Households with Debt in Collections

Having debt in collections represents a financial difficulty that is influenced by spending as well as income. It has an impact on borrowers’ financial future [1] and can impact people with income levels much higher than poverty or self-sufficiency thresholds.
The Urban Institute collects and reports proprietary data about households with debt in collections for counties across the country.[2] To understand the distribution of debt in collections, they classify debt in two ways: by its source and the communities that carry it. Debt sources include borrowing for medical expenses, student loans, car notes, retail accounts, and credit cards. Because the data from credit bureaus do not include race, the Urban Institute categorizes ZIP codes into those primarily inhabited by White people or people of color.
In 2022 in San Diego County, 20% of households had any debt in collections (Table 1), compared to 26% of households nationally.[3] Across all debt types, communities of color were more likely to have debt in collections than majority White communities (Figure 1).
The way communities are classified for households with debt in collections is necessary because of the limitations of the data source, but it does make it difficult to compare the indicator to other indicators in this report. Because the ZIP codes are classified by their current residents, ZIP codes can move from “communities of color” to “majority White communities” or vice versa, making it difficult to compare across years. Nevertheless, debt in collections may provide context that is helpful to interpret other financial indicators and is comparable with the Urban Institute data about other counties. Data for other demographic features, like gender, disability, and whether the creditor is an immigrant, are not publicly available. Finally, the total amount of debt in collections at a point in time (February 2022) is reported, but the debt amount is not reported by debt source.
Access to health insurance with adequate coverage for health needs, college and student loan support, and other financial safety nets could reduce the share of households with debt in collections.

Data Information
Data Source: Urban Institute. Debt in America 2022.
  • Note that some households have more than one type of debt in collections, so the number of households with any debt is smaller than the sum of households with each debt type.
References
  1. 71 million US adults have debt in collections. (2018, July 19). Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/71-million-us-adults-have-debt-collections
  2. Carther, A., Martinchek, K., Braga, B., McKernan, S.M., & Quakenbush, C. (2022). Debt in America 2022. Retrieved from https://datacatalog.urban.org/dataset/debt-america-2022
  3. Ibid.
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Updated February 7, 2024