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A growing number of consumers with healthy credit scores and higher-than-average incomes are seeking help with debt-settlement and credit counseling, according to one of the nation's largest consumer debt-management firms. Columbia, Md.-based CareOne Services Inc. last month said the company in January logged 65,000 inquiries from cash-strapped U.S. consumers, a 15% increase compared with 56,500 for the same month a year earlier. The company also reported a 6.8% jump in calls from consumers with FICO scores in the higher range, between 650 and 750, compared with a year earlier. Typically CareOne's average customers have credit scores "well below 550," says Mike Croxson, CareOne president. CareOne in January noticed an increase in customers with credit scores above 551, and a majority of that growth came from clients with scores of 651 or higher, Croxson says. FICO scores of 750 and higher are considered excellent, and scores of 600 or less are considered subprime, he notes. CareOne also has seen a 2% increase in inquiries over the past year from consumers with annual incomes of more than $50,000; the firm's typical customers earn between $35,000 and $40,000. "As the recession continues to take a toll on markets, unforeseen circumstances such as job loss and increased interest rates on fixed expenses are making it harder for consumers to manage and stay on time with financial commitments," Croxson says.

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