This week, the Justice for All Commission (JFAC) released a comprehensive report on debt collection lawsuits across Michigan. The findings reveal that debt collection cases overwhelmingly dominate the state’s civil courts, and disproportionately target consumers in majority Black neighborhoods, at all income levels.
The report also revealed more than half of the debt collection cases are brought by five national companies, with almost 70 percent ending in automatic wins, or default judgments, for the plaintiff. Most consumers are left to navigate these lawsuits without legal representation in court. Fully 3-in-4 cases end in asset seizures, wages and even state tax returns—a tactic rarely used in other states that is widely used across Michigan.
Additionally, the filing rate against people living in majority Black communities is two to three times higher than case filings against people living in majority non-Hispanic White communities.
To address these realities of debt collection cases in Michigan, the JFAC offers the following recommendations for civil courts to make data-informed improvements, including:
Modernizing process server rules to help ensure that consumers receive notice of the lawsuit filed against them.
Increasing the amount of information to be included in the complaint to help ensure that the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence to support a default judgment.
Creating court documents and forms that consumers can easily understand and use.
Developing pilot projects to find alternatives to litigation that help creditors, consumers, and courts.
The report is a collaboration between the JFAC, The Joyce Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and January Advisors. JFAC solicited input from many stakeholders – including state attorneys, legal aid representatives, advocates, and court staff – to inform the recommendations.
“The Joyce Foundation is committed to helping create avenues of economic mobility for people throughout the Great Lakes region. Opaque debt collection practices in Michigan trap residents in a downward economic spiral, creating life-long financial challenges. That majority-Black communities are disproportionately impacted exacerbates systemic economic inequities in those communities,” said Whitney Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. “JFAC’s report provides strong recommendations for creating a more fair and just debt collection system in Michigan so that residents have a fighting chance at a brighter financial future.”
Read the full report about debt collection cases in Michigan from our grantee partners here.
About The Joyce Foundation
Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. We support policy research, development, and advocacy in six program areas: Culture, Democracy, Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, and Journalism. We focus our grant making primarily in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, while also exploring promising, evidence-informed policy solutions nationally and at the federal level.