New Jersey is considered one of the richest states in the U.S., according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But for many who live there – maybe you – being a resident of a wealthy state can be a double-edged sword. New Jersey also has one of the highest costs of living in the country, as much as 13.2% higher than the national average.

Rent, groceries, transportation, utilities in 2020? They’re all higher than the national average.

Along with that high cost of living comes debt. New Jersey has an average of $8,959 credit card debt per person.

If you’re a New Jersey resident dealing with credit card debt, we can help you. InCharge provides free credit counseling to residents of all 50 states, including New Jersey.

Credit card debt can feel overwhelming, but there are solutions.

Debt Relief Options for New Jersey Residents

Getting out of debt isn’t easy. It requires tough financial decisions and hard work.

The best first step is to take advantage of free credit counseling from a nonprofit credit counseling agencies, like those at InCharge. Make sure the nonprofit agency you select is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) . New Jersey’s Department of Banking and Insurance lists credible counselors on its website.

A counselor will walk you through your finances, so both you and the counselor can get an accurate picture of what the challenges are. You will work with the counselor to put together a budget that is affordable enough to include money to pay off credit card debt.

The counselor also will suggest how best to attack your debt, based on what your situation is.

The most common solutions are:

Which solution is right for you depends on how much debt you have, what your income is and your spending habits. The recommendation for those who need guidance, structure and help curbing spending will likely be a debt management program, like the one offered at InCharge. The option is considered one of the most effective, because it’s tailored to your level of debt, income and spending.

But there are benefits and drawbacks to all the options. In the end, it’ll be up to you to consider what the best solution is. Here’s a general look at what’s involved:

Debt Management Programs

Debt management programs, like those InCharge offers, are often the best option for those who still have money left in their budget after paying off the standard expenses of housing, utilities, food, transportation, etc. The extra money goes toward paying off debt, after reaching an agreement with the creditors on monthly payments.

The InCharge credit counselors  work with the creditors to reduce your interest rate and arrive at an affordable monthly payment. The payment is tied to a custom-designed budget that takes your income and spending habits into account.

Some of the pros for debt management are:

  • One monthly payment
  • Lower interest rates
  • A fixed interest rate for the length of the program
  • Having someone else talk to your creditors and secure lower rates
  • Account management software where you can track all of your payments, balances, and interest all in one place
  • Paying off your debt faster than making minimum payments on your own
  • The convenience of not having to “think” about payments
  • Someone to call and help you when you have issues with your statements/creditors
  • Education on budgeting, saving money and being an informed consumer.

Cons include:

  • It only applies to unsecured debt like credit cards.
  • If you miss a payment, you may lose whatever concessions card companies have made.
  • You must stop using all but one of your credit cards, and only use that one in emergencies.
  • Smaller banks and possibly some department store and gas station card companies don’t always agree to debt management programs.
  • If you want a quick solution, this isn’t it. It can take 3-5 years, so payments remain at an affordable level and you have a better chance to succeed.

The ideal candidate for a debt management plan is someone who has high-interest debt, most commonly credit cards – and a steady enough income to handle that debt – but needs help creating a better budget to guide them down the right path.

Debt consolidation

This typically is a personal or home equity loan that combines all your debt into one large bundle, and pays them off with the loan money. You are left with a monthly loan repayment that should have a lower interest rate than your credit card. Often it’s a second mortgage, using the borrower’s home as collateral. This won’t fix the problem for those who have a habit of buying on credit and carrying large credit card balances, so it’s important to review your financial habits when considering this option. The downside is that it can increase your debt, or even lead to foreclosure, if you miss payments. In the end, too, you remain solely responsible for paying your own bills and negotiating with creditors.

Debt Settlement

This is almost in the “last-ditch” category for solving credit card debt. If you go this route, not paying what you owe goes on your credit report for seven years. In debt settlement, you or more likely a for-profit debt settlement company, try to persuade creditors to accept less than what is owed. The for-profit companies run ads that say you will pay half or less of what you owe. That’s possible, but wildly optimistic. For that to happen, you would need “half of what you owe” in cash to offer the creditor to settle the debt. If you don’t have that much cash, you have to save up that amount. Along the way, you’ll add late fees and interest to the amount owed. Add in the fees for service you pay when the debt is eventually settled and you are more likely to have saved 20%-25%. And have a 7-year stain on your credit report for doing it.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a court action that stops lawsuits and other attempts by creditors or collection agencies to get you to pay your debts. It can happen as quickly as six months with Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but usually is a much longer process and should be an absolute last resort. It’s a nuclear option that can decimate your financial options for a long time. The bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 7-10 years, and makes it extremely difficult to get credit, including auto loans and mortgages. It can even hurt your employment options. New Jersey residents are required by state law to get counseling from an approved bankruptcy counselor before they can file.

Do It Yourself

Doing it yourself involves educating yourself on budgeting, money management and credit before you negotiate with your creditors. There are many options for doing it yourself. You could pay off debts with the highest interest rates first; or the accounts with the smallest balances; or cut up your credit cards and possibly get a second job to help pay the balances down.

When negotiating with creditors, you’ll find that some are willing to negotiate lower payments or interest rates, or waive late charges and other fees. They realize that it’s better to receive some of the money owed than none of it. If you have the ability and temperament to conduct difficult, time-consuming negotiations, as well as the strong will to keep spending at a minimum and commit to payments, this may be the way to go.

New Jersey Debt Resources

InCharge is among the nonprofit credit counseling services operating in New Jersey with availability for credit counseling online or over the phone.

Credit score is not a factor in qualifying for a debt management program, so even if you have bad credit, you can still take advantage of debt-relief option.

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

New Jersey has a webpage dedicated to help those with debt challenges, listing reputable credit counseling agencies, including InCharge. You can find it here.

Debt consolidation programs, though, may be just one tool to help you meet your financial needs.

The state of New Jersey offers financial aid for crisis situations, help with medical expenses, legal aid and help dealing with debt collectors, grant and assistance programs to state residents as well as delivering federally funded help through rent vouchers for those with low incomes.

New Jersey has a webpage listing these services with links to resources, which can be found here. Some of the major ones are listed below.

Credit Reports and Repair

New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs offers help and advice on how to get credit reports, and repair credit. It lists rights and obligations for consumer credit reporting, provides contact information for reporting agencies, and also spells out consumer rights under the New Jersey Fair Credit Reporting act, as well as the national act, and provides resources for credit help. It offers

Debt, Foreclosure and Bankruptcy Counseling

Housing counseling in the state is listed on the state’s Department of Banking and Insurance webpage and includes:

  • Organizations that provide assistance for those facing foreclosure.
  • Debt adjustors licensed in the state, including InCharge.
  • HUD approved housing counseling agencies.
  • New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency-approved counseling agencies in the state’s free foreclosure mediation program.
  • New Jersey Bankruptcy Court-approved credit counselors.

New Jersey Financial Aid and Assistance Programs

All of New Jersey’s counties, and many of its towns and cities, have grant and assistance programs covering a number of needs. Links to the programs are on the here.

Housing and Rent Assistance

New Jersey offers a variety of programs that help residents find safe and affordable housing, pay security deposits, assist with rent, and navigating other housing issues.

Programs include those administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, as  well as the department’s partnerships with non-profit organizations and charities across the state.. Based on the applicant’s situation, there’s help paying rent as well as finding low-cost, permanent and stable housing. Some of the resources include the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Homelessness Prevention Program, as well as the State Rental Assistance Program.

WorkFirst New Jersey

The New Jersey public assistance grant program, administered by the state’s Department of Human Services, aims to help families and individuals move to self-sufficiency by offering support that ranges from health insurance, child care and transportation aid, to substance abuse treatment and emergency funds. Recipients who need the help will face a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance, and they also must become employed or take part in work activities.

New Jersey Debt Statistics

New Jersey is geographically the ninth smallest state in the U.S., but it backs a punch economically. It has nearly nine million people, making it the 11th most populous state. It’s gross domestic product, as of the end of 2019, was 8th, at $648.9 billion.

The average income is $36,069, about $5,000 higher than the national average, and its household median income is $76,475, one of the highest in the U.S. and nearly $20,000 higher than the national median.

The median home price in New Jersey is $329,300, while the national average is $231,200; average mortgage debt $242,631 and 67.5% of homeowners hold a mortgage.

Do you rent? You’re feeling the pressure. The average one-bedroom apartment unit is $1,208; the national average is $930. Have a family? A three-bedroom apartment will cost you an average $1,906 a month, compared to the national average $1,537.

If you’re one of the 4.45 million Jersey residents making less than $80,088 a year, maybe making the 2020 minimum wage of $11 an hour, it can be hard to make ends meet.

Each New Jersey resident spent an average of $58,750 on good and services in 2018.

And according to a GoBanking survey, it will cost $75,861.19 a year to retire in New Jersey, making in the 9th most expensive state for retirees in the U.S.

No matter what your salary, if you live in New Jersey, you may be wondering how to have a more comfortable future by getting that debt down.

Reaching out to an NFCC-accredited debt organization, like InCharge Debt Solutions, is a good place to start getting that under control. A certified credit counselor can guide financially strained consumers through their options. InCharge is nationally accredited and has been helping New Jersey residents eliminate debt for decades.

Sources

Tahtam, M. (2019, November 4) A Look at U.S. Credit Card Debt. Retrieved from  https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/state-of-credit-cards/

Stebbins, S. (2019, January 28) States with the Most Credit Card Debt. Retrieved from https://247wallst.com/special-report/2019/01/28/states-with-the-most-credit-card-debt/

Frolich, T., Peters S. (2020, January 12) States with the Most Mortgage Debt. Retrieved from https://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/06/03/states-with-the-most-mortgage-debt/11/

N.A. (ND) Credit Card Debt by State, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/credit-card-debt-by-state

N.A. (ND) Financial Counseling Organizations. Retrieved from https://www.state.nj.us/dobi/division_consumers/finance/counselors.html

N.A. (ND) Need Help Paying Bills. Retrieved from https://www.needhelppayingbills.com/html/new_jersey_assistance_programs.html

N.A. (ND) How rich is each U.S. State? Retrieved from https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/how-rich-is-each-us-state/#does-a-states-poverty-rate-correlate-with-its-total-wealth

N.A. (ND) Personal consumption expenditures by state, annual: New Jersey. Retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/release/tables?rid=391&eid=216860

N.A. (ND) Best Places to Live: New Jersey. Retrieved from https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/new-jersey

Csiszar, J. (2019, June 5) This is What a Comfortable Retirement Will Cost You in Every State. Retrieved from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/comfortable-retirement-cost-every-state-010018374.html.