State Debt Collection Litigation Laws

Debt collection lawsuits have increased dramatically over the past few decades, now accounting for an estimated one in four of all cases on civil court dockets. These lawsuits — which can include civil lawsuits to recover student loan debt, medical debt, car loan debt, credit card debt, and more, are overwhelmingly resolved in favor of the debt collector. Debt and debt collection judgments can have severe and far-reaching consequences, including wage garnishment, bank account seizure, and inability to secure housing, employment, or medical care. Further, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are disproportionately impacted by debt, contributing to the perpetuation of intergenerational and structural inequity.

This cross-sectional dataset provides a comprehensive overview of state statutes, state regulations, and court rules governing debt collection lawsuits that were in effect as of January 1, 2023, in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The Research Protocol includes details about the convention for determining which laws were used as the basis for coding, and specific information on the coding scheme and inclusion criteria; however, some key scoping and coding criteria are described below.

The dataset spans the entire lawsuit process, including statutes of limitation, notice, service, answer, default judgment, and judgment enforcement requirements. This dataset captures laws specific to debt collection lawsuits. Where no such law exists, the dataset captures laws governing civil proceedings generally (including debt claims), except for Questions 5, 6, 23, 24, and 25, which only capture provisions that specifically apply to debt collection lawsuits and do not include general requirements.  

The dataset focuses on lawsuits involving lower dollar amounts heard in small claims or limited jurisdiction courts but also identifies key differences in the litigation process between courts. Question 9 in the dataset identifies which laws were used to code Questions 10-35 (i.e., laws governing actions in a general jurisdiction court, laws governing actions in a limited jurisdiction court, or laws governing small claims actions).  

Where the information a plaintiff must provide to obtain a judgment in a debt collection lawsuit (Question 23) differs based on the type of debt, all required information was coded and a caution note indicates which requirements correspond to which types of debt. Where all the coded responses apply to one particular type of debt (e.g., medical debt), that detail is not included in a caution note, but the legal text cited indicates the type of debt addressed.

This dataset was created in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Please note: the information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions regarding your legal rights or obligations, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.

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