Consumer Protections


Debt can affect anyone, and families fall into debt for reasons that are often uncontrollable – illness, job loss, accidents. Around the state, we hear how debt is completely devastating to a household’s security and future.

For people living on low incomes, debt is a significant barrier to escaping poverty. In our conversations with people throughout the state, we often hear that many Washingtonians living on low incomes simply do not feel that they have any viable way to manage their debt. We believe that everyone, regardless of their income, should have fair and reasonable consumer protections when they borrow money or when they fall into debt.

Due to longstanding policies and practices that provide unfair advantages to white people at the expense of people of color, white families accumulate wealth at significantly higher rates than families of color. For instance, for every $100 of wealth and assets in white families, Black families hold just $5.04. As a result, households of color are much less likely to have cash on hand to handle unexpected expense or a loss in income. With regards to medical debt, 8.5% of the residents of Washington State have medical debt, and there is more than $700M of medical debt on the credit reports of those residents. African Americans and Latinos are more than twice as likely to have medical debt than their white counterparts.

Debt collection companies (aka “debt buyers” or “third party debt collectors”) buy outstanding debt for pennies on the dollar and then attempt to collect on it. These companies often engage in exploitative, predatory, and unfair practices that take advantage of people’s financial situations, depriving people of their hard-earned income.

 What We’re Doing About It

Poverty Action advocates for both maintaining consumer protections already in place and enacting stronger debt protections that will help Washington families avoid debt and lower their amount owed. During the 2019 session, we are advocating for policies that:

  • Regulate the practices of debt collection companies, giving consumers a fair chance to defend themselves in court and address the claim of outstanding debt.
  • Create pro-consumer practices for the collection of medical debt, reducing the amount of interest that can legally be charged, reducing the amount of money that can be garnished from someone’s paycheck, and improving how people are notified of outstanding medical bills.
  • Help prevent home foreclosures, providing investing in services and resources to help homeowners pay outstanding property taxes and making it easier for homeowners to setup payment plans.