NEWS RELEASE: Debt Collection Lawsuits Dominate Minnesota’s Civil Courts; MSBA Access to Justice Committee Issues Report

The Minnesota State Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee has issued a new report that details how current practices and policies relating to debt collection through the courts impact consumers, including disproportionate impact on communities of color; and outlines and recommends data-driven ways civil courts can better serve Minnesotans.  Access PDF of the report.

Minneapolis, MN (October 10, 2023) – The Access to Justice Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) today released a comprehensive report on debt collection lawsuits across the state, entitledMinnesota Consumer Debt Litigation: A Statewide Access to Justice Report.” The findings reveal that debt collection cases dominate Minnesota’s civil courts, and that confusing policies — such as having two different courts to navigate — can be burdensome for the many Minnesotans without legal counsel. The report also finds that a staggering 82% of debt lawsuits filed in district courts end in an automatic win for the plaintiff, which leads to a court-authorized garnishment of wages and bank accounts. After consulting a range of stakeholders across the state, the Committee issued data-informed recommendations for the justice system to ensure that both sides are equally heard, and Minnesotans have accessible and effective means to participate in the court process.

“Our work for the past year has been to dive deep into our court data to find out who’s being sued, for how much, and identify pain points in the system and address them.” MBSA Access to Justice Director Katy Drahos said, “What the Committee found was that consumer debt lawsuits make up over half of all cases in civil court, and that there are many barriers to participation for those who owe a debt, who are almost always unrepresented. What we have now is a roadmap to better serve all Minnesotans.” 

The report’s key findings are:

●      The current debt litigation landscape has made it difficult for Minnesota civil courts to realize their stated vision in an effective, equitable and open system. Minnesota has fewer residents in debt than in most places in the U.S., but more litigious plaintiffs, with 1 in 8 debts in collections eventually filed as civil court cases.

●      Court processes and policies make it difficult for Minnesota consumers to participate in and resolve their cases. Minnesota’s two-venue system for debt litigation allows plaintiffs to choose whether to file in district court or conciliation court for matters involving $4,000 or less. This creates confusion and different outcomes for consumers, almost none of whom are represented by a lawyer.

●      There are racial and income disparities in who is being sued in Minnesota.  Overall, the rate of debt claims filed against Black and Latino Minnesotans is more than twice that of Non-Hispanic White Minnesotans. Further, the filing rate against consumers in neighborhoods where the median household income is $50,000 or less per year is 50% higher than against those in neighborhoods where the median household income is over $75,000 per year.

●      The services and protections available to debt consumers are not reaching enough Minnesotans or helping people avoid the worst consequences of debt cases. Most Minnesotans facing debt litigation represent themselves. They often don’t make enough money to hire a private attorney but make too much to qualify for legal aid. An estimated 82% of cases are filed against people who are above the legal aid income threshold.

Earlier this summer, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into medical debt practices in the state. The Committee’s report found that medical debt accounts for 17% of debt collection cases, with a higher prevalence of such cases in conciliation court (25%), compared to district courts (7%).

Recommendations of the report include:

  • Develop specialized procedural rules for debt cases to better manage consumer debt cases.
  • Create and improve resources that empower self-represented litigants to participate in their cases.
  • Preserve economic stability for debt-burdened Minnesotans, so they can afford basic needs while repaying their debts.
  • Expand services for lower- and moderate-income people who are struggling with debt.

In October 2022, the Minnesota Judiciary, the MSBA and State Support Services, with data analysis support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and January Advisors, began analyzing the largest data sample of business-to-consumer debt cases ever compiled in the state. The group analyzed nearly 700,000 consumer debt cases filed between 2011 and 2021. These data sets informed the MSBA Access to Justice Committee’s recommendations to Minnesota’s civil courts.

“The working group’s recommendations for our justice system will help self-represented consumers engage in their cases and make the justice system more accessible to all,” Dori Rapaport, Chair of Access to Justice Committee Workgroup and Executive Director, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota shared, “We are not saying debts should not be paid, but that the practices in the justice system could improve to ensure fairness and support early resolution of these cases.”

To stay up-to-date on the Committee’s work and view the report, visit the MSBA Access to Justice page.


The Minnesota State Bar Association, established in 1883, serves 14,000 attorney and law student members. The association promotes the highest standards of excellence and inclusion within the legal profession, provides valued resources to its members, and strives to improve the law and the equal administration of justice for all. The MSBA Access to Justice Committee is dedicated to advancing solutions that help all people, and particularly people with lower incomes or limited access to legal assistance, obtain the legal help and resources they need to receive equal justice.