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Hawaii continues with high debt load

Isle consumers drop from the top spot to the fifth slot nationally for credit-card debt

By Kristen Consillio

LAST UPDATED: 10:08 a.m. HST, Oct 14, 2010

Hawaii ranked fifth last month for consumers with the highest credit card debt in the country, falling from the top spot a year ago.


The states where residents are carrying the highest average credit-card debt in September:
1. Alaska $9,231
2. New Jersey $8,646
3. Colorado $8,609
4. Connecticut $8,488
5. Hawaii $8,469
6. New Hampshire $8,305
7. Wyoming $8,277
8. Vermont $8,202
9. South Dakota $8,077
10. Nebraska $8,075
Source: Credit Karma
The average Hawaii consumer carried $8,469 in credit card debt in September, up 3.5 percent from $8,180 a year earlier, according to CreditKarma, a California-based credit advocate and credit scoring website. That compares with the national average of $7,526 for consumer credit card debt.

"Unfortunately for (Hawaii residents), they are starting at a higher debt level due to the higher cost of living," said Ken Lin, chief executive officer of CreditKarma.

Hawaii ranked ninth for credit scores among the states at 674, down five points from 679 the year earlier.

Meanwhile, student loan debt in Hawaii was up, while home mortgage and auto loans dropped:

» Student loans -- $26,585, up 3.2 percent from $25,767.

» Home mortgage -- $304,844, down 9.9 percent from $338,153 last year

» Auto loans -- $15,704, down 0.9 percent from $15,847.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii has seen its number of clients continue to climb this year, albeit at a slower pace than from 2007 to 2009, according to Wendy Burkholder, executive director.

"It is nonetheless continuing to increase," she said. "The number of families in need of foreclosure mitigation counseling and bankruptcies of course, continue to rise."

The company counseled more than 2,100 families through September, up 12 percent from the 1,850 families it counseled in the same period last year.

"The major debt that most consumers have is credit card debt -- it's consistently high," said Honolulu bankruptcy attorney David Farmer.

Hawaii residents are not making commensurate salaries in line with the high cost of living and many people owe more than the value of their properties here, which is when they turn to credit cards, he said.

"It's made addictive by free money, no interest and all the other gimmicks credit card companies play into," Farmer said.

"It's not just the bad economy, it's the nature of money for nothing. It's like gambling, it's like other habits that people have to break."

Alaska was No. 1 among the states for highest credit card debt with the average resident carrying $9,231, while Wisconsin consumers ranked last with an average debt totaling $6,150 per person.

CreditKarma's survey is based on its database of 145,200 consumers nationwide, including 1,500 in Hawaii.

Correction: Alaska has the highest credit card debt. A previous version of this story incorrectly said Arkansas had the highest debt.

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