Consumer Debt in Florida

    Florida had one of the highest unemployment, bankruptcy and credit problems during the Great Recession, but the state is bouncing back. A rebound in housing construction and tourism has improved the economy dramatically. Still, residents have more credit card debt and lower credit scores than the national average.

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    Florida Unemployment & Bankruptcy

    In a long overdue forecast, the Sunshine State has a bright economic outlook, at least for the next few years.

    Analysts predict Florida’s economy could hit the $1-trillion mark by 2018, growing at an annual rate of 2.9% (ahead of the national average at 2.3%).

    Tourism is up, along with the creation of new jobs and home construction. The state was hit hard by the Great Recession, peaking at an 11.4% unemployment rate in 2010, but gradually things have gotten better. Unemployment plummeted to just 4.7 in August of 2016.

    Still, Florida residents have more credit-card debt and lower credit scores than the national average. The money management issues are best addressed by a non-profit credit counseling agency, where more could be learned about budgeting and debt relief options.

    Florida Unemployment & Bankruptcy

    Florida’s unemployment rate soared to 11.4% in early 2010 and stayed in double digits until 2012. By mid-2016, the state’s unemployment rate had dropped to 4.7%. That year saw the creation of 259,800 new jobs.

    Bankruptcies were being filed at an unprecedented rate in the state during the recession’s worst times, but things have stabilized. By 2014, Florida improved to a 16th national ranking in bankruptcy filings.

    Credit Card Debt in Florida

    Florida consumers have made great strides in stabilizing credit-card debt. In 2016, the average was 19th nationally at $5,754, just above the national average. It has been well above the national average for years, reaching a high of $7,726 in 2010.

    A 2015 study, using data from Experian and, concluded that Miami-Fort Lauderdale had the fourth-highest credit-card debt among the top 25 metropolitan areas in America, while Tampa-St. Petersburg was the eighth-highest.

    Consumer Debt in Florida

    Although the housing market has been rebuilt, Floridians often struggle with mortgage debt, along with student loans and auto loans.

    Mortgage balances have dropped, while student loans continue to rise, although they remain below the national average. Auto loan debts in the state have an average outstanding balance of $15,500.

    These consumer issues often need education and relief, which can be provided by non-profit credit counseling agencies. They can teach consumers about debt consolidation or enroll them in a debt-management program.

    Mortgage Debt

    The average Florida mortgage was $180,608 in 2016, an increasing figure in a volatile market for homes. The average mortgage dropped to $163,724 four years earlier, perhaps a reflection of more foreclosures on the tail end of a housing-market crash that saw Florida homes lose 48% of their value.

    A 2015 study showed the 30% percent of Florida’s home mortgages were “underwater,” meaning the debt was higher than the homes were actually worth. Florida was, at one time, ranked second nationally behind Nevada for the most homes underwater. Still, that’s a significant improvement from mid-year 2012, when 44% of Florida’s home mortgages were underwater.

    Student Loan Debt

    Florida is home to five of the 18 largest universities in the country, based on undergraduate enrollment for the 2016-17 school year. The University of Central Florida, Florida International University, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida State University have undergraduate enrollment rates of more than 28,000 each, partially because they are among the most affordable public schools in one of the nation’s most populous states.

    Still, students and parents are having a difficult time footing the bill. Overall, 54% of Florida’s 2014 college graduates had student-loan debt for an average of $24,947. But it’s still behind the national average of $28,950.

    Credit Scores in Florida

    Credit scores in Florida continue to trail those from the rest of the country by a wide margin.

    In 2016, the average FICO credit score in Florida was 658, which ranked 35th nationally and was 37 points behind the national average of 695.

    The FICO model, which is used by all three nationwide credit bureaus, assigns scores on a scale of 300 (poor) to 850 (excellent).

    Most commonly, high levels of debt and low credit scores go hand-in-hand when borrowers cannot afford to repay their debts. This causes them to fall behind on payments, which directly harms credit scores.

    Florida State Laws on Consumer Debt

    The state of Florida has very few laws protecting consumers’ financial rights. The laws it does have, such as the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, do little beyond reinforcing federally granted rights. While federal laws are fairly comprehensive, the lack of state legislation can leave consumers vulnerable.

    Statute of Limitations

    Florida’s statute of limitations varies for different types of debts. For written contracts such as personal loans, the statute of limitations is five years. So once this type of debt is more than five years past due, the lender can no longer sue in order to collect owed money. For other debts, the statute is shorter. Oral contracts and revolving accounts such as credit cards have a statute of limitations of four years.

    Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act

    Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) passed in 1973 to protect consumer rights. It was created with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act in mind, the original law that created the FTC and protected against harmful trade practices.

    Both the federal law and Florida’s version, dubbed the “Little FTC Act,’’ are vague in describing the practices that are unlawful. Florida’s law states that unlawful acts include “unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.’’

    The laws are meant to curb fraud and identity theft, but the legislation is intentionally ambiguous and open to interpretation by the courts. They have stirred controversy for decades because of this.

    Gift Card Laws

    Laws passed in 2010 revamped both federal and state laws regarding gift cards. Florida’s new laws are stricter than those of the federal government, thereby giving Florida consumers more protection.

    Under Florida law, gift cards to specific stores never expire, whereas they can expire after five years in other states. This type of gift card also cannot have any fees, although federal law allows fees after the card is a year old.

    Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft

    Florida has the highest rate of consumer fraud in the country with 306,133 cases in 2015 or 1,510.2 complaints per 100,000 residents. That represents a huge jump from five years earlier, when Florida reported 71,000 cases of consumer fraud or 377 per 100,000 individuals.

    Consumer fraud is a broad category that includes complaints such as scams and false advertising.

    The state ranked almost as high for identity theft. Florida ranked third in the nation — with 44,063 cases or 217.4 per 100,000 individuals — behind first-place Missouri and second-place Connecticut.

    These seven Florida cities were ranked in the top 20 for fraud complaints:

    • Homosassa Springs ranked 1st with 1,290 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Palm Bay/Melbourne/Titusville ranked 7th with 551 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Deltona/Daytona Beach/Ormond Beach ranked 11th with 526.4 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Jacksonville ranked 13th with 521.7 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater ranked 14th with 515.2 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Sebastian/Vero Beach ranked 15th with 511.9 complaints per 100,000 people.
    • Punta Gorda ranked 17th with 504.5 complaints per 100,000 people.

    Two of those metropolitan areas — Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater and Jacksonville — also ranked in the national top 20 for identity theft.

    These six Florida cities were ranked in the top 20 for identity theft:

    • Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach ranked 3rd with 300.7 identity thefts reported per 100,000 residents.
    • Naples/Immokalee/Marco Island ranked 7th with 237 theft complaints per 100,000 residents.
    • Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater ranked 14th with 213.4 theft complaints per 100,000 residents.
    • Tallahassee ranked 15th with 211.8 theft complaints per 100,000 residents.
    • Jacksonville ranked 16th with 208.4 theft complaints per 100,000 residents.
    • Gainesville ranked 18th with 203.7 theft complaints per 100,000 residents.
    Bill Fay


    Bill Fay

    Staff Writer

    Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at

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