John Oliver Makes TV History By Buying $15M Of Debt, Then Forgiving It

John Oliver broke Oprah’s giveaway record in a recent episode of Last Week Tonight in an effort to demonstrate the evils of the debt-collecting industry.

American households are currently responsible for over $12 trillion in debt, debt which can purchased by debt-buying companies for fractions of a penny and aggressively re-collected. Encore Capital, one of the largest debt-buying entities, claims that they’ve purchased so much debt that one in five people owe or have owed them money.  

According to John Oliver, that statistically means “one member of Evanescence owes, or has owed, Encore money.” 

The problem with this is how the debt is often collected. Debt can be purchased and resold to various companies, and while many of them follow the law or outsource the job to debt collecting agencies, some debt collectors use methods of intense intimidation, harassment and dishonesty to attempt to recover the cash.

Oliver sites instances where actual debt collection agencies have threatened the life of those who owe, threatened to kill and eat their family pets, and left harassing messages saying “You’re just a loser…why don’t you just go jump in front of train.” One debt collector even admitted that his favorite part of the job is finding out where the person he’s trying to collect from works, then harassing their boss at home. Imagine the type of person who gains actual joy from harassing other people. Imagine the type of person who actually admits that on television.


Debt collection is a highly unregulated industry where intimidation runs rampant, but John Oliver decided to take a stand. He created his own debt collection group called the Central Asset Recovery Professionals Inc. (CARP) and purchase $15 million in medical debt., then forgave it all on national television.

Oliver’s generosity smashed Oprah’s current record for largest TV giveaway, whose infamous “favorite things” episodes had previously placed her as a clear front-runner. More importantly, 9,000 people no longer have to worry about debt and Oliver opened the eyes of millions to the relatively hidden dark side of the debt collection industry.