Sunday, December 7, 2014

You Will Know Too Much About Debt Collections: Jake Halperin's "Bad Paper"

I picked this off the shelf at my library after passing over it a couple of times. I was familiar with it because the New York Times ran a substantial excerpt from it in their Sunday Magazine. I didn’t pick it up the first time because I thought that the article was pretty in depth and that reading the book might not add that much.

I may have been right. In the book, Jake Halpern tells the story of debt collections from the bottom up, where the people who buy debt collect on it. They buy debt for pennies on the dollar and make their profits by collecting two pennies on the dollar and selling the rest of the debt onto another collection agency. This is not a well-regulated industry. The bulk of the book focuses on Buffalo New York, and the main enforcement body in Buffalo (apparently a collections hotspot) only has two full time staff.

The story is interesting, but where the story fails is that the author tries to take the overall idea of debt and turn it into a personalized narrative focused on a couple of interesting characters, and I was never sure if he was fully sure if he was writing about debt or those guys. He was trying to do the Michael Lewis Moneyball thing where the particular stands in for the general, but it is not 100% effective. However, it is an interesting fast read, and unless you worked at collections yourself, you will learn something. The main thing I learned is that I don’t want to be in the position where my debt is sold.