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John Oliver forgives $15 worth of medical debt

John Oliver -- the popular host of Last Week Tonight -- recently became an unlikely advocate for those who are struggling with enormous amounts of debt. Oliver made headlines when he purchased and forgave millions of dollars worth of medical debt. He later made a compelling segment concerning the financial and emotional toll that unchecked medical debt can take on a person's life.

If purchasing debt sounds strange to some Washington consumers, it is actually a surprisingly common transaction in the world of debt collecting. As Oliver explained to his audience, uncollected debt is often purchased at a fraction of its worth, which is why he was able to scoop up $15 million in medical debt for a mere $60,000. Unlike Oliver, debt collectors take that cheaply purchased debt and then aggressively attempt to make consumers shell out money that they simply do not have. What often makes this process even more terrifying is the manner in which their personal information -- including Social Security numbers -- are freely passed with little verification.

Companies that purchase debt also tend to employ a number of illegal tactics when collecting debt. Some of the debt that these companies frequently purchase is so old that consumers cannot be sued for repayment, or the debt has already been repaid or discharged through bankruptcy. Consumers being chased by these so-called zombie debts often begin to fear otherwise common things, such as a ringing phone, as a harassing debt collector might be on the other line.

Unfortunately, most people buried under the weight of medical debt will not have the fortune of their debt being purchased and forgiven by someone as generous as Oliver. However, Washington consumers can still take matters into their own hands in order to secure a more financially viable future for both themselves and their family. When necessary, bankruptcy is an effective approach to releasing the burden of debt that is ultimately impossible to pay.

Source: Market Watch, "John Oliver just bought $15 million in medical debt for $60,000 - and forgave it all", Jill Krasny, June 6, 2016

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