yet in most of these cases, the defendants never show up to court. As a result, in jurisdictions where data is available, more than 70% of these lawsuits end in default judgments for the plaintiff. And among defendants who do participate in their cases, less than 10% have lawyers; by contrast, nearly all plaintiffs have attorneys. Together, these circumstances lead to detrimental consequences for defendants, including hefty court fees, garnishment of wages or bank accounts, seizure of personal property, and even incarceration.
However, comprehensive state-level data showing the extent of these problems is lacking. Courts and state leaders need better, more complete information to identify and enact effective policy solutions, such as improved rules and business processes to help ensure that both parties have the opportunity to be heard and receive a decision based on facts and evidence.
The Pew Charitable Trusts conducts objective, nonpartisan research, analysis, and technical assistance, informed by the perspectives of diverse stakeholders, to help state and local leaders better understand court policies and processes, identify problems, and develop evidence-based solutions. The resources collected here examine how civil courts handle consumer debt cases and offer insights on how to use data to improve debt litigation and to make courts more open, effective, and equitable.
For more information on Pew’s research, no-cost analysis, and technical assistance, contact Lester Bird.