Publication Date: 
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Debt collection lawsuits have increased dramatically over the past few decades, now accounting for an estimated one in four of all civil cases. These lawsuits—which can include suits to recover student loan debt, medical debt, car loan debt, credit card debt, and more—are overwhelmingly resolved in favor of the debt collector. Debt and debt collection judgments can have severe and far-reaching consequences, including wage garnishment, bank account seizure, and inability to secure housing, employment, or medical care. Further, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are disproportionately impacted by debt, contributing to the perpetuation of intergenerational and structural inequity.

Laws governing the debt collection lawsuit process vary widely across the United States, and even within a single state depending on the type of debt, court venue, or amount in controversy. This cross-sectional dataset provides a comprehensive overview of state statutes, state regulations, and court rules governing debt collection lawsuits that were in effect as of January 1, 2023 in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The data span the entire lawsuit process, including statutes of limitation, notice, service, answer, default judgment, and judgment enforcement requirements. This dataset captures laws specific to debt collection lawsuits. Where no such law exists, the dataset captures laws governing civil proceedings generally (including debt claims), except for questions 5, 6, 23, 24, and 25, which only capture provisions that specifically apply to debt collection lawsuits and do not include general requirements.  

The dataset primarily focuses on lawsuits involving lower dollar amounts heard in small claims or limited jurisdiction courts, but also identifies where key differences exist in the litigation process between courts. Question 9 in the dataset identifies which laws were used to code questions 10-35 (i.e., laws governing actions in a general jurisdiction court, laws governing actions in a limited jurisdiction court, or laws governing small claims actions). Please see the Research Protocol for details about the convention for determining which laws were used as the basis for coding, and for more specific information on the coding scheme and inclusion criteria.

Read a policy brief that describes the legal landscape and outlines policy recommendations and a research agenda.

This dataset was created in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts.