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An article from the Associated Press, STUDY: 35 PERCENT IN US FACING DEBT COLLECTORS, cites a study by the Urban Institute. The article states:

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records.

The article also notes:

[The Urban Institute] figures nearly match the 36.5 percent of people in collections reported by a 2004 Federal Reserve analysis.

Unfortunately I could not find in short order either the Urban Institute or Federal Reserve studies referred to.

It is not clear from the article whether 35% of Americans are currently in collections, or have at some point been in collections (and if it is at some point, how far back these statistics account for).

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    This study from Urban Institute is about delinquent debt, and this one is about debt levels in general, both released on July 29th. – Is Begot Jul 30 '14 at 17:02
  • Just as a side note: as usual, statistics can be used to prove anything. I've been in "collections" over missed medical bill for $50; as well as incorrectly billed book club membership that was cancelled, for $30. I'd be included in 35% statistics at those periods... yet my inclusion would not be accurately usable to discuss the state of economy or personal finances of the population. – user5341 Aug 7 '14 at 17:01
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The Urban Institute report you're looking for is here: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/413191-Delinquent-Debt-in-America.pdf. See p. 4:

An alarming 35 percent of people with credit files have debt in collections reported in these files. This percentage is nearly identical to results from a 2004 analysis of credit bureau data by the Federal Reserve, which found that 36.5 percent of people with credit reports had debt in collections reported in their files (Avery et al. 2004).

The citation is this:

Avery, Robert B., Paul S. Calem, and Glenn B. Canner. 2004. “Credit Report Accuracy and Access to Credit.” Federal Reserve Bulletin.

You may also want to look at the NY Fed's quarterly report on household debt and credit: http://www.newyorkfed.org/regional/householdcredit.html.

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