What Is a Debt Collection & Buying License?

November 12, 2021
By Cornerstone Staff

Each US household in debt owes an average of $155,622, or more than $15 trillion in total.

What’s more, debt is increasing. This number is 6.2% higher than last year. A key component that helps recover money that would be lost in the economy is debt collection.  Debt collection helps consumers maintain their credit scores and helps lenders/creditors stay in business, providing goods and services to the masses. Considering the significant figures involved, third-party debt collection is regulated by many states.

Each state has the right to enact its own set of collection laws and requirements.  Most jurisdictions have very different statutory regulations and debt collection application requirements.  The majority of states require collection agencies to obtain a debt collection license or bond, 37 in fact. In addition, there are a few municipalities that additionally require a license for debt collection.

Our guide explains exactly what the licenses are, how they work, and how to apply for one, along with all the best licensing tips out there.

What is a Collection Agency License?

Collection agency licenses must be held by any agency that wishes to legally practice debt collection on a third-party basis. These licenses prove that an agency has the legal authority, issued by that state, to collect debt from consumers in that state, on behalf of the agency’s clients. An agency’s trustworthiness is established by means of a detailed application process.

Agencies have to provide detailed personal and financial documents when applying for a collection agency license. A bond is frequently required to ensure clients against malpractice. Some states further require federal background checks and fingerprints with all applications.

In some states, applications are filed with the National Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS).  In other states, it must be on the current application provided by the state.

Once applicants have obtained a license, they still need to keep it up-to-date. They must renew licenses and bonds as regularly as their state dictates. And as legislation changes, agencies may need to adjust them.  Even though an agency might receive approval to collect, they may be required by the state to renew a few months later when application renewals are required.

At Cornerstone, we have in-house specialists that keep all our clients up to date with any changes in state regulations.  Cornerstone produces a monthly Legislative Tracker for newsletter subscribers so that they can see legislation that may potentially impact their licensing.  Our license renewal service also tracks upcoming deadlines, prepares renewal applications, and tracks those applications for our clients’ licenses to keep them operational year-round.  To be added to the newsletter or the license renewal service just reach out to Cornerstone Services.

How to Get a Collection Agency License

Collection agency licenses aren’t regulated or standardized at a federal level. Each state has different requirements. This can vary from requiring no license at all to requiring that a collection agency have a physical office.

In general though, the following four steps need to be followed to acquire a license:

1. Research and Meet the License Requirements

Most states expect the following information with each application:

  • Certificate of authority filed within that state.
  • Business plan
  • Financial statements
  • Collection agency bond

Applicants also have to pay the license fee, which varies by location.

Trawling each state’s website for its regulations can be time-consuming. We at Cornerstone developed a time-saving tool to address this issue.

Use our interactive map of requirements to check the most up-to-date information on what each state, and some individual cities, require. It covers the bond amount, possible exemptions, requirement of a resident manager, collector registration, and background checks.

This variation presents a unique challenge for those looking to operate over several states, or at a nationwide level.

In those cases, working with Cornerstone to ensure you are compliant for each state is the best way to go. Cornerstone will help you file your Certificates of Authority in new states where you haven’t done business before.  Our specialists are familiar with each state’s set of license requirements and have likely filed the license before, and can help our clients walk through the application process.  Cornerstone Support specialists are often on a first name basis with state regulators.  We can get answers from regulators to sensitive questions without divulging the source of the question.

2. Buy a Collection Agency Bond

Collection agency bonds fall under the license and permit bond category. They are legally binding contracts that protect the creditors who work with debt collection agencies from malpractice issues. For example, if an agency failed to remit collected funds to a creditor they worked with, those involved can file a claim against the bond. Bonds enable collection agencies to carry out their work while protecting clients who work with them.

Collection agency bond requirements are unique to each state. The bond pricing and amounts can change depending on a number of factors.  Bonds need to be filed at the time applications are filed.

Cornerstone’s in-house bond department makes this process as smooth as possible by coordinating with the licensing specialist.  Cornerstone specializes in surety bonds and offers free bond quotes. We help our clients make sure they have what they need to apply for their licenses and carry out their business. We will also work with you to develop a licensing strategy that is most cost-efficient.

3. File Your Collection Agency Application

Once all of your paperwork is complete, your collection agency license application can be submitted. Depending on the state, this should be done through the NMLS or according to the state’s debt collection licensing department.

Common reasons applications get rejected include simple mistakes like out-of-date paperwork. To avoid lengthy reapplication processes, check your application thoroughly. It is important to time your submission of your application so that your financial documents are current according to the state’s requirements.

Cornerstone has mastered the license application process. We make sure all the details are correct, and that the paperwork is compliant with every requirement for your state.

Once your application is sent to the state it is considered in a “pending” status.  It is important to watch the status of the license to make sure it is not marked “deficient.” A deficiency means that more information is required to complete the licensing application.  Once an application is marked “deficient” the clock starts ticking on how much time you have to make the correction and to submit it.  Cornerstone watches pending applications for their clients to make this process as smooth as possible for our clients and allowing them to focus on other priorities.

4. Receive Your License

If and when your license is approved, it will be returned to you and ready to use.  Cornerstone will upload your license so that it appears in Compass Online, our online portal that puts your licensing and bonds at your fingertips.  With this included portal service, you can view your licensing inventory and run reports demonstrating your compliance to show creditors.  You can also watch the progress of license applications in process as well.

Approval turnaround times for applications differ in each state, but most incur a wait time of 120-180 days. Consulting with Cornerstone ensures you have the most up-to-date estimates. That way, you can plan your business accordingly.  Using specialists that are familiar with the application process is the quickest path to licensing saving agencies thousands in opportunity costs.

Start the Process Today!

Debt collection is a lucrative career, and we’re here to help you get set up as smoothly as possible. Our team is here to help you with every stage of the process, from filing certificates of authorities in new states, to navigating multiple applications at the same time, to acquiring the necessary bonds.

We’ll collaborate with you to obtain new licenses and keep you renewed smoothly. Our team ensures all your licenses, bonds are up-to-date and compliant. We also have tailor-made insurance options for the debt collection industry.  Our mission is to let you focus on your business and leave the rest to us.

Get in touch today so we can discuss your agency’s needs, and work with you to get your agency started.


Cornerstone Staff

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