To Reform Debt Collection Litigation, Courts Need Better Data

Debt collection cases dominate civil court dockets across 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 resources collected here examine how civil courts handle consumer debt cases and offer insights on how to use effective data collection to improve debt litigation and make courts more open, efficient, and equitable.

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How Debt Collectors Are Transforming State Courts

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The business of state civil courts has changed over the past three decades. In 1990, a typical civil court docket featured cases with two opposing sides, each with an attorney, most frequently regarding commercial matters and disputes over contracts, injuries, and other harms.