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The Real Deal: Even Those With Debt Need to Save
ALBANYNearly one-third of people living in the Albany-area are broke. A new study released by the Urban Institute shows that 27.2% of people with a credit file have at least one account in collections and the average debt is $5,288. Another 4.4% of people locally have past due debt that has not yet been turned over to debt collectors. Using 2013 credit bureau data from TransUnion, the Urban Institute measured how many Americans were reported as at least 30 days late on a non-mortgage bill payment.
"You have people who have generally relied on income increasing each year, or folks who've had to take a reduction of income just to maintain their job, along with the increase in the cost of living, it's no surprise to me that you see more debt gone into collections," says Michael Ibanez, a credit counselor with ClearPoint Credit Counseling in Albany. "In a lot of cases, it's not just credit cards...it can be debt they're not familiar with or they didn't realize it would go into collections, medical debt, utility bills, cell phone bills, a lot of people can be caught by surprise by what exactly shows up on their credit report," Ibanez adds reiterating why it's important to keep a close eye on your credit report.
Everyone is entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year. www.annualcreditreport.com is the site to use to access your free report. Ibanez suggests carefully reviewing it to see if you have any accounts in collections. If so, that account can hurt your overall credit score for 6 years. The 6-year statute of limitations in New York expires only when the past-due account lays dormant for that long, if you start paying on it again, the clock starts over.
If you're having trouble keeping up with your finances, you should reach out to your creditors and see if you can work out an easier payment plan with them. Also, it's best to try and pay off credit cards with smaller balances first while staying current on those with a larger balance. If that doesn't work, you may need professional help from a credit counselor, "If you're starting to use credit to pay for ordinary living expense and not being able to pay it off in full such as groceries and household supplies, that's usually an indicator that you may want to speak with someone who can help review your budget," Ibanez says.
Even those in deep debt should try and save between 5-10% of your weekly income in a savings account. For advice on how to best do that, click on the video.