Floridians charge to N0. 2 in credit use as area counselors gear up


Despite cutting the cord on some traditional expenses — such as dropping telephone land lines by 17 percent in a year — Floridians are replacing them with other spending and ringing up credit card debt at the nation’s second-fastest pace.

“August has been our busiest month this year,” said Michael Rossi, supervisor for credit-card debt counselors at debthelper. com, a nonprofit organization in West Palm Beach.

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As more people call or visit to seek help managing credit-card debt, his group has added two certified counselors to bring its total to five in the last year, he said.

Floridians’ credit card balances rose 8.95 percent in the second quarter of 2018 compared to the same period a year earlier, credit reporting agency Experian reported. Only Nevada saw a bigger increase at 9.34 percent. The national average was 6.58 percent.

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It’s an undercurrent not always obvious in a time when many basic economic signs seem reassuring. Despite international trade tensions and choppy waters lately in the stock market, the state and U.S. unemployment rate has remained at or below 4 percent, for example.

By themselves, higher credit-card balances do not always spell trouble. For example, some people who pay off their balances each month choose to put an increasing number of routine monthly expenses on plastic to capture generous credit card rewards, such as cash back or travel miles.

But for those unable to pay off monthly balances, high interest rates and fees can magnify financial woes in a hurry.

Bankruptcy rates among seniors are running three times what they were in the 1990s, a new study by the Consumer Bankruptcy Project shows. Unexpected costs such as out-of-pocket medical bills can become overwhelming in a time when corporate retiree benefits such as pensions are becoming less common.

At the other end of the age spectrum, younger workers can wind up pinched between student loan debt and living expenses early in their careers.

Nationally, credit card balances rose to $782 billion by the start of July, up from $764 billion three months earlier, Experian found.

Meanwhile, fewer Floridians have a traditional home telephone line for debt collectors to call. The state’s 2.5 million “wireline” phones in 2017 represented a 17 percent drop in a year, the Florida Public Service Commission reported.

They’re being replaced by voice-over-internet services and mobile phones, whose priciest newer models have been running close to $1,000 apiece.

That’s not the only kind of monthly expense that’s changing. In the last quarter of 2017, subscribers to traditional pay TV services dropped 3.4 percent nationally from a year earlier, which drew headlines as the biggest rate of erosion in eight years.

Floridians may be spending a little differently, but typically not less overall, even as wages have largely stagnated. When it comes to growing credit card balances, Florida has charged near the front of the national pack.

“Americans are swimming in credit card debt,” an Experian blog said.



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