Bill and account collectors attempt to collect payment for overdue bills. Growth in this profession is expected to be high as there is high turnover and expansion in call centers is expected.
In this free career guide, you will learn how to be a successful bill collector.
Bill Collector Summary
- Employment of bill and account collectors is projected to grow by about 19 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is faster than average for all occupations.
- Most jobs in this occupation require only a high school diploma, though many employers prefer workers with some customer service experience.
- Job prospects should be favorable, especially for those with related work experience.
Working as a Bill Collector
Bill and account collectors, often called collectors, attempt to collect payment on overdue bills. Some are employed by third-party collection agencies, while others—known as in-house collectors—work directly for the original creditors, such as mortgage and credit card companies, healthcare providers, and utilities.
The duties of bill and account collectors are similar across the many different organizations in which they work. First, collectors are called upon to locate and notify consumers or businesses with delinquent accounts, usually over the telephone, but sometimes by letter. When debtors 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. This is called “skip tracing.” Computer systems assist in tracing by automatically tracking when individuals or companies change their addresses or contact information on any of their open accounts.
Once collectors find debtors, they inform them of the overdue accounts and solicit payment. If necessary, they review terms of sale, or credit contracts. Good collectors use their listening skills to attempt to learn the cause of delinquencies. They generally have the authority to offer repayment plans or other assistance to make it easier for debtors to pay their bills. In many cases, they are able to find payment solutions that will allow the debtor to pay off their accounts. They may also offer simple advice or refer customers to debt counselors.
If a consumer agrees to pay, the collector records this commitment and checks later to verify that the payment was made. If a consumer fails to pay, the collector prepares a statement indicating the consumer’s delinquency for the credit department of the establishment. In more extreme cases, collectors may initiate repossession proceedings, disconnect 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 address and purging the records of the deceased.
Because people are very sensitive about their financial problems, collectors must be careful to follow applicable Federal and State laws that govern their work. The Federal Trade Commission requires that a collector positively identify the delinquent account holder before announcing that the purpose of the call is to collect a debt. The collector must then issue a statement—often called a “mini-Miranda”—that lets the customer know that he or she is a collector. Collectors also face many State laws that govern how they must proceed in doing their work. Most companies use electronic systems to help collectors remember all laws and regulations governing each call.
Collectors use computers and a variety of automated systems in their jobs. Companies keep records of their accounts using computers, and collectors can keep track of previous collection attempts and other information in computerized notes. Using this information puts them at an advantage when trying to negotiate with consumers. As with most call-center workers, they use headsets instead of regular telephones. Many also use automatic dialing, which allows collectors to make calls quickly and efficiently, without the chance of dialing incorrectly.
Work environment. In-house bill and account collectors typically are employed in an office environment, and 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 many consumers are confrontational when pressed about their debts. Successful collectors must face regular rejection and still be ready to make the next call in a polite and positive voice. Fortunately, some consumers appreciate assistance in resolving their outstanding debts, and can be quite grateful.
As in most jobs where workers spend most of their time on the phone, collectors usually have goals they are expected to meet. Typically these include calls per hour and success rate goals. Additionally, because most workers are offered incentives for collecting, they may rely on a certain level of success to meet their own budgetary needs.
Bill and account collectors sometimes must work evenings and weekends. While some collectors work part-time, the majority work 40 hours per week. Flexible work schedules are common.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most employers require collectors to have at a least a high school diploma and prefer applicants with postsecondary education or customer service experience. Employers provide on-the-job training to new employees.
Education and training. 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. Previous experience working in a call center is especially helpful.
Once hired, workers receive on-the-job training. New employees learn company procedures under the guidance of a supervisor or other senior worker. Some formal classroom training may also be necessary, such as training in specific computer software. Additional training topics usually include telephone techniques and negotiation skills. Workers also learn the laws governing the collection of debt as mandated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and various State laws.
Other qualifications. Workers should have good communication and people skills because they need to speak to consumers daily, some of whom may be in stressful financial situations. They should be comfortable talking on the telephone with people they have never met. They must be mature and able to handle rejection. Computer literacy and experience with advanced telecommunications equipment is also useful.
Advancement. As collectors gain experience, their success rates generally go up, leading them to earn more money in commissions. Successful collectors are usually given larger accounts with higher earning opportunities. Some become team leaders or supervisors. Workers who acquire additional skills, experience, and training improve their advancement opportunities.
Employment as a Bill Collector
Bill and account collectors held about 411,000 jobs in 2008. About one quarter of collectors worked in business support services. Another 19 percent worked in finance and insurance, and 18 percent worked for healthcare and social assistance providers.
Employment of bill and account collectors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects are expected to be favorable, especially for those with related work experience.
Employment change. Employment of bill and account collectors is projected to grow by about 19 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. New jobs should be created in key industries such as healthcare and financial services, which often have delinquent accounts. In-house bill collectors will take on some of these collections, while others will be sold to third-party collection agencies. In both cases, bill and account collectors will be responsible for recovering these debts, causing the occupation to grow.
Job growth will be tempered somewhat by continued outsourcing of collections work to offshore call centers. In recent years, many companies have chosen to use these call centers for some of their debt recovery efforts. Nevertheless, creditors will continue to hire collectors in the United States, as domestic workers tend to have greater success in negotiating with clients.
The occupation should see large growth in the healthcare industry. The rapid growth projected in this industry, in combination with increasing prices, should result in many collections opportunities. This will affect both collectors who work in the healthcare industry itself and those who work for collections agencies that accept accounts from healthcare providers.
Job prospects. Opportunities for job seekers who are looking for bill and account collector jobs should be favorable due to continued job growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. Those who have experience in a related occupation should have the best prospects. Companies prefer to hire workers who have worked in a call center before, or in another job that requires regular phone-based negotiations.
Unlike most occupations, the number of collections jobs tends to remain stable and even grow during economic downturns. When the economy suffers, individuals and businesses struggle to meet their financial obligations. While this increases the number of debts that must be collected, it also means that fewer people are able to pay their outstanding debt. Companies decide how many collectors to hire based on expected success rates. As a result, the number of collectors does not necessarily increase proportionally to the number of delinquent accounts. Nevertheless, the number of collections jobs tends to remain stable during downturns, although prospective employees may face increased competition for these jobs.
Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
|Bill and account collectors
|NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.
Earnings for Bill Collectors
Median hourly wages of bill and account collectors were $14.73 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.14 and $18.12. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.17, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.07. Most bill and account collectors earn commissions based on the amount of debt they recover.