With apologies to Charles Dickens, today’s Connecticut is the best of places. Today’s Connecticut is the worst of places.

If you’re among those who understand how Connecticut can be both, you might be feeling the state’s relentless economic squeeze on its middle- and lower-income groups. If debt relief sounds good, you’re not alone. We can help. InCharge provides free credit counseling nationwide, from sea to shining sea.

And it works. Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Connecticut resident and debt-consolidation success story Joe Forte, whom InCharge helped dispatch nearly $66,000 in credit card debt:

“There were a lot of things InCharge did that impressed me,” Forte says, “but the way they started us out was the thing that impressed me the most.

“They talked in language I could understand. We were paying 24-28% interest on all of our cards and they got that knocked down to 7.99%”

Credit counselors designed a budget based on the Fortes’ income and financial obligations, and in just 38 months, that gaping maw of debt that threatened to swallow him and his family was gone.

“They consolidated all our bills,” Forte explains, “and gave us a budget that was realistic, something we could live with. Finally, we could breathe again.”

Get an organizational boost from InCharge — maybe with credit counseling, maybe with debt consolidation, maybe with some hybrid solution — and the joys that make Connecticut the best of states — its natural beauty, history, traditions, location, and lifestyle — can be yours again.

Debt-Relief Options for Connecticut Residents

As one of the nonprofit credit counseling agencies operating in Connecticut, InCharge makes its website available so consumers can gain a better appreciation for what services are available.

When it comes to qualifying for a debt management program, your credit score is immaterial; clients with lousy credit still can get into a debt-relief plan.

InCharge offers a debt-management program that works with creditors to consolidate your debt, reduce the interest rate on your credit cards, and develop a monthly payment plan you can afford. InCharge administers the program, taking your payment each month and distributing it in the agreed-upon amounts to your creditors.

Applicants can get started online or over the phone.

Do-It-Yourself Debt Relief

Some of what credit counseling agencies do you can achieve on your own … if you have the discipline. Reorganize your budget. Look for places to trim excesses: eating out; hitting the coffee shop; putting premium in your car when mid-grade will suffice; overpaying for cable and/or wireless services.

If your credit is good enough, shift high-interest card balances to cards with zero-interest introductory periods. Consolidate your credit card balances into a lower-interest personal loan. (Then cut up all but one card … and store it in the freezer.)

And if some of your debts have lapsed for quite a while, look into Connecticut’s statute of limitations, which is only three years. The time limit may have expired for debt collectors to catch up with you.

Think about your skills. The gig economy might have options for you to bank several hundred dollars a month that you can use for paying down debt.

Connecticut Debt Resources

Happily, Connecticut doesn’t leave its stressed-out residents with no official recourse. The state offers an assortment of programs, many in conjunction with the federal government, to help Nutmeggers in financial trouble.

These programs include:

  • Economic Security — Electronic Funds Transfer (EBT) benefits both households eligible for food stamps and those that qualify for cash benefits. Beneficiaries are issued plastic cards that spend like debit cards.
  • Economic Security — Financial Assistance includes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, an assortment of programs that promote family cohesiveness, job readiness, and independence from government benefits; Jobs First Temporary Family Assistance, providing temporary cash assistance to families with an employable adult; and Jobs First Employment Services, designed to promote employment and self-sufficiency.
  • State Supplement Cash Assistance benefits the aged, blind, or disabled who already are receiving other source of government income, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or Veterans benefits.
  • Including the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, and the Rental Assistance Program, Connecticut offers assorted options help eligible individuals and families afford to buy a home or manage their rent.
  • Whether renters or homeowners, qualifying Nutmeggers straining to make ends meet can take advantage of the state’s Winter Heating Assistance Program. The state also requires all gas service companies to provide an arrearage forgiveness program for gas heating customers.
  • Cut down on your heating and cooling bills by taking advantage of Connecticut’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which promotes the retrofitting of houses and apartments for low-income persons, plus furnace repairs, helping them with energy conservation measures.
  • Connecticut also offers Medicaid for Employees with Disabilities (MED-Connect), as well as screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
  • Every year, AmeriCares Free Clinics in Danbury, Bridgeport, and Norwalk provide top-notch medical care to individuals and families whose incomes are below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

What’s the Matter with Connecticut?

Connecticut has the highest per capita income in the United States. Great.

However, Connecticut’s income gap — often called income inequality — is second only to New York’s. Uh-oh.

Connecticut ranks high in health care (fourth), charitable giving (fifth), public safety (eighth), and education (14th). But its quality of life swooned from 12th overall in 2017 to 38th in 2018.

The decline shows up in Connecticut’s national rankings for opportunity (No. 29), Infrastructure and Fiscal Stability (both No. 41), and Economy (No. 43).

Whether this is a chicken or egg arrangement is up to economists to decide, but Connecticut’s down arrows are reflected in major corporations moving their longtime headquarters out of Connecticut: General Electric, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and Mass Mutual, to name three. Aetna, born in 1853 in Hartford, was headed to Manhattan until it was purchased by CVS and the massive drugstore company recommitted to its hometown.

Small wonder Connecticut is one of only seven states that recently has seen a decline in population; since 2016, the Nutmeg State has lost 0.11% of its population annually. In 2018, Connecticut ranked No. 3 among states in outbound moves, with 62 percent of relocations leaving the state.

Nutmeggers’ average credit-card balances ($7,258) are among the highest in the nation — No. 1 in the continental United States, No. 2 overall, trailing only Alaska ($8,515). Ask Joe Forte: Sometimes it feels like you have to put purchases on a card just to keep up.

And Nutmeggers like their plastic: The average Connecticut resident carries 3.23 cards, fifth among all states, but only a fraction behind No. 1 New Jersey (3.49 cards) and No. 2 New York (3.34).

But wait. There’s more. Connecticut college graduates also are carrying staggering student loan debt — an average of $35,494, third in the nation behind New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. And it’s growing: Through the third quarter of 2018, Nutmeggers’ student loan debt soared to $17 billion, up 112% from 2008 ($8 billion).

Housing costs a pretty penny, too. Even though Connecticut residential real estate has not recovered fully from the Great Recession, the median-priced home went for a pricy $258,000 in 2018, a number that has been on the rise.

Can’t muster a suitable down payment? More bad news. Connecticut is the nation’s ninth most expensive market for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,295 a month. Want to live on the Gold Coast? Who doesn’t, right? The problem is two-bedrooms in the Stamford-Norwalk area are nearly $2,000 a month.

Meanwhile, Hartford never wearies of taking its bite: Having long indulged its public sector unions with ever more alluring salaries, perks, and pensions, the state legislature has laden its residents with the nation’s No. 6 tax burden in 2018. In early 2019, new, emboldened Democratic majorities in the state legislature planned property tax hikes on outpatient hospitals, as well as a bump in the sales tax to 6.85% from 6.35%.

Forte was once a curve-setter, and average-bender. He had 13 cards working simultaneously on top of a new mortgage, some student loans, and a home equity loan left over from a previous house that devoured $400 each month in interest alone.

Forte’s story is quintessentially Connecticut: “Anything and everything that had to be bought and paid for, we just put it on a credit card and thought we’d figure it out later,” Forte says. The kids’ college expenses. A couple of weddings. Moving expenses.

“I call it kicking the can down the road and I bet there are a lot of families like ours doing the same thing,” he said. “The thing is, eventually you realize you’re kicking the can uphill and it keeps rolling back down to you. You borrowed somebody else’s money and eventually they want to get paid back.”

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