This Map Proves Americans Are Really Terrible at Paying Their Bills 

A blog about business and economics.
July 29 2014 2:30 PM

Americans Are Really Terrible at Paying Their Bills

85291317-ileana-garcia-looks-in-her-wallet-for-credit-cards-she
Put these away.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Looking for an evergreen industry to invest in? Try debt collection. According to a new report by the Urban Institute, more than 35 percent of Americans owe nonmortgage debt that’s been turned over to a collection agency—including anything from credit card balances to student loans to medical bills and parking tickets. If that sounds especially shocking, consider: In 2004, the Federal Reserve found that 36.4 percent of Americans had debt in collection on their credit file.

Like most financial ills, Americans in some parts of the country are having more trouble paying off their bills than others. As shown on this map above, the South is especially plagued with debt collectors—in some corners of the region, more than 61 percent of adults with credit reports have an agency on their tail. What’s more, these figures don’t include low-income Americans who are shut out of mainstream credit sources and instead rely on services such as payday lenders. (One slightly positive note: When you cut bills out of the picture, and focus only on credit-card balances and actual loans, only 5.3 percent have debt past due.)

Advertisement

Two points to make here. First, a smart populist politician could probably get a lot of mileage promising to crack down on some of the sleazier tactics that debt collection agencies employ. They're a villain many of us can relate to. Second, this is why we need consumer finance laws that protect Americans from themselves.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.