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Consumer Debt in Virginia

Virginians might be forgiven for being in debt. The most famous Virginian of them all set a bad example.

Thomas Jefferson not only wrote the Declaration of Independence, he had to declare bankruptcy more than once. The third president of the United States died in 1826 with debts of $107,000, which would be about $1 million today.

Jefferson was wealthy. He just inherited a lot of debt and spent too much money on property, bad investments and fine wine. Similarly, today’s average Virginian makes more than people in most other states.

But they have at least one advantage over Jefferson. They can participate in debt consolidation plans, which weren’t around 200 years ago.

Given how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Virginia’s economy, more Virginians than ever could use the help.

Consumer Debt in Virginia

Virginians have high amounts of every type of debt, especially credit card, mortgage and student loan debt. In fact, the state is ranked in the top 10 for the highest levels of all three of these major types of debt, making them prime candidates for relief help from debt consolidation plans.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Virginians have a median household income of more than $74,222, the 1oth highest in the nation. Their salaries make them better able to take on large amounts of debt and pay them off responsibly.

Although individuals in the state are on the right track, legislators recognize that they could be doing more to protect their citizens. In the coming years, the state government plans to allocate more funds to public colleges and universities in order to curb student debt. The state also has very few consumer protection laws aimed at helping individuals keep their personal finances secure.

Credit Card Debt

Virginia’s credit card debt per capita is the third highest in the nation, with each person owing an average of $5,992 in 2021. That’s according to Experian – one of the three main credit bureaus in the country. This is 10% higher than the national average of $5,315.

Equifax, one of the other major credit bureaus, said Virginia residents have an average credit score of 701, which is slightly better than the national average of 696.

Mortgage Debt

Virginians’ mortgages are among the highest in the country, with the average mortgage being $245,054 in 2021, according to Experian. That was the seventh-highest in the nation.

The average mortgage payment was $1,334 a month, which was the eighth-highest in the U.S. and well above the national average of $1,159.

Virginians are able to pay their mortgages and stay current, more so than the average American. According to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Virginia’s delinquency rate was 0.68%, which was the 13th-lowest in the country.

Student Loan Debt

Virginia students have an average federal and private student loan debt of $39,000, according to a Educationdata.org. That is the fourth-highest of all states and well above the national average of $32,731.

The 2021 report showed 12.1% of Virginia residents owe student loans totaling $40.3 billion. Approximately 2.5% of those people owe $200,000 or more.

This reflects a rise in tuition since the federal government began guaranteeing student loans. From 2007 to 2017, college tuition and fees in Virginia increased annually by an average of $578, or 6%.

The state’s largest public institution of higher learning, the University of Virginia, charges $34,094 for in-state tuition. That’s a good bit higher than what Jefferson charged when he founded the university in 1819.

Due to the financial strain on students caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the school announced in May 2021 it would not increase tuition for the 2021-2022 academic year. But the pause would be temporary.

“Looking ahead, holding tuition flat – to base undergraduate tuition – I probably don’t need to say but I will anyway, is just not sustainable if we’re going to maintain competitiveness among our peers,” president Jim Ryan said.

Bankruptcy

Despite the economic turmoil wrought by the pandemic, bankruptcy filings actually decreased nationally in 2020. That trend was reflected in Virginia, where filings dropped from 23,479 in 2019 to 16,575.

That was the 17th-highest of the 50 states. But according to a 2021 report from the Brookings Institution, Virginia ranked fourth in Chapter 11 filings, which are generally used by businesses in financial distress.

The dip in bankruptcy filings is expected to increase as deferred payments plans from lenders and other COVID-related aid programs expire.

Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 81,020 consumer fraud complaints filed in Virginia in 2020. That represented 949 per 100,000 population.

The median loss was $368, which was above the national average of $328. The state has been proactive in battling the rise of online fraud.

Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act in 2021,  making Virginia only the second state to have a law giving consumers the right to access their personal data, correct inaccuracies and request information be deleted.

Virginia State Laws on Consumer Debt

Other than the Data Protection Act, which doesn’t go into effect until 2023, Virginia state laws do very little to protect consumers in ways that go beyond federal protections.

The Virginia attorney general is responsible for enforcing federal laws such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects consumers from abusive collection practices.

If you believe a creditor has violated the FDCPA in regards to debt collection, you can file a complaint through the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Virginia Consumer Protection Act

The Virginia Consumer Protection Act states that sellers cannot lie or take part in misleading practices.

Banned practices under this act include the following:
  • Failing to state that an item is used or defective, where applicable.
  • Falsely stating the quality or type of a service or product.
  • Failing to honor an advertised price.
  • Falsely stating that a service or repair was done.
  • Failing to state a return or exchange policy.
  • Using fraud, false pretenses, deception, false promises or misrepresentation.

If a seller breaches the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, the buyer can sue for $500 or total damages, whichever is greater. If the unlawful act was purposeful, a buyer can sue for $1,000 or three times the total damages, whichever is greater.

Statute of Limitations

Virginia has statutes of limitations for nearly all debts, including written contracts, oral contracts and open-ended accounts such as credit cards. The major categories:

  • Medical debt – five years
  • Credit card debt – five years
  • Auto loan debt – four years
  • State tax debt – seven years

When the statute of limitations passes, creditors can no longer pursue legal action if they haven’t previously obtained a judgment against you.

That wasn’t the case 200 years ago. When Jefferson died in 1826, his heirs had to sell his land, slaves, furniture and other belongings.

That still did not cover Jefferson’s debts. His grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, eventually paid off all creditors 50 years after Jefferson’s death Despite leaving a load of debt, Jefferson’s daughter said her father was optimistic until the end.

“He died tranquil,” Martha Jefferson said, according to family archives.

If only he’d been able to find a good debt management program, he really would have gone out with a smile on his face.

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

Sources:

  1. N.A. (2021, March 12) How Coronavirus Affected Bankruptcy Filings In Richmond Area
  2. Retrieved from https://patch.com/virginia/richmond/how-coronavirus-affected-bankruptcy-filings-richmond-area
  3. Irby, L., Potters, C. (2021, March 19) Average American Credit Card Debt by State. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/the-average-credit-card-debt-by-state-4582582
  4. Nilson, J. (2015, July 2) The Debt and Death of Thomas Jefferson. Retrieved from https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2015/07/the-debt-and-death-of-thomas-jefferson-2/
  5. Calonia, J. (2021, January 31) Virginia Student Loans: Debt Stats, Repayment Programs and Refinancing Loans. Retrieved from https://studentloanhero.com/featured/virginia-student-loans-refinance/