No Exit: How Maryland’s Debt Collection Practices Deepen Poverty & Widen The Racial Wealth Gap


Of consumer debt lawsuits in Baltimore City and County, 73 percent are for judgments under $5,000, 2 percent of consumers have a lawyer, 78 percent of judgments add attorneys’ fees, and body attachments were granted 98 percent of the time if an individual missed their hearing. 

Consumer debt is projected to be at an all-time high of $4 trillion by the end of 2018. Driving this debt is student loan debt, mortgages, medical and civic debt – debt owed to states. Although Maryland has strong consumer protections in place, the state exempts itself from abusive and deceptive debt collection practices in its pursuit of collecting civic debts. To collect state-owed debts, Maryland uses body attachments (arrest warrants), garnishment of wages and property, surveillance of debtors, fines, fees, and places flags on vehicle registration to compel consumers to pay. Non-white households in Maryland make an average of  $30,000 less than white households, are more likely to take out loans for higher education, and have fewer resources to cope with financial emergencies than white households. Maryland’s policies and programs assist private debt collectors in their debt collection by permitting processes in courts that deepen poverty and widen the racial wealth gap for low-income Marylanders. This report examines debt collection practices in Maryland with an emphasis on Maryland’s Central Collection Unit’s (CCU) practices in collecting state-owed debt and makes recommendations to create a fairer and more equitable system in Maryland.

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Between 2015 and 2017, CCU used the District Court system to collect over $18 million in state-owed debts.
  • CCU has an 86 percent success rate in seeking monetary judgments, winning an average of $1,528.02; few consumers have attorneys, and those that had an attorney had judgments against them that were an average of $365 less than the average principal.
  • One in seven cars in Maryland has an invalid registration due to an administrative flag; a majority of those flags stem from the non-payment of a civic debt.
  • Nearly 400 body attachments were issued during a six-month period in Baltimore City and County for debts under $5,000, leading to the arrest of 77 indigent  Marylanders.
  • Consumer debt collection lawsuits are disproportionately carried out in communities of color.


  • Eliminate the use of body attachments for consumer debt below $5,000 and bail requirements for consumer debt cases, and end the arrest of individuals when the court is not in session.
  • Establish the right to legal counsel for consumer cases.
  • Investigate body attachments and arrests across the state by county and the impact of  Maryland’s Tax Return Interception Program (TRIP).


Robyn Dorsey & Marceline White
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition