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Keywords:

  • Consumer education;
  • empowerment;
  • Cooperative Extension;
  • bankruptcy

Abstract

The US has the highest consumer bankruptcy rate in the world and Utah is the state with the highest rate. Bankruptcy filings are rising rapidly due to uninsured medical expenses, job loss, family break-up and rising consumer and mortgage debt burdens. Lending standards are extremely lax among mainstream creditors while predatory and sub-prime lending are growing. Utah State University Extension is addressing this problem by creating a new Extension educator position to focus on financial education and by training county Extension educators to mount an extensive consumer education campaign. The ‘Take Charge of Your Money’ programme, developed by the Extension specialist, is being taught throughout the state by satellite distance education. Each educator is being trained to use the PowerPay debt reduction software developed by two Utah Extension educators. As part of the emphasis on empowerment, consumers are being taught to make their own decisions on debt load rather than accepting credit because it is available. Heavy dependence of lenders on credit scores mean consumers are taking on debt that they do not have the cash flow to repay. Grant money available from the state was used to provide training for an Extension bankruptcy prevention team and to provide funding for laptop computers for PowerPay so educators can take the programme to the citizens at county fairs and other public events. While it is too soon to measure the results of the programme, Utah State University's Cooperative Extension project is an example of an aggressive response to the highest bankruptcy rate in the nation. The bankruptcy prevention team is an example of the power of the Extension Service to extend the resources of the university to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the state.