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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB examines finances and debt in Appalachia

Federal Issues Consumer Finance CFPB Credit Report Medical Debt Rural Communities

Federal Issues

On September 1, the CFPB released a report detailing family finances and debt in rural Appalachia, intended to provide a starting point in better understanding the needs and challenges of these consumers. The report—which is the first in a series regarding the finances of consumers living in rural areas—focuses on rural Appalachians, who, according to the Bureau, tend to earn less than consumers in other rural areas and have higher rates of subprime credit. According to the report, of the 26 million people living in the Appalachian region, 33 percent live in rural counties. Over 2 million Appalachians live in Persistent Poverty Counties (PPCs), which are defined as counties that have had poverty rates of 20 percent or higher for the past 30 years. Nearly one-in-four Appalachians are carrying some amount of medical debt, according to the report, compared with 17 percent of people nationally. Those people in the region with medical debt have more than double the rate of delinquency on their credit report compared to people without medical debt. Other findings of the report include, among other things, that: (i) 71 percent of rural Appalachians and 63 percent of those living in PPCs have an active credit card, compared to 80 percent of consumers nationally; (ii) auto loan balances equal 31 percent of household annual income for rural Appalachians, compared to 21 percent nationally; (iii) denial rates for mortgage applications in rural Appalachia were almost twice the rate of mortgage applications nationally; and (iv) though the high school graduation rate for individuals in Appalachia is higher than the national average, the percentage of individuals who attended some college is significantly lower than the national average. According to the Bureau, these circumstances have “led to disproportionately high levels of distress in rural Appalachians’ consumer financial lives.”