Collections agents, also known as bill collectors, attempt to collect payments for unpaid debts. They may be employed in house by the company owed money or by a third party debt collection agency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 411,000 collections agents employed in the United States in 2008. Approximately 25 per cent were employed in business support services, while 19 per cent were employed in the finance and insurance industry, and 18 per cent worked in the health care field.
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Collections agents are given specific accounts that they must collect on, and are responsible for alerting individuals and businesses that their accounts have gone into collections. This is usually done over the phone, but in some cases, agents may draft letters. Collections agents must sometimes locate debtors who move without alerting the company. They will use "skip tracing" procedures to uncover a new address, which usually involves consulting credit bureaus, telephone providers or the post office for information. Once they have informed debtors of their unpaid accounts, collections agents will seek payment. They will discuss debtors' reasons for delinquency and attempt to come up with a repayment plan that will enable debtors to bring their account current. When debtors agree to send payment, collections agents make note of the pledge and check back to see if it has been received. If payment does not occur, the agent will report this to the credit bureau and may start legal action against the debtor. Many collection agents are also responsible for administrative duties as well.
While there are no formal education requirements for collections agents, most employers generally require a high school diploma or GED. Individuals who have completed some college courses, however, may be more attractive candidates for employers. In addition, those who have experience working with the public or in customer service may be viewed as better qualified by employers as well. Most collections agents receive training on the job. Supervisors instruct new agents in company policies, and employers may also offer formal training sessions on various customer service-related topics, such as proper telephone and negotiation skills or how to use certain software programs. Collection agents must also be trained in debt collection laws, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and other state regulations.
Collections agents usually work in offices or call centres. They spend most of the day on the phone, trying to get in touch with individuals who owe money. This can sometimes lead to confrontations, so collections agents often face a great deal of stress. Most agents work standard 40 hour weeks, but they are often required to work nights and weekends as well. Many companies allow collections agents to work flexible schedules, though, and some agents also work part-time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wages for collections agents were £9.50 as of May 2008. The highest 10 per cent were paid more than £14.30 per hour, while the lowest 10 per cent were paid less than £6.60. The middle 50 per cent were paid between £7.80 and £11.70 hourly.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment for collections agents and bill collectors will increase by 19 per cent between 2008 and 2018, which is a faster rate than the average for all occupations. There will likely be new jobs in fields like financial services and health care, because both tend to have accounts that become delinquent. Collections agents are one of the few occupations that actually see growth during recessions because poor economic conditions often mean that companies and individuals have difficulty paying bills. Collections agents who have experience working in call centres should enjoy particularly good prospects.
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