Problem
Recovering more debts for clients

Solution
An on-line collection service

Payoff
Higher debt collection and twice the number of accounts

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About a year ago, collection-agency owner David Trout began including his E-mail address on payment-notification letters to debtors. Many responded quickly over the wires, requesting more information about past-due accounts. Today Trout, founder of Trout & Associates Ltd., a 14-person agency in Arlington Heights, Ill., not only sends electronic dunning notices but also runs a private on-line service for both debtors and clients. Trout claims that electronic accessibility has increased his small company's new business by more than 100% annually.

Since he created his private on-line service, says Trout, hundreds of debtors have come through his cyberdoors. Using his on-line software, debtors can read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to find out more about their rights. For those willing to submit personal checking-account information, past-due accounts can be paid electronically. Debtors also can post questions and register complaints on an on-line forum.

On-line access to Trout & Associates is an added convenience for clients as well. Rather than phone in or write a letter to inform the credit agency of a past-due account, clients simply use their computers to connect to Trout & Associates. They enter the name of the person who owes them money and the amount owed, along with the debtor's street address, telephone and fax numbers, and E-mail address.

Twice a day Trout downloads the information he receives into a corporate database. Then -- with the touch of a few buttons -- letters are printed, and faxes and E-mail messages are sent instantly to debtors. "Thirty percent of the people we fax respond to us within the hour," says Trout. Clients, like debtors, can post questions to an on-line forum and E-mail other clients who are on-line with Trout.

The agency expects its World Wide Web page to be up by late this month. The page (http://www.troutltd.com) will offer many of the services already available through the private on-line connection. However, it will have more public information, including a glossary of legal terms that debtors should know.

Trout espouses a simple strategy: open as many lines of communication as possible for debtors, and you'll increase the amount of debt you can recover for your clients. "A combination of mail, phone, fax, and the Internet is ultimately most effective," he says. "E-mail is great because you can't hang up on it."

-- Joshua Macht