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Friday, April 18, 2014         

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Isle credit cards shed some weight

By Dave Segal

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Hawaii consumers whittled down their credit card debt in the second quarter, but their improvement from the year-earlier period was the smallest in the nation as they tried to shake off the effects of a sluggish economy.

The state's average debt for bank-issued credit cards -- such as MasterCard or Visa -- decreased to $5,594 in the three-month period ended June 30, down 1.69 percent from $5,690 in the second quarter of 2009, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion.

Hawaii had the third-highest debt in the nation in the second quarter, said TransUnion, one of the nation's three major credit reporting agencies along with Experian and Equifax.

But Hawaii showed the ninth-best improvement out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., last quarter from the first quarter with a 4.07 percent decline from Hawaii cardholders' average debt of $5,831 in the January-March period.

Wendy Burkholder, executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii, said the improvement shown in the TransUnion numbers is surprising because she doesn't see her stream of customers abating. She said the average unsecured debt from her company's Hawaii clients is about $24,000.

"Our numbers just continue to increase," she said. "It's not at the startling levels of between 2007 and 2009, but we're still seeing more clients every month from the same period the previous year. So we're not seeing any slowdown at all. We're seeing a steady increase in demand for services and we are definitely counseling more families in the option of bankruptcy than ever before."

Chicago-based TransUnion gets its numbers by analyzing 10 percent, or 27 million, of cardholders from its database of 270 million.

Last month, Credit Karma Inc., a California-based credit advocate and credit scoring website, reported that Hawaii customers had the highest credit card debt in the nation in the first half of the year at $9,296. However, Credit Karma's scope is more limited since it culls data from about 125,800 of its users.

Alaska had the highest credit card debt in the second quarter at $7,148, according to TransUnion, while Iowa had the least at $3,792. The national average was $4,951.

Alabama showed the best improvement as its credit card debt declined 22.4 percent to $4,753 in the second quarter from the first quarter and fell 27 percent from the second quarter of 2009.

The rate of Hawaii cardholders past due by 90 days or more decreased 17.58 percent last quarter to 0.75 percent from 0.91 percent in the second quarter of 2009. Hawaii cardholders also lowered their debt by 16.67 percent last quarter from 0.90 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Nevada had the highest delinquency rate last quarter at 1.5 percent while North Dakota had the lowest delinquency rate at 0.92 percent.

Burkholder said she hopes to help people avoid bankruptcy if the numbers support it and if there is sufficient discretionary income after they cover their basic living expenses, but she said that people don't have the money available.

"More than half of the families we're working with now have had income setbacks through the loss of a job or reduction of household income," she said. "When we walk through their budget with them, it's got to be sufficient to address debt in a reasonable period of time -- four to five years maximum. If they can't make that work, that's when bankruptcy becomes a viable option."






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