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Business Watch:

Credit debt could rise

Debt relief company says introductory offers lull consumers into spending then credit card companies hike rates.

May 04, 2008|By Chris Caesar

While a national rise in the cost of critical expenses like gas and food have left millions swiping their credit cards for the essentials, many Newport-Mesa residents seem to have weathered the storm — so far.

Economists are concerned that rising individual debt, coupled with some APR increases as high as 29.9%, could have a domino effect on American markets, exacerbating the housing crisis and its residual effects on the broader economy.

Clifford Suza, chief executive of Costa Mesa-based Freedom Credit Solutions, said he hasn’t noticed a significant increase in customers seeking debt counseling, but acknowledged that doesn’t mean residents aren’t getting themselves into trouble.

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“I don’t think it’s been a big difference, but this industry has been behaving like this for a long time,” he said. “People that come here get to the point where they are coaxed into such heavy debt that they find themselves drowning in it and don’t know what else to do.”

Suza added people are often enticed by introductory offers, such at 0% APR for the first six months of the card’s use, that lull consumers into a false sense of complacency and allow debt to accumulate.

After one amasses thousands of dollars in debt, he said, credit card companies can often hike the rates more than 30% — a nightmare for a family needing the card to make ends meet.

“So you end up with a lot of people who don’t know what to do,” he said. “You have good people here, who have always been responsible and believe in doing that, but are stuck in this cycle.”

Bayview Law Group’s Executive Director Darryl Sanford, who has taken up a number of debt resolution cases in Newport-Mesa, said he thought it should “go without saying” that his firm has seen an increase in business in the soured economy.

“Nationally, I’ve gone to trade shows where I’ve met 20 companies starting anew in only the last eight to 10 months,” he said. “They are all doing extremely well, bringing in 50 to 100 clients a month.”

But, Sanford said he was confident the market would correct itself before any serious crisis took hold.

Consumers using the ATM during the lunch rush at Washington Mutual on E. 17th Street Friday agreed, saying their finances were stable and they weren’t concerned — for the time being — about their credit card swipes.

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