For deadbeats, no place to hide Computerization enhances debt collection

$8.6 million raked in this fiscal year.

May 13, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

Do you have a delinquent student loan? Did you bounce a check to the state Motor Vehicle Administration when you bought that used car? Maybe you weren't entitled to that welfare check that appeared in your mailbox last week?

If so, sooner or later, you'll probably hear from Maryland's little-noticed band of debt collectors. After recently modernizing its operations, the state's central collection unit is doing a better job of hounding money out of the state's debtors.

The unit already has collected $8.6 million in debts the first 10 months of fiscal 1991. With a staff of only 37, the unit is collecting $6 for every dollar it spends.

"You can see, we're bringing in the dough," says John E. Hand, the unit's director.

Last year, dozens of state agencies referred to the collection unit a total of 26,880 debts, with a total value of more than $26.4 million. The unit collected about a third of the total debt -- $8.4 million. Five years ago, the unit collected only $5.7 million.

Students at Maryland public colleges account for about 40 percent of the debts -- for unpaid student loans, fees and parking tickets. Patients at Maryland hospitals and nursing homes account for another chunk. Likewise, people who bounce checks to the MVA or drivers who don't repay the state after damaging state property in a traffic accident -- typically a guardrail.

The unit gets a trickle of cases from people who sued a doctor in the state's Health Claims Arbitration Office, lost their claims and then failed to pay the state for the costs of bringing the action.

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