Rosealene Long’s job is the same as always. And it’s different.

Long, president of Collection Services of Goshen Inc., started her business almost 50 years ago. Then and now, she’s dealt with people owed money and the ones who haven’t paid.

“Ours is a commission,” she said of Collection Services, which includes a staff of six. “And if we don’t collect anything, we don’t eat. So we have to collect.”

With Elkhart County in the throes of a recession, Long said her business has changed considerably.

“We have more clients than we did before, people that we’re trying to collect for,” she said. “We have more smaller clients, like mom-and-pop shops that I think used to absorb their losses. But now they can’t absorb their losses because they have more losses than they want.”

Long also said the amount of accounts that are coming in on consumers has gone up, but the per account amount has decreased.

In other words, people are owing less, but there are more people owing.

Long also said Collection Services used to get more PIFs (“paid in full”).

“Now we’re learning to negotiate like we used to,” she said. “People would want to pay off weekly or monthly. We did that for a number of years, then we started asking for payment in full, and the people who were working in the recreational vehicle or trailer factories, they had the money to pay. You just had to ask for it.”

According to Long, watchwords around the Collections Services office are “fair” and “reasonable.”

“We want to be fair to everybody, and so we want them to be fair to us, too,” she said. “When the consumer says, ‘We aren’t working at all’ or ‘We’re down to three days a week’ or something like that, then we have to take that into consideration.”

The reasonable part? That means getting the share of income that can be used to pay bills for Collection Services’ clients.

“We try to first be sure there’s employment or there’s income (on the part of people with debt”, Long said. That can be Social Security or an unemployment check.

“We are working with consumers,” she said. “Most all of our accounts that come in are on people, like you and me.”

Collection Services deals with a lot of school book rental accounts.

“People aren’t paying for their school book rentals,” Long said. “This is a new thing.”

The business also deals with many couples who are separated or divorced. This requires assessing who pays what.

“Our job is a little bit complicated,” she said.

‘Suffer together’

Steve Hooley of Elkhart’s Business and Professional Services said things aren’t different for his collection agency than they are for any Elkhart County company.

“We suffer together,” he said. “We take the same approach now as always — take a positive approach and be fair and reasonable.”

The company’s goal, Hooley said, is to try to resolve the issue with the debtor.

Most of his agency’s business comes from community-based businesses in this area, he said.

Hooley also had advice for those who owe.

“Number one, they shouldn’t be embarrassed or have any hang-ups like that,” he said. “Don’t ignore (the problem). That’s not a good way to handle it.”

Tiring days

Long opened her business on Jan. 28, 1951.

“I never intended to work this long,” she said.

Still, Long said she enjoys her job and feels like she’s done plenty of teaching over the years about money management. She’s big on responsibility, and on spending not outpacing income.

There are days Long goes home frustrated. Those are when people won’t accept phone calls.

“Those are my tiring days,” she said.

Long has high praise for her staff, explaining that most of them know what it’s like to be poor and have to watch their money.

Even with the tiring days sprinkled in, Long feels like she’s doing something good for the community.

“I would recommend this job to almost anyone who likes people,” she said. “And if you don’t like people, don’t get into it.”

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