About 1 in 5 collectors works for collection agencies; others
work in banks, retail stores, government, physicians’ offices,
hospitals, and other institutions that lend money and extend
Most jobs in this occupation require only a high school diploma,
though many employers prefer workers with some postsecondary
Faster-than-average employment growth is expected as companies
focus more efforts on collecting unpaid debts.
Nature of the Work
Bill and account collectors, called simply collectors,
keep track of accounts that are overdue and attempt to collect
payment on them. Some are employed by third-party collection
agencies, while others—known as “in-house collectors”—work
directly for the original creditors, such as department stores,
hospitals, or banks.
The duties of bill and account collectors are similar in
the many different organizations in which they are employed.
First, collectors are called upon to locate and notify customers
of delinquent accounts, usually over the telephone, but sometimes
by letter. When customers move without leaving a forwarding
address, collectors may check with the post office, telephone
companies, credit bureaus, or former neighbors to obtain the
new address. The attempt to find the new address is called
“skip tracing.” New computer systems assist in tracing by
automatically tracking when customers change their address
or contact information on any of their open accounts.
Once collectors find the debtor, they inform him or her of
the overdue account and solicit payment. If necessary, they
review the terms of the sale, service, or credit contract
with the customer. Collectors also may attempt to learn the
cause of the delay in payment. Where feasible, they offer
the customer advice on how to pay off the debts, such as by
taking out a bill consolidation loan. However, the collector’s
prime objective is always to ensure that the customer pays
the debt in question.
If a customer agrees to pay, collectors record this commitment
and check later to verify that the payment was indeed made.
Collectors may have authority to grant an extension of time
if customers ask for one. If a customer fails to respond,
collectors prepare a statement indicating the customer’s action
for the credit department of the establishment. In more extreme
cases, collectors may initiate repossession proceedings, disconnect
the customer’s service, or hand the account over to an attorney
for legal action. Most collectors handle other administrative
functions for the accounts assigned to them, including recording
changes of addresses and purging the records of the deceased.
Collectors use computers and a variety of automated systems
to keep track of overdue accounts. Typically, collectors work
at video display terminals that are linked to computers. In
sophisticated predictive dialer systems, a computer dials
the telephone automatically, and the collector speaks only
when a connection has been made. Such systems eliminate time
spent calling busy or nonanswering numbers. Many collectors
use regular telephones, but others wear headsets like those
used by telephone operators.
In-house bill and account collectors typically are employed
in an office environment, while those who work for third-party
collection agencies may work in a call-center environment.
Workers spend most of their time on the phone tracking down
and contacting people with debts. The work can be stressful
as some customers can be confrontational when pressed about
their debts, although some appreciate assistance in resolving
their outstanding debt. Collectors may also feel pressured
to meet targets for the amount of debt they are expected recover
in a certain period.
Bill and account collectors often have to work evenings and
weekends, when it usually is easier to reach people. As a
result, it is not uncommon for workers to work part time or
on flexible work schedules, though the majority work 40 hours
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most bill and account collectors are required to have at
least a high school diploma. However, employers prefer workers
who have completed some college or who have experience in
other occupations that involve contact with the public. Workers
should have good communication skills and be computer literate;
experience with advanced telecommunications equipment is also
Once hired, workers usually receive on-the-job training.
Under the guidance of a supervisor or some other senior worker,
new employees learn company procedures. Some formal classroom
training also may be necessary, such as training in specific
computer software. Additional training topics usually include
telephone techniques and negotiation skills. Workers are also
instructed in the laws governing the collection of debt as
mandated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA),
which applies to all third party and some in-house collectors.
Workers usually advance by taking on more duties in the same
occupation for higher pay or by transferring to a closely
related occupation. Many companies fill supervisory positions
by promoting individuals from within the organization, and
workers who acquire additional skills, experience, and training
improve their advancement opportunities.
Bill and account collectors held about 456,000 jobs in 2004.
About 1 in 5 collectors works for collection agencies. Many
others work in banks, retail stores, government, physician’s
offices, hospitals, and other institutions that lend money
and extend credit.
Employment of bill and account collectors is expected to
grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014.
Cash flow is becoming increasingly important to companies,
which are now placing greater emphasis on collecting unpaid
debts sooner. Thus, the workload for collectors is expected
to continue to increase as they seek to collect not only debts
that are relatively old, but ones that are more recent. Also,
as more companies in a wide range of industries get involved
in lending money and issuing their own credit cards, they
will need to hire collectors, because debt levels will likely
continue to rise. In addition to job openings from employment
growth, a significant number of openings will result from
the high level of turnover in the occupation. As a result,
job opportunities should be favorable.
Hospitals and physicians’ offices are two of the fastest
growing industries requiring collectors. With insurance reimbursements
not keeping up with cost increases, the health care industry
is seeking to recover more money from patients. Government
agencies also are making more use of collectors to collect
on everything from parking tickets to child-support payments
and past-due taxes. Finally, the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) is looking into outsourcing the collection of overdue
Federal taxes to third-party collection agencies. If the IRS
does outsource, more collectors will be required for this
Despite the increasing demand for bill collectors, employment
growth may be limited due to an increased use of third party
debt collectors, who are generally more efficient than in-house
collectors. Also, some firms are beginning to use offshore
collection agencies, whose lower cost structures allow them
to collect debts that are too small for domestic collection
agencies. Contrary to the pattern in most occupations, employment
of bill and account collectors tends to rise during recessions,
reflecting the difficulty that many people have in meeting
their financial obligations. However, collectors usually have
more success at getting people to repay their debts when the
economy is good.
Median hourly earnings of bill and account collectors were
$13.20 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.87
and $16.28. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.22,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $20.10. In addition
to a basic rate of pay, many bill and account collectors earn
commissions based on the amount of debt they recover.
Bill and account collectors review and collect information
on accounts. Other occupations with similar responsibilities
include credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks; loan officers;
Sources of Additional Information
Career information on bill and account collectors is available