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Where does debt come from? How does it get so out of hand? And why is it such a difficult topic to discuss?On South Carolina Public Radio's InDebted, host Scott Morgan explores the issue of debt in the Palmetto State, including medical debt, student loan debt, short-term loan services, financial literacy, and more. According to research by the Urban Institute on the amount of personal debt burden across the U.S., eight of the top 50 counties with the most debt were in South Carolina, with more than half of the residents living with excessive debt. Join us for a deep dive into the factors that make our state one of the worst places for debt in the country and the stories of real South Carolinians living in this ecosystem of debt.Interested in sharing your personal story with debt? Learn more about our InDebted Profiles series here.

InDebted Solutions: Resources for South Carolina

Two things shocked me when I began reporting for the InDebted project in 2021:

  • Everyone has debt and yet everyone feels isolated by it; and
  • There are boundless resources in South Carolina that can help get a lot of people out of bad debt, but people do not know about them.

On that first point – You’re certainly not alone. And our debt struggles are not something to hide or be ashamed of. This is an expensive world to live in, and there are plenty of things that can put you behind the proverbial 8-ball whether you contribute to a situation or not.
On that second point – Spread these around, more people need to know about them. Caveat: I can’t guarantee that every link you’ll find still works, but I know they did when I tried them.

General Help and Credit Counseling

South Carolina is full of free credit counseling services offering advice and education in foreclosure prevention, housing, bills assistance, and debt management.

Need Help Paying Bills is a website that has lots of links to services around the state.

County libraries in South Carolina generally have financial assistance education and can link you directly to resources and programs that can help you manage debt and get financial help, no matter where you live.

Local United Way chapters also offer these services. Some, such as the United Way of Greenville County, have especially good programs ranging from bill-pay assistance to financial literacy education.

You can also contact any of the many credit unions and other Community Development Finance Institutions who make up the South Carolina Fair Lending Alliance.

The South Carolina Association of Community Economic Development has this list of certified community developers (CDCs) and Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), which help borrowers get access to money without high-interest loans.

If you have already run into issues with a lender, your best bet is the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. SCDCA is where to file complaints. SCDCA also has this guide to what consumers should know about predatory lending in the state.

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center in Columbia and SC Legal Services in Greenville are where low-income South Carolinians can get some backup if they are being taken advantage of. Appleseed does not provide legal representation, but does provide numerous resources that include information about predatory lending. It also provides services in Spanish.

SC Legal does provide legal assistance to low-income South Carolinians, including in consumer or finance cases. It also published the Shark Week guide to the signs of predatory lending.

You can also find more information on predatory lending in South Carolina from this page by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And the Center for Responsible Lending has loads of resources, information, and research on the effects of predatory lending and the laws that seek to combat predatory practices.

Services for Latinx South Carolinians

The most frustrating shortcoming of the entire InDebted project, for me, is that I could never pull together an episode about the weight of debt burden on South Carolina’s growing Latinx community.

South Carolina is seeing some of the fastest Latinx growth in the U.S. From 2000 to 2020, UCLA charted a 207 percent uptick in the state’s Latinx population, the fourth-fastest growth rate in the country.

And given how prone Latinx communities are to debt, not to mention how language barriers make non-English natives especially vulnerable to predatory lenders, I at least want to point out where people can go for some financial help and protection, in Spanish and in English.

SCIWAY, “the South Carolina Information Highway,” has several links to organizations that serve the state’s Latinx population. Para recursos en español, haga clic aquí.

Hispanic Alliance SC, based in Greenville, has financial education resources for renters, homeowners, business owners, and students.

SC Hispanic Outreach (Acercamiento Hispanode Carolina del Sur) is run out of Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Columbia by pastor Jorge Leone. Among its services are those for financial help, including classes in credit counseling.

Student Aid Resources

If you’re going to college in South Carolina, knowing what you’re signing up for before you enroll can help you navigate what could be a pricy endeavor.

The South Carolina Education Commission has resources for understanding what paying for college could look like.

SCEC also has a dedicated page for Minority and Multicultural Financial Aid Resources, with links to services for Black, Latinx, Native, and disabled students.

How You Can Help Pay Medical Debt for Others

RIP Medical Debt is a nonprofit organization that buys medical debt bundles and pays them off through donations. You can donate — which, full disclosure, I personally do every month — nationally or to local campaigns (or start one).

As of this report, the only South Carolina-specific campaign is the South Carolina Medical Debt Jubilee, run by the Spartanburg District of the United Methodist Church.

Every $100 donated erases $10,000 in medical debt.

I spoke with Allison Sesso, CEO and president of RIP Medical Debt, who said the point of her organization is simple:

“I don't see government acting anytime soon to solve the way we finance healthcare, which is why we have so much medical debt,” she said. “Especially compared to other industrialized nations. So RIP Medical Debt is actually doing something about the problem.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.