A term used by insiders to describe the debt collection industry.
Transportation policy or choices that prioritize walking, biking, mopeds, scooters, trolleys, buses, shuttles, light rail, local, regional, and continental train systems over automobiles.
Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)
A type of mortgage where the interest rate paid on the outstanding balance changes according to a specific indicator, often out of the control or knowledge of the borrower.
A voluntarily written statement made by a person under oath.
A person who swears to an affidavit.
Affordable Care Act (ACA)
President Obama’s health care reform law signed in 2010, parts of which go into effect in 2014. The law has the stated intent of making health care more affordable, although at least 23 million people will remain uninsured. It has been criticized for widely expanding the role of private health insurance and for-profit care, rapidly transferring public money to private hands through the individual mandate. Also referred to as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) or Obamacare. See individual mandate.
Alternative financial services (AFS)
See fringe finance.
A death that could have been prevented with access to effective health care.
Annual percentage rate (APR)
The rate of a loan’s interest, expressed as the amount that would be accrued over the course of a year.
Anything of economic value owned by a person or company, the value of which may be expressed in cash.
Cuts to government spending on social programs justified as a means of balancing municipal, state, and national budgets in times of financial distress.
See car debt.
When a borrower exchanges their automobile’s title for cash, generally for about one-quarter of the vehicle’s value, with a high APR. The vehicle can still be driven, however, during the loan’s duration.
A court-supervised legal process in which the debts of an individual or business in financial distress are restructured or dismissed.
Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA)
Passed in 2005 as the result of massive lobbying on behalf of the credit industry, BAPCPA is a harsh reform to the federal bankruptcy code that makes it significantly harder and more expensive for debtors to file.
Profits obtained by selling assets, for example, a home, family business, stock, or bond.
An economic system, or mode of production, in which the bulk of the means of production are privately owned, products are exchanged in a market (i.e., the primary determinant of prices is competition among individual enterprises trying to make a profit), and most people work for others, who own the means of production in exchange for wages or a salary.
Debt incurred by the purchase, use, and maintenance of an automobile.
The release of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere primarily from the use of oil, natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels which results in an increase in the average global temperature.
CARD (Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure) Act
The CARD Act of 2009 requires card issuers to determine a consumer’s ability to pay prior to increasing a credit limit or opening a new credit card account.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy
One of the two main chapters in the federal bankruptcy code under which individuals may file, Chapter 7 wipes away all consumer, medical, and other unsecured debts, but does not discharge certain tax debts, student loan debt, or debt from alimony and child support obligations.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy
One of the two main chapters in the federal bankruptcy code under which individuals may file, Chapter 13 emphasizes the restructuring of an individual’s debts as opposed to outright dismissal, allowing the debtor a chance to retain some important assets.
Check-cashing outlet (CCO)
A store where people can cash checks for a fee, often used by people who don’t have a checking account.
A process whereby lenders prolong the duration of debt in order to extract as many fees as possible.
Severe and sudden changes in the earth’s atmosphere and weather patterns brought about by human activity. Although technically the earth’s climate is constantly changing over vast periods of time, drastic increases in greenhouse gas emissions over the past two centuries have had unprecedented and profound impacts on the planet, and thus the term “climate change” primarily refers to human-induced changes.
Originally known as “carbon debt,” the term “climate debt” refers to a measureable ecological obligation from the world’s wealthiest countries to the global South, calculated with the understanding that the former are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, while the latter tends to suffer the harshest consequences. Contrasted with the monetary debts imposed by the richest nations, the concept of climate debt challenges conventional assumptions regarding who owes what to whom.
A business that profits through the collection of debts and interest owed by individuals or businesses.
Natural, intellectual, and social resources for which access, use, and management are shared among members of a community.
Combining several loans into one larger loan from a single lender in order to pay off the balances on the others.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
An independent U.S. federal agency whose stated purpose is to regulate financial institutions such as banks, payday lenders, and collection agencies, and to protect consumers from fraudulent or misleading financial products and services. The CFPB was created in 2011 following the passage of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
The portion of payment for a medical service that is provided by a person with insurance. Higher copays often deter insured individuals from seeking care, resulting in them being effectively uninsured.
A term used to describe when a government gives tax breaks or other special treatment to corporations, in contrast to the characterization of poor people as undermining the system through use of social services.
Credit card receivables
A projection of a credit card companies’ future business income that consists of all the interest that could potentially be collected from cards issued.
A document produced by a credit reporting agency (CRA) summarizing a person’s credit history. Information in credit reports factors critically in decisions to grant credit (e.g., mortgage loans, auto loans, credit cards, and private student loans) and in other financial spheres, including eligibility for rental housing, setting premiums for auto and homeowners insurance in some states, and employment. See credit reporting agencies (CRAs).
Credit reporting agencies (CRAs)
Companies that gather, organize, and standardize certain consumer financial information such as credit card balances, payment history, and outstanding student loan debt and then sell this information to banks and other creditors. Increasingly, this information is also being sold to employers, insurers, and consumers themselves. The largest CRAs known as the “Big Three,” or the “national” CRAs are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
A number produced by inputting a person’s credit information from their credit report into a proprietary algorithm. Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) generate this number and provide it to banks or other financing companies, which use it to decide whether to lend to someone, and at what interest rate. Scores have different ranges, the most common one being 300 to 850, with a higher number signifying greater “creditworthiness.” Increasingly, credit scores are used in other major decisions besides lending, such as employment and housing. See credit report and credit reporting agencies (CRAs).
A person or institution to whom money is owed, typically as the result of a legally binding loan agreement.
Currently not collectible
A program where the IRS voluntarily agrees not to collect on one’s tax debts for approximately one year.
A process of analyzing large amounts of data to discover patterns, often used by businesses to determine sales trends and increase profit.
The expenses expressed as either a flat rate or a percentage of all costs that must be paid out-of-pocket by the patient before an insurer will pay any remaining costs.
Failure to make required payments on debt on time.
See student loan deferment.
Department of the Treasury
The accounting arm of the U.S. federal government, responsible for the collection of all incoming revenue as well as the payment of all federal obligations. Where revenue falls short of covering operating expenses, the Treasury issues government debt in the form of bills, notes, and bonds. The Treasury is also responsible for printing currency.
The exploitation of natural disasters to promote market-based redistribution from the poor to the wealthy, and the outsourcing of basic services like education, health care, and housing to private providers at the local level.
The amount of one’s income after legally required deductions are made, such as taxes and employee retirement systems.
See climate debt.
Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card
A card issued by government agencies and used by cardholders to access benefits such as food stamps, unemployment compensation, veterans’ benefits, etc.
The power of the government and quasi-public development corporations to seize privately owned land. Land seized through eminent domain must be used for the “public benefit,” loosely defined. It may remain property of the state or may be immediately transferred to private developers with the often-vague mandate to foster economic development.
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
Passed in 1970 in response to the increasing concentration of personal consumer credit information in the hands of a few national credit reporting agencies, the FCRA sets out a number of requirements and rules for all agencies that compile consumer credit reports on individuals nationwide.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
A 1977 amendment to the Consumer Credit Protection Act (1968) that makes certain abusive debt collection practices illegal.
Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association)
A U.S. federal program created in 1938 as part of the New Deal to expand the homeowner population by loaning money to people who previously didn’t qualify. Fannie Mae was privatized in 1968.
Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
A U.S. federal program created in 1934 with the express purpose of insuring mortgage loans from banks and other parties in the private sector.
Federal Reserve Bank
The national bank of the United States, which is a central banking system with twelve branches spread across the nation. It controls monetary policy and has supervisory and regulatory authority over the nation’s private banking system.
The most common type of credit score. Credit reporting agencies (CRAs) calculate this score by taking financial data about a consumer and plugging it into an algorithm created by the Fair Isaac Corporation (hence the name “FICO score”). This algorithm is proprietary and secret. The score’s range is 300 to 850, and the median score is about 720. If someone’s score is above the median, they will likely have access to the best credit terms. About 20% of the U.S. population does not have a FICO score because there is not enough information in their credit report, which has a negative impact on their ability to get loans. The majority of lending decisions in the United States are made using the FICO score. See credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and credit score.
A process whereby economic growth becomes increasingly dependent upon money earned through investment and speculation, and whereby financial institutions increasingly influence economic policy.
See student loan forbearance.
The process by which a lender secured by a mortgage or deed of trust engages in the eviction and subsequent sale of property to recover money unpaid by the borrower.
Grassroots-organized schools emphasizing the exchange of knowledge without hierarchy or institutional structures.
An array of predatory “alternative” financial services (AFS) usually offered by providers that operate outside of federally insured banks. Services include check cashing, remittances/money transfers, prepaid cards, payday loans, pawnshop loans, auto-title loans, and rent-to-own agreements.
A group of finance ministers and central bank governors from nineteen countries plus the president of the European Council and Head of the European Central Bank, representing twenty major economies. The G20 has been meeting once or twice a year since November 2008, and has the stated goals of achieving “global economic stability” and “sustainable growth,” although each summit has faced resistance due to a myriad of criticisms, including the group’s lack of transparency and inherently undemocratic nature.
Heads of governments of eight major national economies who meet annually to discuss international issues and are routinely criticized for reasons similar to the G20.
The practice of deducting money from a debtor’s income (typically the salary), sometimes as a result of a court order. Wage garnishment often continues until the full debt is paid off.
General purpose reloadable (GPR) card
A prepaid card set up with the user’s own funds, used in place of a debit or credit card.
The act of gathering unharvested crops left behind by a landowner. Historically, gleaning has at times been sanctioned or even encouraged, at others forbidden or criminalized.
A term used to differentiate economically “developed” or rich nations like the United States and those in Western Europe from the “underdeveloped” or poor nations of Africa, Latin America, and most of Asia.
Gases most notably carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and affect changes in the climate.
A company that insures private issuers of federal student loans. Only loans issued prior to June 30, 2010, may be serviced by a guarantee agency. On such loans, in the event of a default, the guarantee company reimburses the private lender largely with funds provided by the government and takes over the responsibility for collection.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)
A U.S. law that protect patients’ privacy and requires providers to notify patients if a breach has occurred.
Someone who is self-employed and determines their own schedule and mode of work. Examples include nurses, lawyers, barbers, cabdrivers, and accountants.
An individual without enough income to afford basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter, or in a criminal case, someone who cannot afford their own attorney.
When an individual is required to obtain private health insurance instead of, or in addition to, a national health insurance plan.
Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)
An IRS-issued, nine-digit number for taxpayers who are not eligible for a Social Security number.
The rate a patient pays for some portion of the expense of office visits, including prescription medications, surgical procedures, mental health services, ongoing treatment, and emergency services.
A fee for borrowing, calculated as a percentage of money owed.
Interest rate swap (IRS)
A financial tool engineered by Wall Street banks and marketed to states, cities, and other issuers of municipal debt as a means of converting variable interest payments to stable fixed rates. In practice, swaps have locked many municipalities into artificially high interest payments from which banks profit greatly.
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
An international organization with the mandate of expanding global trade which, in coordination with the World Bank, issues loans to countries in need under the guise of alleviating poverty, often while imposing structural adjustment programs. According to the IMF, it differs from the World Bank in that it is a “cooperative” institution tasked with overseeing the balance of accounts between countries. See World Bank and structural adjustment programs (SAPs).
Historically, jubilee refers to the abolition of slavery, the cancellation of all debt, and a return of all lands to the common. In the late eighteenth century the term was used in the English countryside to demand an end to enclosures while African slaves used “jubilee” to demand liberation from slavery. The term was used more recently in the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s to demand an end to third world debt and by debt resistance groups after the financial crisis of 2008 to demand the cancellation of household debt.
Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs)
Fines, fees, and other costs associated with a criminal sentence, for example, supervision fees if on probation, administrative fees, “pay to stay” fees, and prison fees.
Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate)
Benchmark used to set interest rates for over $800 trillion in investments globally. Calculated daily based on data provided by eighteen of the world’s largest banks. For several years following the financial crisis of 2008, banks committed massive fraud by reporting false data to intentionally manipulate interest rates around the world.
In the event of non-payment, a lien is a creditor’s right to take possession of and sell the debtor’s asset that was used to secure a loan.
A set of criteria used to determine eligibility for financial assistance or debt relief based on an individual’s perceived need.
In a set of wages, the wage that falls between the highest-paid 50% of workers’ wages and above that of the lowest 50%.
A U.S. federal- and state-funded health insurance program available only to specific low-income populations, including children, pregnant women, and people living with disabilities.
Medical loss ratio
A term used by insurance companies to account for the money that is actually spent on care instead of profits.
A U.S. federal social insurance program funded largely by a payroll tax on employers and workers, Medicare provides health insurance for U.S. citizens 65 and older and others with qualifying conditions.
A particular practice of lending where loans are not given to isolated individuals, but to each person in a “solidarity group,” often women, in order to finance a small business venture. The members of the group are collectively responsible to make the recipient pay the loan back to the bank. This use of social pressure to achieve high payback rates has been justified as an alternative to the usurious practices of moneylenders in poor communities all over the world.
A term used to describe the strong ideological and material connections between a nation’s armed forces, elected officials, and corporations. See prison-industrial complex.
A legally required statement from a collector informing the lender that they are collecting a debt and that any information gathered during correspondence will be used to collect that debt.
A process of converting something into legal tender, for example, paper currency or coins.
An agreement in which a loan is obtained to buy property and in which the lender may take ownership in the event that the repayment does not occur according to the terms of the agreement.
Mortgage-backed security (MBS)
A tradable financial product whose value is based on the likelihood of repayment on a mortgage or collection of mortgages.
A process where the lender and borrower of a mortgage agree to modify terms of the original agreement often in service of helping the borrower avoid eviction and foreclosure.
Bonds issued to raise funds by state and local governments or publicly funded incorporated entities, such as school districts, development corporations, transportation authorities, or public utilities. Municipal bonds are explicitly or implicitly backed by future tax revenue or other revenue streams such as tolls and utility fees, and are often issued by government-formed authorities run by unelected boards of directors.
Any incorporated local governmental division, such as a county, city, town, or village.
A practice of freely sharing or lending resources or labor based on the understanding that the betterment of a community member is ultimately beneficial to all. It has been observed everywhere in nature and throughout history.
Debt created by selling government bonds and securities to banks and investors within the country issuing the bonds.
When the market value of an asset or investment falls below its outstanding loan balance.
A form of capitalism that claims that what had previously been done by the state or through cooperative social action would be better done by capitalist firms competing in the marketplace. It differs from “old” liberalism, which argued for tearing down tariff barriers and other “hindrances to trade.” In neoliberalism, commodification extends into realms that previously resisted it such as the human parts market and whole new areas of property such as the DNA of a species. Neoliberal economic policies generally include the push for privatization of public services, lower wages for the majority of workers, and loosening restrictions on businesses. See capitalism.
Debt imposed on a government that should never have been taken on in the first place. Often incurred by undemocratic regimes in the interest of those in power, it is the country’s population that is held responsible for repayment, typically at the cost of great suffering.
Offer in compromise
A way to settle one’s tax debts for less than what one owes, based on ability to pay, income, expenses, and asset equity.
Original creditor (OC)
The company to which a debt was originally owed.
A process by which community members work together to determine priorities for public spending. Participatory budgeting has been shown to result in a more equitable distribution of public resources than budgets determined exclusively by representative governments.
When a borrower gives property to a pawnbroker to secure a small, high-APR loan, generally for half of the item’s value.
Small-credit, high-APR loans deceptively marketed as a quick and easy way to tide borrowers over until the next payday.
The surcharge people pay for not having savings or access to prime credit and are thus consigned to fringe finance.
A trend in employment practices in which opportunities for long-term stable jobs with benefits are scarce.
The practice of deceiving borrowers into entering abusive or unfair loan agreements.
A concept used to draw parallels with the military-industrial complex, to highlight ways in which corporate profits incentivize a rapidly increasing prisoner population. See military-industrial complex.
A tax system where people with higher incomes have a higher tax rate in order to better distribute wealth. See regressive taxation.
An alternative to standard state and local government banking and financing models. State or municipal revenues are held in a publicly owned an operated bank rather than a Wall Street financial institution. Bank funds are used to finance infrastructure, economic development and programs that provide long-term returns and benefit the public good, allowing governments to avoid the bond-financing trap. Bank dividends are returned to the public treasury.
A practice that makes loans or insurance inaccessible to people of color, historically used to enhance segregation. See reverse redlining.
Refund anticipation checks (RACs)
A financial product in which consumers who can’t afford tax preparation costs agree to have a temporary bank account opened where the IRS deposits their tax refund. When the refund is deposited, the tax preparation company takes out the amount equal to the cost of their services as well as burdensome fees.
Refund anticipation loans (RALs)
A financial product where consumers can receive the amount of their tax refund in advance in the form of a short-term, high-interest loan. This product has, as of 2013, been largely replaced by refund anticipation checks. See refund anticipation checks.
A tax system in which people with lower incomes bear a disproportionately high tax burden. See progressive taxation.
A money transfer sent to an immigrant’s home country.
A store that rents appliances, electronics, and other items to people which they can, in theory, eventually own. This is different from credit purchases where the customer immediately gains the title to the product.
Work done in and around the home, often without a wage, including but not limited to childrearing, housework, and procreation; traditionally done by women and unrecognized as “work.”
The primary currency of exchange used by governments and institutions in global trade. The U.S. dollar has been the reserve currency for the past seven decades.
Aggressively targeting communities of color with predatory services such as loans, insurance, for-profit education, etc. See redlining.
The subsidization of wealthy households’ credit cards.
The cost increase required to compensate for credit risk.
When an employee, agent, or software of a mortgage servicing company signs foreclosure documents without reviewing them, often resulting in fraudulent or faulty agreements.
Sallie Mae (Student Loan Marketing Association)
Created as a government-sponsored enterprise in 1972, Sallie Mae’s initial purpose was to issue federally guaranteed student loans, financed by a mix of subsidies and private capital. Now it is a publicly traded multibillion-dollar company that issues private student loans and makes millions servicing loans originated by the government.
A market where original investments (loans, mortgages, etc.) are pooled or split in order to be traded to other investors. The New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ are examples of secondary markets.
A debt in which specified assets (collateral) become the property of the lender in the event that the borrower cannot repay. See unsecured debt.
A range of jobs that produce intangible goods, for example, retail, food, and education. Employees in this sector usually require specialized skill sets and are paid low wages.
Single-payer health care
Health care in which a government pays for all expenses except copays and coinsurance, rather than private insurance companies.
SLABS (Student Loan Asset-Backed Securities)
Tradable financial products whose value is based on the likelihood of repayment on private student loans that are collected in a pool.
An economic system in which the bulk of the means of production are held in common and production is democratically planned by the producers.
Debt created by national governments borrowing from foreign sources like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or nation-states like China.
The common practice of taking up residence in an otherwise unoccupied property and making it one’s home without permission from the legally recognized property owner.
Stated income loan
A type of mortgage that allows the borrower to note their income and assets on the loan application without verification.
Statute of limitations (SOL)
A legal limit on the number of years a creditor may attempt to pursue payment.
Structural adjustment programs (SAPs)
Conditions set by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank primarily for countries in the global South to repay debts or apply for new loans.
Student loan deferment
An agreement between lender and financially distressed borrower to postpone repayment for a defined period during which interest does not accrue for subsidized loans.
Student loan forbearance
An agreement between a lender and a financially distressed borrower to reduce or delay payments to avoid default. Interest continues to accrue during this period.
Loans that are characterized by high interest rates, designed for “high-risk” borrowers due to their low credit scores, inadequate documentation, or high debt loads.
See Department of the Treasury.
People without checking or savings accounts.
People with checking or savings accounts but who at least partially rely on alternative financial products.
A home in which the value of the mortgage is higher than the home’s market value.
Money borrowed that is not backed by collateral. See secured debt.
Upside-down car loan
A loan in which the purchaser owes more on a car than that car’s current value.
Laws that establish legal maximum interest rates for loans regulated by states to protect borrowers.
An economic trend in which average wages do not increase when adjusted for inflation.
The amount someone owns minus the amount that they owe. Also referred to as net worth.
An international organization with the mandate of expanding global trade which, in coordination with the International Monetary Fund, issues loans to countries in need under the guise of alleviating poverty, often while imposing structural adjustment programs. See International Monetary Fund (IMF) and structural adjustment programs (SAPs).