What is Debt Collection Licensing?

February 7, 2022
By Cornerstone Staff

The Basic average American consumer is about $90,460 in debt. This is bad news on an individual level, but it’s just as bad for the lenders, especially if the debtor becomes delinquent on paying the loan back. After all, if you lent that money out or provided a service or sold a commodity – it’s only fair that you should be paid back in a timely manner.

If you’re looking to get back what is due to you, however, debt collection licensing may be required for your business. Here, we’re going to talk about this licensing and what it will allow you to do. Read on to learn about the collection licensing process and more.

What Is Debt Collection Licensing?

Debt collection licenses are required documentation for debt collectors. They are required by the state as an agreement that you will perform collection activities according to the laws and requirements. This licensing is required of any collection agency, which may range from a sole proprietorship to a large agency with numerous collectors. 

Understanding defined terms like first-party debt collection, third-party debt collection, and researching the state debt collection licensure and regulations is paramount to navigating the complexities of the industry.

There is a difference between a first-party debt collector, who may be the lender or work directly for the lender and a third-party debt collector, who is a separate entity.  Third-party debt collectors are hired agencies who work to recover the debt for their clients who are the lenders or debt buyers.  Some states require both first-party and third-party debt collectors to be licensed, while many more states require just the third-party debt collectors to be licensed.  

The bottom line is – applying for licensure is essential for debt collection and it depends upon two core principles: 

1) You must be licensed according to the laws where you operate/collect from. 

2) You must be licensed according to the state laws of the location where those whom you are collecting from reside.  

If a consumer made a purchase in one state and moved to another state, agencies must be licensed where the consumer currently resides in addition to where the agency operates.  

Debt collector requirements are determined on the federal, state, and sometimes at the municipality level. Thirty-seven states and four municipalities require an approved license and/or bond while others are considered open states.  Some states offer an exemption from licensing but still may require you to file for the exemption.  In states that do not require licensing, certain cities still might. New York state does not currently have a debt collection license but the municipalities of New York City, Yonkers, and Buffalo do require debt collection licensing.  Other municipalities like Chicago require a license in addition to the Illinois state requiring a separate debt collection license.  

Banks are usually exempt from licensing requirements even in states where the collection licensing process is mandatory. Depending on the state, this may only apply to national banks. In other areas, though, it may apply to state-chartered banks and those that meet conditions such as being FDIC-insured.

What Does a Debt Collection License Let Your Agency Do?

If you operate in a state where licensing is necessary or seek to collect from a state where licensing is necessary, you will need to undergo this process before your agency can perform standard activities. These actions include but are not limited to the following:

  • Collecting consumer debts on behalf of your agency
  • Collecting overdue past debts for other entities
  • Debt buying (the purchase of past-due debts)
  • Reporting an individual to a credit bureau
  • Contacting an individual to discuss a debt

It’s essential that you research and obtain appropriate licensing for your state before beginning any debt collection activity. If you do not, you may face hefty fines and even jail time in some cases.

Navigating the Collection Agency License Application 

There are really 4 options of obtaining your licensing:
  • Do it yourself – Here is a helpful article in navigating this difficult decision https://cornerstonelicensing.com/top-5-reasons-cornerstone-licensing/   If you decide to take this step we suggest to finish reading this article for helpful tips and to understand the daunting process that is ahead for you.  
  • Hire a lawyer – Lawers provide an important role in interpreting the law and making legal decisions around how to respond to jurisdiction requirements. Having your licensing being completed by someone who bills several hundred dollars by the hour, however, is the most expensive way to accomplish licensing. 
  • Hire a licensing warehouse company.  There are a number of companies that only fill out forms and that is the limited extent of their services.  They don’t walk you through the accompanying process and work together with your company through the many hurdles required by the licensing process. Getting your fingerprint cards, financial statements , background checks and a number of other requirements together for the license is not accomplished by these companies. This is a sure way to lead you to a filed application that triggers many deficiencies.  A deficiency is when a state regulator flags your license application because it requires more information to complete the application.  A deficiency has a time limit to fulfill, or it can result in the need to begin the application process all over again.  
  • The best choice is to outsource your licensing to a specialized service who knows debt collection licensing specifically.  There are a few unmentioned competitors in this space, but no one with the experience and service that Cornerstone Support offers.  Starting in 1998, Cornerstone Support has the most experience in the Accounts Receivable industry. It is the largest licensing service filing over 30,000 licenses per year.  Cornerstone specialists have established relationships with state regulators and expertise to prepare your license for approval and the pitfalls to avoid a deficiency.  

Cornerstone Support offers a simple five-step licensing process that allows you to take the quickest path to becoming and staying fully licensed. Competitive pricing makes all of these steps stress-free. All you need to do is make a call and Cornerstone will help you understand the next steps in the process to achieving your business goals.  

1. Assign a Registered Agent

First, you’ll need to find a registered agent for your business. These professionals receive legal documents and official paperwork on behalf of your business so that you can register it as an entity in a state where you want to collect.  Cornerstone Support provides this service option for it’s clients as we have a network of registered agents available at a competitive rate.  

A registered agent is responsible for receiving important legal and tax documents including: notice of litigation (service of process), franchise tax forms and annual report forms. Entities are required to maintain a registered agent in every state in which they obtain a Certificate of Authority.

2. Get a Certificate of Authority

What is a Certificate of Authority, exactly? This is the application that registers your business in a jurisdiction. Without it, you cannot legally engage in any business practice, but it is a prerequisite before filing for a debt collection license application. This is because it’s illegal to make taxable transactions without a Certificate of Authority.

Your agency will obtain this certificate from the Secretary of State of every state where you desire to operate or collect. While this paperwork won’t serve as a license for debt collection, it’s a document that your registered agent will need to hand over when requesting this license.

Cornerstone Support provides the service of filing certificates of authority from all 50 states and US territories.

3. Get a Collection Agency Bond

A collection agency bond is specifically required for debt collectors/debt buyers. Roughly half of the 50 states require that agencies obtain a collection agency bond as part of the licensing process. Most collection agency bonds are designed primarily to protect the creditor.

Collection Agencies typically collect monies on a third party basis and are paid a contingent fee based on the monies actually collected. The collection agency bonds can be “called” in the event the agency collects client monies but fails to remit the appropriate funds.

Cornerstone Support offers an inhouse bond service that ensures a seamless handoff process so that your bonds and licenses are completed ontime and filed together. 

4. Obtain Your Debt Collection License

At this point, your company is ready to begin the application for a debt collection license in the states where you have done steps 1-3.  Information in the application varies based on the state, but there are some common questions. All states will ask for corporate, financial, and personal information from the owners and officers of your agency.

In a handful of states, you will need to have a physical office or resident manager so that debtors can make walk-in payments. This also serves the purpose of giving the state a place to conduct audits. Cornerstone provides this resident manager service to allow you to expand your company quickly without having to hire a new employee in another state. These “resident managers” will need to communicate with the state about audits and compliance.

No two licensing projects are exactly the same but a good benchmark is to allow 120 to 180 days to be fully licensed. Once approved, your debt collection agency can begin its full range of operations.

Cornerstone Support understands intimately the license application process and walks you through the requirements paying careful attention to the details and the timing of the process. 

5. Maintain Your Debt Collection License

Debt collection licenses have a specific date on the calendar when they need to be renewed.  Believe it or not, you may have just received approval on your initial application and have to turn around and file a renewal application and paperwork within a few days or months depending on the timing.  

Cornerstone Support license renewal specialists watch attentively the approval of initial license applications so that approved licenses have someone in step to renew them when requires and see to it that no license slips through the cracks.  

Get Started With the Collection Licensing Process

Understanding debt collection licensing can be a challenge, but it’s critical that you do your research and get your license before operating. Now that you know how this process can help you, it’s time to get started.

We’re committed to getting your debt collection agency the licensing and registration necessary to operate in your area. That’s why we offer both initial and renewal licensing services as well as assessments for debt collection agencies. Contact Cornerstone Support with any remaining questions that you have about beginning the licensing process so that you can start collecting what you are owed.


Cornerstone Staff

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