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As 2009 gets under way it’s painfully obvious that the economy is still struggling. Sales are continuing their downward trend, unemployment is rising, and many Americans are still having trouble paying their mortgage. After struggling through 2008, the average consumer is facing the New Year at a financial rock bottom. The best indicator of this sentiment has been the dramatic 50% increase in credit card debt from the last economic downturn in 2000. Americans are now struggling with an outrageously high $970 million in debt via credit cards.
Many of those Americans are fellow small businesses owners who are being forced to use their credit cards to make up for shortages in their monthly cash flow. The National Small Business Association estimates that 44% of small businesses use credit cards to fund their business. With setbacks like slower sales, delinquent payments from customers and loss of revenue, credit cards are being used to finance payroll, purchase inventory, and to pay monthly utilities. Credit card companies are struggling themselves and are panicked by the prospect of consumers defaulting on that $970 million in debt. This realization has caused many credit card issuers to substantially raise interest rates, cut credit limits, and in some cases revoke credit all together. Credit card companies are using these tactics in response to late payments, charging over the limit, and simply for being at your account maximum balance.
While the consumer credit crunch of 2009 will most likely be the biggest struggle for the New Year, there is hope on the horizon. The good people at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org) have been actively petitioning the credit card companies to establish a workable re-payment plan for consumers to prevent an unnecessary rise in bankruptcies. On November 18, 2008 the non-profit organization issued a Call to Action outlining a proposal that will help keep consumers out of debt and allow credit card companies to recoup the debts owed to them. Key points of the debt management plan proposal include a 2% cap on interest rates for credit cards, waiving late and over limit fees, and the option to trim interest rates on the cards to ensure that the outstanding debt can be repaid in 60 months or less. The NFCC is requesting that these concessions be enacted by March 31, 2009.
If you find yourself or your business struggling with the exorbitant interest rates and reduction of credit that I have mentioned above, I encourage getting help now. Why spend another day feeling like you are helplessly falling behind? You can contact the NFCC for a free counseling session by contacting www.NFCC.org and locating a nearby office. They work to ensure that your best interests are being protected- not the creditors.