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Publisher's Summary

Jake Halpern introduces us to a former banking executive and a former armed robber who become partners and go in quest of "paper" - the uncollected debts that are sold off by banks for pennies on the dollar. As Halpern shows, the world of consumer debt collection is a wild and unregulated shadow land, where operators may misrepresent a debtor's situation, make illegal threats, and even lay claim to debts that are not theirs to collect in the first place. Halpern follows his collectors as they intimidate competitors with weapons, manage high-pressure call centers, and scheme new ways to benefit from American's debt-industrial complex. He also explores the history of collection agencies and reveals the human cost of a system that leaves hardworking Americans with little opportunity to retire their debts in a reasonable way.

©2014 Jake Halpern (P)2014 Dreamscape Media, LLC

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An Examination of Bad Debts; its Buyers & Sellers

“I’d be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were efficient.”
― Jake Halpern, Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

New New Journalism about the financial/debt markets is "So HOT right now".

I went into this book thinking it was going to be a bad copy of a Michael Lewis book. Anyway, a friend of mine recommended this highly. She also has a great book out about debt and the poor (How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy), so I overcame my reluctance and read 'Bad Paper'. IT stunned me. A lot of the basics I understood before, but Halpern was able to add detail and texture to the industry and the players. It reads like Dante's Inferno. First Circle (Banks?), Second Circle (Hedge Funds/Debt Buyers?), Third Circle (Fresh Debt Brokers?), Fourth Circle (Large, more reputable Debt Collectors?), Fifth Circle (Mom & Pop Debt Collectors?), 6th Circle (Older/Crap/Bad Paper Brokers?), 7th Circle (White Dope Peddlers?), 8th Circle (Thieves?), Lawyers (9th Circle). I guess it holds up.

Anyway, the book was tighter than I imagined it was going to be. It was measured, well-documented, and its methodology was documented and obvious. Jake Halpern wasn't venturing too far out with his recommendation or his observations. He played a very close narrative game, and it worked well of this book. Sometimes, you don't have to cook the story too much, the story is already there -- waiting to be eaten. Jake Halern did a good balance of being in the story and getting the hell out of the way.

So, next on my list (after I recover from the emotional toil of this book) is Mehrsa Baradaran's book (How the Other Half Banks) and Jayne Meyer's Dark Money.

12 people found this helpful

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Gripping Story

Any additional comments?

The gritty, often shady, business of buying, selling, and collecting debt is told in this closeup view of some people in the industry. Strongly recommended!

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Racist much?

Absolutely disgusting with the blatant overuse of racist epithets towards people of color!Could have been much better without theN word every 5 minutes.

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Incredible

The world of debt collection is so much more nuanced than I could have ever imagined. Just wow.

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Revealing but fragmented

By way of disclosure, my fiancé works in up-level aspects of this industry (currently at a large bank). He did not listen to this full book - he did take issues with some of it, and there is a lot of qualitative and anecdotal information. it can be a little overly salacious as it follows some of the characters in the story. In the book's defense (and against my fiancé), for better and worse, this book is probably 90% about what happens to resold debt, and what happens to consumer paper after it has been, frequently, re-parceled several times and changed multiple hands. It looks relatively little (but does briefly look) at the upstream issues of how and when debt is issued. It is an interesting look and it analyzes a segment of this industry that is not systematically scrutinized, but it needs to he considered alongside more staid analyses of American consumer debt. The narration is very good.