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Two lessons from a comedian's move to pay off millions in debt

It started as a comedic expose. John Oliver, the current late night host of Last Week Tonight, is known for his exposes. The talented comic has a reputation for providing a humorous spin to the shadier sides of society.

One of his more recent targets: the debt buying industry.

What is the debt buying industry?

This industry is composed of businesses that purchase unpaid debt, such as medical bills, for pennies on the dollar. These businesses, or collection agencies, then go about attempting to force consumers to pay off their bills.

After repeat efforts, the business may sell the list of information about those who owe payment to yet another collection agency at yet another discount.

And the process repeats and repeats, continuing through a downward spiral.

The businesses that purchase these debts do not always use reputable, or even legal, means to encourage payment. It is not uncommon for these businesses to make excessive contacts and harass consumers in an attempt to gain payment.

How can I get out of the cycle?

Those who are facing unmanageable debt and are tired of the harassing creditor calls have options. One option is to file for relief through bankruptcy.

If approved, a petition for bankruptcy relief results in an automatic stay. This court order requires that creditors cease from all attempts to demand payment. This means the letters, the calls, the demands all stop.

How did Oliver's story end?

Those who found themselves with John Oliver as their debt collector faired pretty well. The comedian chose to forgive all 9,000 debts.

Although it would be nice to have a Good Samaritan act like this to relieve our debts, those actions are rare. Instead, it can help to take comfort in the fact that there are options available - options you can proactively pursue.

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