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Stateside Podcast: Detroiters sued over utility debt

JK Nair

When people get behind on their bills, it’s not unusual for collections to come calling. A new investigation from Detroit’s Outlier Media and ProPublica finds one of Michigan’s regional power companies, DTE, is taking an unusual path to deal with outstanding consumer debts.

What they found? DTE is selling old debt — debt from years ago. AND one of the the companies that they’re selling it to has some aggressive tactics to get that money back.


Sarah Alvarez, Outlier Media executive editor

In response to the reporting from Outlier Media, DTE issued the following statement to Stateside:

"DTE has not sold customer debt in the past 5-years, since 2017. Since the pandemic, overall customer debt has actually decreased. In our service territory, an unfortunately high percentage of our customers fall below the poverty line, and we do aggressive, targeted outreach to inform them that financial aid is available. We do not sell the debt of these customers. In the fiscal year 2021, eligible DTE customers received $119 million in financial aid, and we expect that number to grow to $185 million this year.

"In 2017, some customers had become unresponsive to our efforts for help, and their unpaid debt was sold in an effort to mitigate an increasing burden of higher rates on the rest of our customers. All of these customers had terminated service, had closed accounts and left unpaid bills. All debt sales include closed customer accounts only."


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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.