Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that has an oil well under its capitol building.

The Petunia No. 1 well was drilled in 1941 and ’42, at a 45 degree angle through a petunia patch just outside the Greco-Roman capitol in Oklahoma City. The well produced about 1.5 billion barrels of oil over the next 43 years.

As much as anything, this well symbolizes the Oklahoma economy. For decades the state depended on the fossil fuel reserves buried beneath its fertile land. At one point, two dozen wells churned oil from the capitol grounds; by 1985 Petunia was the only operating well left, and its supplies were depleted a year later.

Though Oklahoma still accounted for 5% of the nation’s crude oil production in 2019, there was a drop in operating rigs from 102 in 2019 to just 24 in 2020.

As Oklahoma works to retool its economy, it still relies to some extent on energy via oil and the natural gas industries. But the state was hit hard by the sudden drop in oil prices and oil demand when people drove and traveled less during the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, the state’s general fund collected $472.2 million less than it did in the same period in 2019.

Oklahoma was $764.3 million in debt in September of 2020. Unemployment went from 2.9% in February to 14.7% in March before decreasing to 5.4% in October. Most economists believe the state will need time and federal help to bring the economy to pre-pandemic levels. One state program — the Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program – was designed to provide funds to help businesses develop new products or expand capabilities during COVID.

The New York Federal Reserve reports that average debt per household in Oklahoma was $35,000 in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Debt Relief for Oklahoma Residents

Programs are available to those struggling through the pandemic, be they in the energy sector or not. InCharge Debt Solutions, a nonprofit counseling agency, offers relief through its debt management program. InCharge will work with creditors to consolidate debt and reduce the interest rate. The goal: To work toward one monthly payment you can afford.

InCharge administers the program. Payments are made to the agency, which distributes the funds to creditors in agreed on amounts. Credit score is not a factor in debt management programs so a poor score will not affect your ability to participate.

Other options include debt settlement, consolidation loans or, in the extreme case, bankruptcy.

With debt settlement, a creditor agrees to accept a lump-sum y payment that is less than what is owed. This can be negotiated by you or, more likely, by a debt settlement company that will charge fees for the service. The risk in this approach is that it will have a negative impact on an individual’s credit score and could end up costing as much as paying off credit card debt directly.

A debt consolidation loan is for those with good credit. Combining several loans into one with a lower interest rate can reduce the total amount paid each month. However, replacing one loan (from credit card company) for another loan (from a bank) may not be beneficial.

Bankruptcy can eliminate all credit card debt, but also affects an individual’s credit rating for 7-to-10 years, making it difficult to obtain credit. For that reason, bankruptcy must be looked on as a last resort.

InCharge also can help with a debt-relief template program tailored for individual circumstances. This do-it-yourself approach allows the consumer to choose the plan that best suits his or her situation.

Oklahoma Debt Resources

The state of Oklahoma offers several programs to help the financially distressed. Among them:

  • Operation Round-Up Funds from this program are given to organizations and charities that provide help to those struggling financially. The program also can help pay bills that are not paid by agencies.
  • Free Child Care Program Oklahoma helps pay for child care expenses for needy families, which helps ensure care, education and nutrition for children with working parents.
  • Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNE) A combined effort of the state Department of Human Services, Oklahoma State University-Cooperative Extension service and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, this program provides food buying support to low-income families and individuals.
  • SoonerCare Provides help to pay health care insurance and medical costs to children under 19, adults who have children younger than 18 and those older than 65.
  • Foreclosure Prevention and Mortgage Assistance Programs The Oklahoma HUD Counseling agencies have a list of non-profits for those dealing with mortgage issues.
  • Insure Oklahoma A health care assistance program that provides discounted health insurance and help with premiums. In this program, individuals will pay only 15% of medical bills.
  • Oklahoma Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) This program can offer cash help to families with children in financial distress. Help can include temporary cash assistance, work training, employment services and child care assistance. This is one of a few public assistance programs the state offers.

The state also has several energy bill assistance programs, some of which work with the utility companies, to help those in need of help to pay for electric, heating or other utility bills.

Oklahoma Debt Statistics

Oklahoma is the 41st richest state in the country (or ninth poorest); 14% of the state population is below the poverty line, ninth highest in the country.

In terms of debt, state residents carry an average credit card debt of $8,059, the 16th highest figure in the country and well above the national average of $5,700.

Housing costs are not high in the state. Zillow lists the average home price at $139,049 while nationally the average is just above $263,000 – so mortgage debt is not overwhelming. The average mortgage debt of $134,244 is among the 10 lowest in the country.

The state has a total of $14.54 billion in student loan debt spread among 464,00 borrowers. That equates to $31,316 per borrower, a hefty figure but well below the nation’s high in Washington, D.C. ($54,905).

Sources

N.A. (2020, September). Oklahoma’s Fiscal Health Better than Most Prior to Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.truthinaccounting.org/library/doclib/OK-2019-2pager.pdf

Rickman, D. and Wang, H. (2020, Nov. 27). Economic Outlook 2021: Hope on the Horizon. Retrieved from  https://business.okstate.edu/site-files/docs/economics/economic_outlook_2021_caer.pdf

Chamber of Commerce (ND). How rich is each US state? Retrieved from https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/how-rich-is-each-us-state/

Tatham, M. (2019, July 16) Mortgage Loan Increases for the Seventh Straight Quarter. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/how-much-americans-owe-on-their-mortgages-in-every-state/

King, S. (2020, July) Everything will be OK. Retrieved from https://siteselection.com/issues/2020/jul/oklahoma-everything-will-be-ok.cfm