Much like North Carolina’s dramatically differing topography — mountains in the West, a piedmont region in the center and sandy coastlines to the East — the Tar Heel State’s response and recovery from an incredibly difficult 2020 has varied widely.

Historically low rates of unemployment in North Carolina suddenly spiked in April and May upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, approximately 21,000 of the state’s job losses were classified as long-term layoffs, meaning they won’t come back even after the country moves beyond the pandemic.

Many rural locales and even some distressed urban areas continue to experience crippling economic stagnation.

Anyone who has lived in North Carolina for decades likely understands that there is often good news and bad news when it comes to the state’s year-to-year economy. First, some good news: Per capita income climbed 73% among North Carolinians from 2010-2019 and the percentages of citizens with high school diplomas and college degrees also rose significantly over the past decade.

Now, the bad news: North Carolina’s per capita income rate still lagged behind the national rate and the gap actually increased from 2010 to 2019. And in terms of education, the percentages of North Carolinians 25-or-older with at least a bachelor’s degree (20.5%) was still lower than the national averages for 25-and-older citizens with bachelor’s degrees (22.5%).

According to a U.S. News report covering a variety of financial variables, North Carolina ranked 18th in the nation in overall health and well being. However, things were much bleaker in the state in terms of job opportunity (No. 36), health care (No. 30) and education (No. 25), according to those same U.S. News rankings.

After everything they endured over the past year with the virus threats, spiking unemployment rates and far too many financial problems, North Carolinians are probably happy about the departure of 2020 and the arrival of new hope in 2021. Assuredly, there are plenty of people in North Carolina who will spend much of the next year trying to dig out of the financial holes created by 2020’s problems.

Fortunately, there are private and governmental agencies that can help those people in financial peril.

Debt Relief Options for North Carolina Residents

A top option for consumers struggling financially is InCharge Debt Solutions and its debt management program. The certified credit counselors at InCharge will work closely with creditors to consolidate credit card debt, lower interest rates and create affordable payments that work best for you.

InCharge can be of great assistance to consumers who are seeking debt relief by reducing the sky-high interest rates often charged by credit card companies. In 2020, credit card companies charged customers an average interest rate of 16%. InCharge has a working agreement with credit card companies and will attempt to get those interest rates lowered to approximately 8%.

InCharge’s goal is to help customers pay off their credit card debts in 3-5. However, know this going in: Customers should use a spending budget — and carefully follow it — so that their credit card debts can be eliminated in the 3-5 year timeframe.

InCharge manages the plan by taking your monthly payment and distributing it to creditors in previously agreed-upon amounts. You can easily apply for this debt-relief plan over the phone or online.

Here is more good news about the consolidation plan: Your credit score is not a factor in enrolling.

Here are some of the other assistance programs that are available in North Carolina to those individuals facing difficult financial crises:

  • Debt Consolidation Loan – If your credit score is in good standing, you could be eligible to receive a low-interest debt consolidation loan. If you do have a solid credit score, you could use this loan to pay off the debt that you have incurred on your high-interest credit cards. You will still be responsible for paying off the consolidation loan, but you won’t be hit so hard financially by the high interest rates that the credit card companies charge.
  • Debt Settlement – With this debt-relief option, allows you pay less than the amount owed to settle the debt. Some credit card companies agree to a lump-sum payment that is less that what you owe. While this is sometimes the right option and helpful to those facing crippling debt, it also can be risky. It goes on your credit report for the next seven years and has a negative impact on your credit score.
  • Bankruptcy – This option may allow you to wipe out your credit card debt, but it should only be used when every other option has been exhausted. Bankruptcy might be beneficial in the short term, but the long-term effects are the damage that will be done to you credit score over the next 7 to 10 years. The negative hit to your credit score will hurt your chances of buying a home or a new vehicle if you choose to do so in the next decade. Be sure to contemplate your needs and desires for future purchases before turning to bankruptcy for short-term debt relief.
  • Do-It-Yourself Plans – If you are somewhat adventurous and the do-it-yourself type, you might consider a DIY-style debt management program that best matches your personal finance needs.

North Carolina Debt Resources

North Carolina residents who are struggling to pay their monthly bills can get help through a variety of state assistance programs. Here are some of the services that are offered to North Carolinians in need:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, also known as Work First: North Carolina’s Work First Family Assistance plan works under the notion that parents are responsible for supporting themselves and their children. Work First will provide parents with short-term training and other services to help them gain employment and be self-sustaining.
  • Mortgage Help and Foreclosure Assistance: The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency will leverage public funds with private investments to finance housing opportunities that help North Carolina, its citizens and economy make progress. Over the past few decades, the NCHFA has produced $27.6 billion in real estate activity for those in need in the Tar Heel State.
  • Medicaid for Infants and Children: North Carolina’s Medicaid/Health Choice plan offers several different methods for parents to pay for some or all of the cost of health care for children. Those interested in these plans can apply through the North Carolina Division of Health Benefits website.
  • Free Prescription Draft: Nonprofit organizations such as NC MedAssist can provide prescription and over-the-counter medications to those in need for free. NC MedAssist operates under the philosophy that no one should ever have to choose spending their money on necessary medications instead of essentials such food or housing.
  • North Carolina Seniors Assistance: The Aging and Adult Services branch of the NCDHHS works to promote and enhance the dignity of aging adults in North Carolina. In addition to offering monitoring and training resources, the program also assists with day services, placement opportunities, protective services and care management for frail adults.
  • Food and Nutrition Services: The state’s food stamps program is put in place to benefit low-income families and provide them with the food they need for a nutritional diet. These benefits are supplied via EBT cards. Those interested in applying for food stamps can do so at the North Carolina FAST ePASS website or in person at a Department of Social Services office.
  • North Carolina Short-Term and Low-Income Housing: The NCDHHS offers several programs to help struggling citizens find and maintain housing. These programs are designed to help people with extremely low income, those struggling with disabilities or ones who have become homeless. They will help citizens identify rental housing locations, offer mortgage counseling referrals and identify agencies that assist with foreclosure prevention.
  • Job Search and Training Assistance: The Workforce Investment Act is a federal law that uses a one-stop delivery plan for job seekers and employers in North Carolina. Each Workforce Center in North Carolina provides all the employment and training services that a job seeker would need to make the process go smoother. To get access to these assistance programs, job seekers must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen and all males must be in compliance with the Selective Service Act.
  • Crisis Intervention Program: The NCDHHS provides help to individuals and families experiencing a life-threatening or health-related emergency, and for those who sufficient assistance is not readily available from any other source. One such crisis that NCDHHS assists with is if a household has insufficient heating or cooling and those extreme temperature circumstances might put a family member in danger. Contact your local Department of Social Services to apply for the CIP assistance.

North Carolina Debt Statistics

According to the Federal Reserve, North Carolina was tied for the 15th-highest median household debt-to-income ratio in the nation in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the large amounts of debt that North Carolinians are carrying following a taxing and tiresome 2020.

  • Mortgage Debt: Approximately 0.89% of North Carolina homeowners were seriously delinquent on their mortgage payments prior to the pandemic even hitting, meaning those numbers will likely skyrocket in the months ahead. The average debt per North Carolina household with mortgages is $154,183.
  • Auto loan debt: North Carolinians have an average auto loan debt of $19,778, according to Experian. That amount gives residents of the Tar Heel State the 20th highest amount of vehicle debt in the country.
  • Credit card debt: On average, North Carolinians have $5,832 in credit card debt. That figure puts the state 26th in the nation in terms of the most amount of debt on their credit cards. Also, North Carolina is well below the national average of $6,194 for average debt on credit cards.
  • Household debt: Fortunately, the poverty rate in North Carolina has plunged in recent years, dropping from a recent high of 18% in 2012 to 13.6% in 2019, according to Statista.com.
  • Student Loan debt: North Carolinians owed approximately $37,500 in student debt on average in 2020, according to org. Some 1.2 million college graduates in North Carolina are still trying to pay off their student loan debts.
  • Credit scores: The good news is that the average credit score among people in North Carolina rose from 694 in 2019 to 703 in 2020. That nine-point year-over-year jump tied for second nationally behind only Arizona (plus-10) and the District of Columbia (plus-10). That number is still less than the national average of 710.Even after its rise in 2020, North Carolina still has the nation’s 13th-lowest average credit score.
  • Identity theft: The North Carolina Division of Employment Security reports that the Tar Heel State ranked 18th in the nation in identity theft. In 2019, various organizations submitted 1,210 data breaches that affected nearly 1.1 million North Carolinians.
  • Bankruptcy and foreclosures: According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, North Carolina had a 3% decrease in total bankruptcy filings in 2019 compared to the 2018 numbers.

Sources

N.A. (ND) Work First Family Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/social-services/work-first-family-assistance

N.A. (ND) Student Loan Debt By State. Retrieved from https://educationdata.org/student-loan-debt-by-state#north-carolina

N.A. (2020, November 3) Average North Carolina Mortgage Debt is $154,183. Retrieved from https://jocoreport.com/average-north-carolina-mortgage-debt-is-154183/

N.A. (ND) EFA:Household Debt; State and County Debt-to-Income Ratio, 1999-2020. Retrieved from https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/dataviz/household_debt/state/table/

N.A. (ND) Poverty Rate in North Carolina from 2000 to 2019. Retrieved from https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/dataviz/household_debt/state/table/

White, A. (2020, December 1) Alaskans carry the highest credit card balance — Here’s the average credit card balance in every state. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/select/average-credit-card-balance-by-state/

N.A. (ND) North Carolina Real Estate Trends and Market Info. Retrieved from https://www.realtytrac.com/statsandtrends/foreclosuretrends/nc/

White, A. (2021, February 3) Minnesota residents have the highest average credit score — here’s how other states compare. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/select/average-credit-score-by-state/

N.A. (ND) Bankruptcy Filing Trends in North Carolina. Retrieved from https://abi-org.s3.amazonaws.com/Newsroom/State_Filing_Trends/FilingTrendsNorthCarolina.pdf