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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.

Young-adult data show that SC is still one of the worst places for debt in the U.S.

Except for West Virginia, South Carolina has the highest share of young adults in debt in the U.S., according to data released Tuesday by Urban Institute.
Urban Institute
Except for West Virginia, South Carolina has the highest share of young adults in debt in the U.S., according to data released Tuesday by Urban Institute.

New numbers from the Urban Institute show that the share of young adults in debt in South Carolina is higher than everywhere in the United States except West Virginia – and that debt is especially high among young adults of color.

The data on young-adult debt – for those ages 18 to 24 – were released Tuesday, and for the first time show the broad effects of various types of debt on this population.

While not broken down by county, statewide numbers in South Carolina paint a dark picture of debt among young adult South Carolinians. Through February, 2022, three out of every 10 South Carolinians ages 18 to 24 had some form of debt actively sought by a debt collector. – a number that jumps to 43 percent for young adults living in communities of color. Both totals are double-digit percent worse than U.S. averages (which are 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively).

They are also worse than nearly everywhere. Thirty-one percent of West Virginians, overall, had some debt in collections (there is no data for communities of color in West Virginia); Kentucky and Missouri were the only states where the rates of debt among communities of color were higher than in South Carolina – 47 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

The share of South Carolinians living in predominantly white communities who have debt in collections – 28 percent – was the fifth-highest in the country, after Hawaii, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

The percentages of young-adult South Carolinians and those of color are significantly lower compared to the state’s population overall. According to Urban Institute data, 37 percent of South Carolinians and 53 percent of South Carolinians living in communities of color had some form of debt in collections.

The data, updated in 2023, show that 16 of South Carolina’s 46 counties – exactly the same 16 as in the 2022 numbers – report statistically at least half of residents of communities overall have some form of debt in collections. And while exactly half of South Carolina counties had no data to report on debt among communities of color, all but four – Sumter, Clarendon, Dorchester, and Lexington – reported statistically half or higher percentage of communities of color with debt in collections. Two counties – Allendale and Marlboro – show more than 60 percent of communities of color mired in debt bad enough to be in collections.

For young-adult South Carolinians, the median amount of debt in collections was $1,366, which is third-worst among states, fourth-worst if you count numbers from Washington, D.C.

At $1,659, the median debt amount in collections in communities of color in South Carolina is the second-highest, behind Missouri, among states with data on those communities.

While the rates of South Carolinians living in communities of color are higher than for those living in white communities in the retail loan space – bank loans, short-term loans, student loans, credit card debts – median credit card delinquency among communities of color was half that of white communities – $155, compared to $306 for whites. For communities in general, those totals inflate to $321 for South Carolina communities of color and $440 for residents of white communities.

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.