Justices on the Supreme Court appeared exasperated with both sides during oral arguments Tuesday for a case that would define whether companies that buy distressed debt and attempt to collect on it are covered under a federal statute setting limits on their activities.

Several justices on the high court criticized the plaintiffs’ expansive definitions of which entities might be considered debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1978, which bars certain kinds of abusive, deceptive or aggressive debt collection practices. But some of those same justices also seemed to think that purchasing distressed debt could be used as a loophole that financial services firms could exploit to get around that law.

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