Maine has a reputation for resilience – thank the rugged weather and geography that has taught Mainers what it takes to scratch out a living in spite of the elements. In recent decades, traditional industries like logging, paper-making and lobstering have declined, a tough blow for a state with a small population spread out over a large rural area.

But recently, Mainers have found new ways to build the state’s economy, focusing on four-season tourism and innovation. The strategy has led to 2.6% population growth between 2010 and 2020 and unemployment consistently below the national average.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed economic gains, but didn’t halt them. The state’s economy in many ways by mid-2021 was as strong as it was in 2019.

Maine has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, at $12.15 an hour in 2021 and $12.75 in 2022. It also has a focus on job training, with strong partnerships between the Maine Community College System and businesses. Ever-increasing broadband access, as well as Portland’s foodie and craft brew vibe, is drawing youngers to Maine. The state also has a robust start-up and innovation environment and a focus on small business and entrepreneurs.

Continued job growth through 2025 is projected by the state’s economist, particularly for personal health aides, restaurant workers and nurses. That said, chronic staff shortages in health care and the hospitality industry are projected to continue for several years.

Despite a strengthening economy, many in Maine struggle to make ends meet. The state median household income is consistently far below the national average. High heating, housing and transportation costs, as well as a lack of job opportunities in the largely rural state can make it tough to get by.

Debt Relief Options for Maine Residents

Many people struggle to get by without knowing where to turn for help. A debt management program or counseling by a nonprofit company like InCharge Debt Solutions may be a good option for Mainers looking for a way to strengthen their financial situation.

InCharge has certified credit counselors who will go over your financial situation and help you budget for free. If debt, particularly credit card debt, is an issue, they may suggest a debt management program. Many consumers are paying interest rates on their credit cards that are as high as 29%. Counselors at debt management programs by nonprofit companies like InCharge can negotiate interest rates as low as 8% with your creditors, and set up a payment plan based on your financial situation that will help reduce your debt.

A debt management program takes 3-5 years to complete. You pay a fixed monthly payment to the debt management company, which includes a fee of $40, and the debt management company makes the payment to your creditors.

Debt management plans don’t have a negative long-term impact on your credit score. While initially the score may be lower as you stop using credit, in the long run, on-time payments and less debt will increase your score.

Other options for Mainers struggling with debt are:

Debt Settlement – Debt settlement differs from debt management in that you pay a private debt settlement company as they negotiate a settlement for a lower balance with creditors. Once your payments to the company, which are held in escrow, reach the amount agreed to with the creditor, your debt will be paid. If you owe a large amount to one creditor, this solution may work for you. However, the fees paid to the company can eat away at any savings you may gain. Debt settlement will also stay on your credit report for seven years,  and lower your credit score by as much as 60-100 points. The IRS will also consider the amount that you saved as “income,” and you will have to pay taxes on it.

Debt Consolidation Loan – Debt consolidation loans are low-interest loans used to pay off higher-interest debt. If you have a decent credit score, this could be an option for you. Some lenders will make payments directly to your creditors, others will let you do it. The trick is to not make sure to rein in your credit card use once you’ve paid them down, or else you have the loan to pay off as well as high-interest credit card payments.

Bankruptcy – Bankruptcy should only be used as a last resort. While it wipes out your credit card debt, it also will have a negative impact on your credit for 7-10 years, which will make it hard to get a car loan or a mortgage. When you file for bankruptcy, you’re required to take a credit counseling course. That course may lead you to a less damaging option.

Do it Yourself – You have the power to negotiate with your creditors for lower interest, go cold-turkey on using credit and putting together and sticking to a budget that will help you save money. While it’s hard to do it yourself, some people are able to and make it stick.

Maine Debt Resources

There are a variety of government and private nonprofit resources in Maine to help if you’re having trouble making ends meet. Some of them are:

  • Maine Homeowners Assistance Fund. Part of the state government’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, the fund disperses assistance to low- to moderate-income and socially disadvantaged homeowners.
  • Maine Foreclosure Prevention Hotline. Homeowners who are facing foreclosure may call the hotline at 1-888-664-2569. The hotline can help with resources and assistance.
  • Pine Tree Legal Assistance can help with resources and information for Mainers dealing with debt collectors, eviction,  health insurance issues and more.
  • Maine Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is a state-administered federal program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides temporary cash assistance for families, as well as job training and education resources.
  • Good Shepherd Food Bank, which provides food and more to food pantries, schools and other programs throughout Maine, has more than 500 partners in the state. Its website has an interactive map of the state’s food pantries as well as information on the state food mobile.
  • Maine Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program provides money to low income homeowners and renters to help with their heating bills. Money goes directly to the fuel or utility company and it’s administered through the state’s Community Action Programs.
  • Higher Opportunity for Pathways to Employment (HOPE). Administered through the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, HOPE helps cover educational costs ranging from training certificates to bachelor’s degrees.
  • MaineHousing, the state’s housing authority, has a variety of programs for low to moderate-income homeowners and renters that can help to put them in a home, as well as help them keep the home they’re in, whether they own or rent.
  • Maine Community Action Partnership. The state’s 11 Community Action Programs offer assistance that includes help for pregnant woman, child care, nutrition, seniors, housing, energy assistance and weatherization, employment training and more. The state website has a map showing where the 11 CAPs are in Maine, as well as where other CAP services can be found.
  • General Assistance is a statewide program for people who need immediate emergency financial help for people who don’t have the resources to meet their basic needs. One-time temporary aid ranges from food and household supplies to medical emergencies and even burial needs. It’s administered through the local town and city governments, and you must contact your local government to see if you’re eligible. There’s also a state hotline that will help you find the right place to call, 1-800-442-6003.

Maine Debt Statistics

The good news is that Mainers are frugal with their credit, with low credit card debt compared to the rest of the U.S. and an average high credit score. They file fewer bankruptcies.

Here are some Maine debt statistics:

  • Average FICO credit score: 721
  • Average overall consumer debt: $77,537
  • Average credit card debt: $4,676
  • Average individual mortgage debt: $140,904
  • Average auto loan balance: $17,696
  • Bankruptcies filed: 1,543 (yearly average 2015-2020), 39% below the national average
  • Decrease in bankruptcy filings between 2010 and 2020: 75.9%

Sources

N.A. (ND) New England Labor Force Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/regions/new-england/data/xg-tables/ro1xg02.htm

N.A. (ND) New England Information Office – Maine. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/regions/new-england/maine.htm

N.A. (ND) Bankruptcy statistics, state filing trends. Retrieved from https://abi-org.s3.amazonaws.com/Newsroom/State_Filing_Trends/2021_FilingTrendsMaine.pdf

N.A. (2021, August) Bankruptcy statistics. Retrieved from https://abi-org-corp.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/aacer-aug-2021-nationwide-bankruptcy-filings-by-state-and-jurisdiction.xlsx

N.A. (2021, September 14) Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2020. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/income-poverty-health-insurance-coverage.html

Rector, A. (2021, October 1) Is The Maine Economy Hot…Or What? Retrieved from https://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/attach.php?id=5761595&an=1

Stolba, S.L. (2021, February 15) Mortgage Debt Sees Record Growth Despite Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/how-much-americans-owe-on-their-mortgages-in-every-state/

Stolba, S.l. (2021, April 6) Average U.S. Consumer Debt Reaches New Record in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/research/consumer-debt-study/

Stolba, S.L. (2021, April 12) U.S. Auto Debt Grows to Record High Despite Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/research/auto-loan-debt-study/