Pennsylvania Resident Debt Relief
InCharge provides free, nonprofit credit counseling and debt management programs to Pennsylvania residents. If you live in Pennsylvania and need help paying off your credit card debt, InCharge can help you.
Choose Your Debt Amount
Debt is universal from sea to shining sea in the United States. Solutions for debt problems can be just as universal.
Wherever you are, credit counseling, debt consolidation, debt management, debt settlement and credit card forgiveness are valuable tools to help when debt begins to compromise your financial health. Because the U.S. is literally a collection of 50 different governments with 50 different policy approaches, it also helps to look at tools and solutions that are unique to the state where you live.
Pennsylvania’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, could easily be called America’s first financial advisor based on the wisdom and advice of his book Poor Richard’s Almanack that included this line: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Some 232 years after Franklin’s death, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is reforming into a service-based economy. That transition from a manufacturing economy has left a lot of people behind. And that means that debt has become a major problem for a lot of families. The COVID-19 epidemic added to the burden.
Millions of Pennsylvanians are trying to get back on track, and that often means dealing with debt. The debt management program and credit counseling offered by InCharge Debt Solutions are designed to lower the interest rates you are paying on credit cards and help you understand how to manage your money.
Debt Relief Options for Pennsylvania Residents
The essential tools for debt relief are as useful to Pennsylvania residents as they are anywhere else. They include:
- Debt management plans
- Debt consolidation loans
- Debt settlement
- Credit card forgiveness
These tools for debt relief have specific advantages and weaknesses, which we’ll get to momentarily. For now, just know that there are nearly as many ways out of the debt trap as there are ways in. Credit card debt, loss of personal income, medical debts, divorce are all problems or events that can happen to anyone at any time. The trick is finding your own best escape route.
That is where nonprofit agencies like InCharge come in. InCharge offers debt counseling services over the phone and online to help consumers deal with the problems debt creates.
Debt Management Programs
Debt management programs are among the most effective debt-relief options available. Basically, a management program combines your credit card debt, applies a lower interest rate to all of it, and creates an affordable monthly budget that includes a single payment to reduce debt. Most creditors require you to close your credit cards to avoid adding to your debt, but your credit score should improve as you consistently make the single monthly payment. Debt management programs can be accessed with online credit counseling from nonprofit credit counseling agencies. Typically, a debt management plan will resolve your credit card debt within 3-5 years.
Debt Consolidation Loans in Pennsylvania
A debt consolidation loan is just what it sounds like: consolidating all of your unsecured debts into one amount, then obtaining a loan to pay off all of it. In effect, you are transferring the debt from high interest credit cards to a low-interest loan, which should reduce the amount you pay each month and the time it takes to pay off your debt. In this way, you can resolve all your debts within 3-5years. Simply paying off credit cards at higher interest rates can take 10 years or more.
Banks, credit unions and online lenders can help you consolidate credit card debt, and process a consolidation loan, but you will need a good credit score (680 or above) to get a low enough interest rate to make it worth your time. Meanwhile, you will not be called by collection agencies.
A balance transfer card is another form of a debt consolidation loan. It is a convenient, but limited, way to reduce your credit card debt It is essentially a new card, which has 0% interest for an introductory period, usually between 12-18 months. You can use the new card to pay off your existing credit cards. However, you can only pay up to the credit limit established by the new card. If that limit is enough to eliminate your other cards and allow you to make one monthly payment to the balance transfer card, then this option may be the right one for you. Caution: There is a transfer fee of 3%-5% on these cards and you will need a credit score of above 680 to qualify for one.
Debt settlement may feel like a shell game, but it can be an effective way to address debt. It is a 2-3-year process that generally involves a for-profit settlement company. You pay the settlement company monthly, and the money goes into an escrow account. Meanwhile, the company advises you to stop paying your credit card bills. When those accounts go into default, the settlement company negotiates a reduced amount to resolve the debts. While they advertise reducing your debt by 50%, late fees and interest on your unpaid credit card debt increases the balance you owe. Add in fees for the service and it’s more likely you’ll save closer to 20%-25% of your original balance. Your credit score is likely to take a hit of as much as 100-200 points.
Credit Card Forgiveness Program
A credit card forgiveness program resembles debt settlement without the shell game. The lenders involved agree up front to accept 50%-60% of what you owe in 36 fixed monthly payments. No interest is charged to your account during the 3-year payment period. There are several qualifying standards that must be met to enroll in the program. It is offered by only a few nonprofit credit counseling agencies, including InCharge Debt Solutions.
Filing Bankruptcy in PA
The “B word,” bankruptcy, can sound like a disaster to a person trying to be responsible and take care of their responsibilities. In reality, it is a financial tool that can resolve a difficult debt situation and give you a second chance. In Pennsylvania, there is a means test, which measures your income against the median household income in the state. If your income is below that median, you qualify to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If not, you may choose to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Either way, you file a petition with a U.S. bankruptcy court. There are three districts for bankruptcy courts in Pennsylvania: Eastern, Middle, and Western.
More than 70% of bankruptcy filings are under Chapter 7, in which your home, automobile(s) and other key assets are exempt from being liquidated. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on your credit report for 10 years. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy, in which you make a monthly payment to a court-appointed trustee managing your case, remains on your credit report for 7 years.
Pennsylvania Debt Resources and Financial Assistance Programs
Given the pandemic’s carnage, it pays to remember Benjamin Franklin’s words on poverty – “Having been poor is no shame, being ashamed of it is.”
There’s no shame in needing help, and Pennsylvania offers an array of financial-assistance programs. Here are some of the more popular ones:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – Cash grants for low- income residents with dependent children and their relatives, and for pregnant women.
- PACE and PACENET – Pays for prescription medication for seniors. 1-800-225-7223.
- Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) – Health insurance for children under 18. Available regardless of family income. 1-800-986-KIDS.
- PARxPriceFinder.com – A website that directs Pennsylvanians to pharmacies with low-cost prescription drugs in their area.
- Military Family Relief Assistance Program – Provides grants up to $2,500 for military members and their families. 1-866-292-7201.
- Child Care Works – Provides childcare assistance based on income guidelines. 717-657-9000.
- Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) – Assistance if you’re struggling to pay your mortgage or rent. 1-800-692-7462.
- Discounted Telephone Bills – The Lifeline 135 program provides a discount of up to $14 on monthly telephone bills. The Link Up program helps pay for the installation of a phone or purchase of cellular phone. The UTAP program pays phone bills to prevent a disconnection. 1-800-692-7380.
- Food Stamps and SNAP – Statewide, more than 1.8 million people receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Benefits are based on your household income. Apply online here, or in person at your county assistance office. You can locate your county office here. To apply, you must be the head of the household, the spouse of the head of household, any other responsible household member, or a designated authorized representative like a friend or relative whom the applicant trusts to go food shopping and use their SNAP benefits.
- Mortgage and Foreclosure Assistance – Pennsylvania has numerous programs that will help families with paying their mortgage and also avoid foreclosure. Your local state, town or county may offer resources, or they may partner with nonprofits to provide government assistance. More on Pennsylvania mortgage help. If you live in Philadelphia, the city also offers a foreclosure mediation program that can help homeowners keep their home. Another option will be government certified housing and foreclosure counseling agencies. Various services are offered. More on Pennsylvania HUD agencies.
- Healthy Horizons Program – Helps the disabled and elderly pay for Medicare health insurance. The people who are in need of help can even have an income. This program is to supplement the insurance costs. Phone 1-800-692-7462
- Disability Assistance Programs and Benefits – Services ranging from medical care, financial aid, government grants, free home care, and more is offered for the disabled in Pennsylvania. Various organizations can provide more information on the benefits that are available and assistance in applying. Click for more information on disability help in Pennsylvania.
- Employment Programs and Grants for Emergency Needs – Employment services, job training, and other self-sufficiency resources are offered by community action agencies. Most of the non-profits can also help low-income families apply for government grant programs and other aid. CareerLink Centers provide the unemployed and residents seeking new skills access to a large number of services. Receive job search assistance, training, and career counseling. Continue job training in Pennsylvania.
- Credit Services – Thousands of families turn to nonprofit organizations every year for low cost or even free services to get out of debt or deal with credit and home loan concerns. A few dozen agencies operate across Pennsylvania. Counselors can help Pennsylvanians get away from payday lenders, pay auto loans or other outstanding debt. It helps facilitate short term grants and loans from legitimate financial services.
- Medical Assistance (MA) – Also can be sometimes referred to as Medicaid. The state of Pennsylvania can provide government payment for health care services or medical bills on behalf of eligible low-income individuals that have limited income and high medical expenses. It is a form of free or low-cost health insurance in PA. Call 1-866-550-4355.
Medical Debt in Pennsylvania
One of the harshest realities of American life is that serious medical problems can lead directly to serious financial problems. Medical debt can result from in adequate or incompatible health insurance, treatments that exceed annual spending limits, loss of income during an illness and other factors. In Pennsylvania, third-party debt collectors and the original debtor can file lawsuits to collect unpaid medical bills. There is a statute of limitations that closes the window on such suits after four years.
In the past two years, medical debt has become the leading cause of debt in the United States, eclipsing credit card debt. In Pennsylvania, 11.5% of citizens have medical debt in collection, with $583 the median amount of medical debt in collection. About 7.5% of Pennsylvanians have no health insurance.
Medical debt can be addressed by many of the strategies for credit card debt, but there are resources available specifically for medical debt, including medical debt consolidation.
Pennsylvania Debt Statistics and Laws
Pennsylvania is an average state when it comes to debt, according to a study by Lending Tree. Pennsylvania was in the middle of the pack when it came to total number of credit cards (tied for 10th), average debt per cardholder (19th), average utilization rate (28th), percentage of cardholders at least 30 days late with a payment (22d), percentage of cardholders with a maxed-out credit card (25th). If Pennsylvanians have a lot of company, then it’s true that misery loves company.
Pennsylvania law does provide some consumer protection. The Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act prohibits unfair or deceptive practices by debtors or collection agencies. It also limits how you can be located and where and when collectors can contact you. Threatening behavior and lying are banned. Pennsylvania allows wage garnishment, but strictly limits the percentage of your earnings that can be affected.
Pennsylvania Debt Statistics:
- Pennsylvania has the 29th highest overall cost of living. Five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware — make up about 41%of the state’s economy.
- The city of Philadelphia has long-standing economic woes. Even before COVID-19, it had a 24% poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income of $43,744 was $22,000 less than the national average of $65,712.
- Pennsylvania is the fifth-most populous state, with 13 million people. The workforce has had to evolve in the past 20 years. Manufacturing jobs have plunged from 865,000 in 1999 to 575,000 in 2019.
- The state was No. 27 in housing affordability in 2021, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. On average, two-bedroom apartments cost $971 a month.
- A sound budget calls for housing costs not to exceed 30% of your monthly income. In order to pay rent and utilities, a household would have to make $40,250 a year in Pennsylvania. That works out to about $19.25 an hour.
Seek Professional Debt Relief Help
Problems with debt are by definition stressful, and solutions are often complicated and difficult to navigate. That is why credit counseling is generally the best first step to take. A nonprofit counselor knows the options, can assess the best one for your needs, and can guide you through the process. It is easy to get into financial trouble. Fortunately, it also is easy to get help finding your way back to financial health.
About The Author
Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.
- Leins, C. (2019, July 2) The 10 Most Affordable States. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/slideshows/10-most-affordable-states
- Giammarise, K. (2020, November 2) COVID-19 Pandemic Driving Increased Food Insecurity In Southwestern Pennsylvania. Retrieved from https://www.wesa.fm/post/covid-19-pandemic-driving-increased-food-insecurity-southwestern-pennsylvania
- Conley, P. (2018, January 8) American money: What Ben Franklin teaches about personal finance. Retrieved from https://www.policygenius.com/blog/money-lessons-ben-franklin/
- N.A. (2020, June 22) OFFICIAL REVENUE ESTIMATE FY 2020-21. Retrieved from http://www.ifo.state.pa.us/releases/378/Official-Revenue-Estimate-FY-2020-21/
- Woodall, C. (2020, December 22) Evictions, food lines, students living in a car: Pa. still struggling in COVID-19 economy. Retrieved from https://www.ydr.com/story/news/2020/12/22/covid-19-pa-causing-economic-struggle-before-christmas-what-we-found/3987635001/
- Tejes, B. (2022, July 13) Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Means Test and Income Limit 2022. Retrieved from https://tryascend.com/bankruptcy/pennsylvania/means-test