economics | September 07, 2014

The Dark World of Debt Collection: Jake Halpern's NYT Mag Cover Story

In his new real-life thriller Bad Paper, acclaimed writer and Fulbright Scholar Jake Halpern dives into the shadowy underworld of consumer debt collection. Due to be published on October 14, 2014, the book was recently adapted for the cover story of The New York Times Magazine.

"After creditors sell off unpaid debts, those debts enter a financial netherworld where strange things can happen," writes Halpern. "A gamut of players—including debt buyers, collectors, brokers, street hustlers, and criminals—all work together, and against one another, to recoup every penny on every dollar. In this often-lawless marketplace, large portfolios of debt—usually in the form of spreadsheets holding debtors’ names, contact information, and balances—are bought, sold and sometimes simply stolen."

Halpern follows his collectors as they intimidate competitors, manage high­-pressure call centers, and scheme new ways to benefit from American’s debt­industrial complex. It's a fascinating journey into a world many of us know nothing about, yet has the power to affect our daily lives and the economy at large. In the book and in his keynotes, Halpern reveals the human cost of a system that leaves hardworking Americans with little opportunity to retire their debts in a reasonable way, and leaves us with a true understanding of the societal and economic impacts of debt.

There is a way out, though. At the moment, Halpern writes, "as long as paper continues to be stolen, double-sold or otherwise exchanged without accurate supporting information, consumers will be exploited and collectors will have to fend for themselves." But "reform may be on the horizon," he says. He tells us who needs to work together and how in order to make change happen. Perhaps most immediately, it's a voice like Halpern that's needed to tell the country what is really happening to our unpaid debt—and why we need to stand up and take notice.

Jake Halpern is also the author of Fame Junkies and Braving Home. To book Jake Halpern as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.