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How to Start a Debt Collection Agency

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

Mark Stewart is the in-house Certified Public Accountant, an accomplished author and financial media specialist.

How to Start a Debt Collection Agency

Fast Facts

Investment range

$1,500 - $5,600

Revenue potential

$42,000 - $420,000 p.a.

Time to build

1-3 months

Profit potential

$37,800 - $126,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Stable

Commitment

Flexible

Debt collection is a necessary evil, ensuring that businesses get paid for their products and services. If you have experience in debt collection or if you want to learn, a debt collection agency can be quite profitable. In fact, the debt collection agencies industry in the U.S. is worth a whopping $20 billion. 

But before you pick up the phone, you’ll need to have some business know-how. Luckily, this step-by-step guide details all the business information you need to start a successful debt collection agency.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Low startup costs
  • Good profit potential
  • Start your agency from home

Cons

  • Can be unpleasant talking to debtors
  • Highly competitive industry

Debt collection industry trends

Industry size and growth

  • Industry size and past growth – The U.S. debt collection agencies industry is worth $20.2 billion in 2023 after growing 1.6% annually for the last five years.((https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/debt-collection-agencies-industry/))
  • Growth forecast – The U.S. debt collection agencies industry is projected to decline .1% in 2023.
  • Number of businesses – In 2023, 6,967 debt collection agencies are operating in the U.S.
  • Number of people employed – In 2023, the U.S. debt collection agencies industry employs 137,603 people.
Debt Collection industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends

  • Artificial Intelligence is being increasingly used in debt collection by “listening” to calls with debtors and recording key information.
  • Omnichannel intelligence is allowing the integration of debtor communications across multiple channels so that various debt collectors can be up to date on the latest conversations with a specific debtor.

Challenges

  • Debt collection laws are continuously changing at both the federal and state levels, creating a challenge for debt collection agencies to keep up.
  • Debt collection agencies are often the target of cyber-attacks, meaning that debt collection agencies must increase their cybersecurity spending. 
Debt Collection industry Trends and Challenges

Demand hotspots

  • Most popular states – The most popular states for debt collectors are Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland.((https://www.zippia.com/debt-collector-jobs/best-states/))
  • Least popular states – The least popular states for debt collectors are South Dakota, West Virginia, and Oklahoma.
Debt Collection Agency demand hotspots

What kind of people work in debt collection?

  • Gender –  69% of debt collectors are female, while 31% are male.((https://www.zippia.com/debt-collector-jobs/demographics/))
  • Average level of education – The average debt collector is high school educated.
  • Average age The average debt collector in the US is 45.5 years old.
Debt Collection industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a debt collection agency business?

Startup costs for a debt collection agency range from $1,500 to $5,500. Costs include licensing, a website, and a marketing budget. The high end also includes the cost of a computer, so if you already have one, your costs will be closer to the low end.

Many states require that you have a debt collection agency license and be bonded, so the high end also includes that cost. Check with your state for requirements. Whether you need to be licensed or not, you’ll need to be familiar with all federal, state, and local debt collection laws.

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your debt collection agency business, including: 

  • Phone
  • Computer
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$100 - $500 $300
Business licenses and permits$500 - $2,000$1,250
Insurance$100-$500$300
Website$300 - $600$450
Marketing budget$500 - $1,000$750
Computer$0 - $1,000$500
Total$1,500 - $5,600$3,550

How much can you earn from a debt collection agency business?

You’ll be paid in commissions based on the amount you collect, with commission rates ranging from 25% to 50%. These calculations will assume an average rate of 35%. Your profit margin when you’re working by yourself from home should be about 90%. 

In your first year or two, you might collect $10,000 per month, bringing in $42,000 in revenue. This would mean $37,800 in profit, assuming that 35% margin. 

As you gain traction, you might hire staff and increase your collections to $100,000 a month. A staff and office would reduce your profit margin to about 30%.  With annual revenue of $420,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $126,000.

Debt Collection Agency earning forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a debt collection agency. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Breaking into a competitive industry
  • Meeting all licensing and bonding requirements
  • Having expertise in debt collection laws and techniques

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a debt collection agency, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.

Analyze your competitors 

Research debt collection agencies in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews.

  • Make a list of debt collection agencies that offer similar services. 
  • Review your competitors’ services – their pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies
  • Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.

Why? Identify an opportunity

You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a third party debt collector that works specifically with banks and credit unions, or a private collection agency that also offers credit counselling to debtors. 

You might consider targeting a niche, such as medical debt collection.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products or services

In addition to debt collection, some debt collection agencies offer accounts receivable management. The services you offer should be based on your experience. 

How much should you charge for debt collection?

Your commissions should be based on market rates and vary based on factors like the age of debt. Once you hire staff, you rates should also be based on your costs.

Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be any creditor, which could include medical and dental practices as well as banks and lenders. Your best bet will be to find leads on LinkedIn. 

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Debt Collection Agency idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Debt Collection Company Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “debt collection” or “debt collection agency”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Dynamic Debt Solutions” over “Medical Debt Solutions”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation. 

Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward. 

Step 4: Create a Debt Collection Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Provide a concise summary of your Debt Collection Agency business plan, highlighting your goals, target clients, and competitive edge.
  • Business Overview: Describe the nature of your Debt Collection Agency, including the types of debts you’ll specialize in collecting and any specific industries you plan to serve.
  • Product and Services: Detail the range of debt collection services you’ll offer, including debt recovery strategies, legal procedures, and negotiation tactics.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the debt collection industry, identifying the demand for such services, potential clients, and the regulatory environment that governs debt collection.
  • Competitive Analysis: Identify other debt collection agencies in your region, emphasizing your agency’s unique approach, industry expertise, and ethical practices.
  • Sales and Marketing: Explain how you intend to attract clients, including strategies for building relationships with creditors, promoting your services, and utilizing technology for efficient debt collection.
  • Management Team: Introduce key team members involved in managing and operating the Debt Collection Agency, emphasizing their experience in debt recovery, legal compliance, and business management.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the day-to-day operations of your agency, covering client onboarding, debt tracking, legal compliance, and communication with debtors.
  • Financial Plan: Present financial projections, including startup costs, revenue forecasts, and expected profitability, along with any contingency plans for handling financial challenges.
  • Appendix: Include any supplementary materials, such as client contracts, legal documents, or industry reports, to support your Debt Collection Agency business plan.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to debt collection agencies. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your debt collection agency will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts. Here’s how to form an LLC.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

Form Your LLC

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a debt collection agency business. 

types of business funding

Step 8: Apply for Business Licenses/Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a debt collection agency business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

Your state may require a debt collection agency license and a surety bond. Check with your state for requirements. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your debt collection agency business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Experian, or Collect!, to manage your accounts, reporting, workflows, and data. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Create a website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. 

Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Schedule Consultation Now” or “Pay Now”. This can sharply increase your new customer leads and collections. 

Online Marketing

Some of your business will come from casual online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness. 

Here are some powerful digital marketing strategies for small businesses: 

  • Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
    • Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area. 
    • Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences. It’s a very good platform for creative businesses. 
    • TikTok: This social media platform has over 1 billion monthly active users and it is used primarily by a younger demographic.
    • LinkedIn: the most effective place for B2B marketers.
  • Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
  • Email marketing/newsletter – Send regular emails to customers and prospects. Make them personal. 
  • Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
  • Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
  • Payper-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
  • Do a webinar – Share your debt collection expertise online with a video seminar

Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. 

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing is any form of marketing that uses offline media to reach an audience. Some options that might work for a debt collection agency business include:

  • Cold calling Close more sales with less stress.
  • Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients. 
  • Testimonials – Share customer testimonials about how your debt collection services helped them

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your debt collection agency meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your debt collection agency business could be:

  • Get those old accounts off your books fast
  • You don’t pay unless we collect
  • Leave the unpleasant job of collections to us
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a debt collection agency business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in debt collection for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in debt collection. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a debt collection agency business include:

  • Debt collectors – collect debts from debtors
  • Salesperson – call on creditors to get new clients
  • Marketing Lead – create and implement marketing strategies
  • General Manager – scheduling, accounting

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Debt Collection Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Debt collection is not a glamorous business, but it’s a necessary service and can be quite profitable. By starting your own debt collection agency, you’ll be tapping into a $20 billion industry and making good money. You could grow your agency over time by having a team, and collecting debts for clients all over the country.

You’ve got the business know-how now, so you’re ready to hit the phones and get your debt collection agency up and running.

Debt Collection Agency Business FAQs

Is a debt collection agency profitable?

A debt collection agency can be very profitable. It is, however, a difficult industry to break into because it’s very competitive. Once you start to get clients though you can make a lot of money if you’re good at it.

What is the growth potential of a debt collection agency?

There’s really no limit to how large a debt collection agency can grow. If you build a team and can build up a good track record, you could do collections all over the country or even internationally.

What type of business is a debt collection agency?

A debt collection agency is a type of financial services business. It has it’s own NAICS code which is 561440.

Can you start debt collection agency on the side?

A debt collection agency could be a great side hustle. You can work from home on your own time as long as you follow debt collection laws regarding when you can call debtors.

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How to Start a Debt Collection Agency