If you’re struggling financially in Louisiana right now, you have plenty of company – and it’s not hard to understand why.

Along with the COVID pandemic that has depressed the economy nationwide, Louisiana had more than its share of natural disasters in 2020. Five named tropical storms struck the Pelican State, most notably Hurricane Laura, which ravaged the southwestern section and spread destruction elsewhere.

Even if the storms didn’t directly hurt you, they sent a ripple effect throughout Louisiana. People who lose their jobs don’t spend as much, and money that might have gone throughout the local economy got redirected into repairs and temporary housing.

This was a tough blow for a lot of people, even those on solid footing. For those who were just keeping their heads above water or with unhealthy credit card balances, it could easily push them into unsustainable debt.

Debt Relief Options for Louisiana Residents

For those who fall into the debt trap, InCharge Debt Solutions is a nonprofit debt counseling services that provides assistance in Louisiana.

InCharge offers a debt management program that will help eliminate credit card debt. InCharge’s certified counselors work with credit card companies to reduce the interest rate to 8%, sometimes even lower. That helps you achieve an affordable monthly payment that will eliminate credit card debt in 3-to-5 years.

InCharge administers the program, taking your payment each month and distributing it in agreed upon amounts each month to your creditors. Applicants can apply online or over the phone.

If debt management doesn’t solve your problem, InCharge’s credit counselors will discuss other options, including:

  • Debt settlement – This is a plan to get your creditors to accept less than what is owed. With a debt settlement plan, a company will agree to accept a lump-sum payment that is less than what is owed on your debt. This can be the solution for people who are battling just to make minimum monthly payments, those who have fallen behind on their bills, or those who have been forced to use credit cards or loans to take care of personal or business expenses. However, this is a risky option that will do damage to your credit score for seven years.
  • Debt consolidation loans – If you have a good credit score (something higher than 670), this can be a good debt-relief option. That good credit score allows you to receive a loan with lower interest rates so you can pay off your credit card debt. It is worth remembering, however, that you’ll still have the consolidation loan to pay off. If your credit score is low, you could be hit hard with steep interest rates and this could cost you as much or more than continuing to pay your credit card debt.
  • Bankruptcy – This option can eliminate credit card debt, but your credit score will drop dramatically for the next 7-10 years. It could become very difficult to get a home or car loan over that timeframe if you are seeking an upgrade in the near future.
  • Do it yourself plans – You can always consider a DIY debt management program with a debt management template. These are set up by InCharge and allow you to pick the plan that best suits your economic distress and your personal finances.

Louisiana Debt Resources

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, Louisiana has a variety of programs that can help.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Housing Finance Agency  and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have a mortgage and housing assistance joint website CARES Act mortgage relief, protections for renters and additional resources and information to avoid COVID-19 related scams.

The Louisiana Housing Corporation administers programs assisting renters, homebuyers and owners needing safe, affordable housing. Assistance includes a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills, helping low- to moderate-income homebuyers attain 30-year, fixed-rate, low-interest mortgages and helps renters obtain safe, affordable, community-based housing. Its emergency rental assistance program was temporarily suspended in January 2020 due to high demand.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission provides links to job openings, job fairs and other employment information.

There are a free and income-based medical and dental clinics around the state. A list is available at freeclinics.com.

There are food pantries to assist those who are down on their luck. Visit Foodpantries.org.

Operation Round-Up. Several Louisiana utility companies participate in Operation Round-Up to help people hit by hard times. Utility customers volunteer to have their monthly bills rounded up to the nearest dollar to provide a fund to help needs such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, handicap modifications, wheelchair ramps, medicine and food. (The program does not pay for home repairs or utility bills.) Contact your utility company for details.

The Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP) is a no-cost program that pays for hospital care, doctor visits, prescription drugs, shots and more to uninsured children up to age 19. The child may not currently have health insurance, and household income must be below certain limits to qualify. Apply at the Louisiana Department of Health website or call 1-877-252-2447.

LouisianaSenioRx.org is a program that connects low-income people with discount prescription drugs, direct from the pharmaceutical manufacturer. It is administered by the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs through regional Councils on Aging. Information is available at the Louisiana Answers website.

Louisiana Debt Statistics

Louisiana is the third poorest state in the nation with a real per-capita income of $46,208 according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Louisiana’s poverty rate over the past three years (19.8%) ties it with neighbor Mississippi for worst in the country.

Louisiana was in the middle of the pack (24th) among states in its average credit card balance ($8,110) in 2019. It will be interesting to see if the calamities of 2020 changed that.

Although non-farm employment improved consistently between June and November 2020, it was still down 4.5% over the previous year.

Some good news: Louisiana has the seventh-lowest average student debt per borrower ($23,855).

Sources

N.A. (ND) Operation Round-Up Grants Retrieved from https://slemco.com/community/operation-round-up-grants-for-the-needy/.

N.A. (ND) LaCHIP. Retrieved from https://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/222

N.A. (ND) SenioRX Program. Retrieved from https://www.louisianaanswers.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88&Itemid=487

N.A. (ND) Credit card debt by state. Retrieved from https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/credit-card-debt-by-state

N.A. (ND) How rich is each state. Retrieved from https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/how-rich-is-each-us-state/)

N.A. (2021, January 15) Economy at a Glance: Louisiana. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.la.htm

Nikolovska, H. (2021, January 8) Student Loan Debt by State – A Complete Rundown. Retrieved from https://balancingeverything.com/student-loan-debt-by-state.