What Is Debt Assignment?

The term debt assignment refers to a transfer of debt, and all the associated rights and obligations, from a creditor to a third party. The assignment is a legal transfer to the other party, who then becomes the owner of the debt. In most cases, a debt assignment is issued to a debt collector who then assumes responsibility to collect the debt.

Key Takeaways

  • Debt assignment is a transfer of debt, and all the associated rights and obligations, from a creditor to a third party (often a debt collector).
  • The company assigning the debt may do so to improve its liquidity and/or to reduce its risk exposure.
  • The debtor must be notified when a debt is assigned so they know who to make payments to and where to send them.
  • Third-party debt collectors are subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

How Debt Assignments Work

When a creditor lends an individual or business money, it does so with the confidence that the capital it lends out—as well as the interest payments charged for the privilege—is repaid in a timely fashion. The lender, or the extender of credit, will wait to recoup all the money owed according to the conditions and timeframe laid out in the contract.

In certain circumstances, the lender may decide it no longer wants to be responsible for servicing the loan and opt to sell the debt to a third party instead. Should that happen, a Notice of Assignment (NOA) is sent out to the debtor, the recipient of the loan, informing them that somebody else is now responsible for collecting any outstanding amount. This is referred to as a debt assignment.

The debtor must be notified when a debt is assigned to a third party so that they know who to make payments to and where to send them. If the debtor sends payments to the old creditor after the debt has been assigned, it is likely that the payments will not be accepted. This could cause the debtor to unintentionally default.

When a debtor receives such a notice, it's also generally a good idea for them to verify that the new creditor has recorded the correct total balance and monthly payment for the debt owed. In some cases, the new owner of the debt might even want to propose changes to the original terms of the loan. Should this path be pursued, the creditor is obligated to immediately notify the debtor and give them adequate time to respond.

The debtor still maintains the same legal rights and protections held with the original creditor after a debt assignment.

Special Considerations

Third-party debt collectors are subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA, a federal law overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), restricts the means and methods by which third-party debt collectors can contact debtors, the time of day they can make contact, and the number of times they are allowed to call debtors.

If the FDCPA is violated, a debtor may be able to file suit against the debt collection company and the individual debt collector for damages and attorney fees within one year. The terms of the FDCPA are available for review on the FTC's website.

Benefits of Debt Assignment

There are several reasons why a creditor may decide to assign its debt to someone else. This option is often exercised to improve liquidity and/or to reduce risk exposure. A lender may be urgently in need of a quick injection of capital. Alternatively, it might have accumulated lots of high-risk loans and be wary that many of them could default. In cases like these, creditors may be willing to get rid of them swiftly for pennies on the dollar if it means improving their financial outlook and appeasing worried investors. At other times, the creditor may decide the debt is too old to waste its resources on collections, or selling or assigning it to a third party to pick up the collection activity. In these instances, a company would not assign their debt to a third party.

Criticism of Debt Assignment

The process of assigning debt has drawn a fair bit of criticism, especially over the past few decades. Debt buyers have been accused of engaging in all kinds of unethical practices to get paid, including issuing threats and regularly harassing debtors. In some cases, they have also been charged with chasing up debts that have already been settled.