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Russell G. Small

The length of credit card debt

Most consumers in Connecticut and around the country who owe money to credit card companies carry the debt for more than a year according to a poll conducted by CreditCards.com. Almost a quarter of the consumers who participated said that they had carried such debt for at least three years, and 14 percent said that credit card companies had been charging them interest for five years or longer. The study also reveals how income influences the way consumers handle credit card debt.

While individuals who are struggling to earn a living are more likely to have credit card debt, Americans with higher incomes tend to carry their balances for longer periods. Only about 7 percent of the consumers earning less than $30,000 indicated that their credit card balances were five years old or older, but that figure jumped to 17 percent among respondents earning $80,000 or more.

Experts say that this is likely because more affluent consumers are less concerned about credit card interest rates that average 17.5 percent and increase to 24 percent or more for borrowers with troubled credit histories. Those with lower incomes tend to use credit cards more cautiously and often look at them as a form of emergency borrowing and not a way to cover everyday expenses.

Many consumers run into problems with credit cards after losing a paycheck due to a layoff or other setback. Using revolving credit to cover essentials provides temporary financial relief, but it can plunge consumers into a downward spiral of debt, fees, interest charges and almost daily harassment from bill collectors. Attorneys with experience in this area could explain how bankruptcy laws give Americans an escape from overwhelming debt, and they could also point out that the stay issued automatically when a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 petition is filed puts at least a temporary end to creditor harassment.

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