FARMINGTON -- Faced with the ongoing dubious distinction as the state with the most bankruptcies, per capita, Utah officials are fighting back. "Utah Saves" is intended as a campaign to buck the trend, and is set to premier June 15, members of Davis County's Com-munity of Promise were told Tuesday. Ann House, who oversees Utah State University Exten-sion's debt education program, said bankruptcy needs to be hit head on: in part through a publicity campaign similar to that used to stem smoking or to promote seat belt use.
"Utah leads the nation in bankruptcies. The state's level is twice the national average. One in 36 Utah families per year files for bankruptcy, compared to one in 76 nationally," she said.
Reasons for the state's high trend include low wages to a backdrop of an average cost of living; more women working than the national average, and generally earning less than men; male bread-winners typically earning less than 90 percent of the national average; larger families, larger homes, and more vehicles per household.
"Utah also has a high divorce rate, and maybe it's divorce that throws a lot of us into financial crisis," she said.
"We also have a high rate of giving, are a generous people. We're also brand-name conscious," she continued.
"Unwise credit purchases can mean you're paying on that debt for years. You could end up paying for Christmas 2004 17 years down the road," she said.
"Make sure you know how much you can afford to spend," House emphasized.
Having worked for Channel 2's "Get Gephardt," she has seen many cases of poor spending practices, as well as ways to cut spending.
Those reductions can be achieved in many ways, often quickly and easily, House said. For example, when working for the Gephardt program, a half dozen mall shoppers were able to get their credit card interest rates reduced, some by 50 percent, with a two-minute telephone call.
Utah Saves is built on a simple premise: that people save that extra $1 or $2 in their pockets, placing it in a savings account.
"If you saved $2 a day, you would have $730 a year. I could buy some nice telescope accessories with that money," she said as an example.
She cited strong success in other states, such as Arizona, where similar savings programs are already well under way.
"Social change infiltrates into our consciousness," he said. "We're going to make it cool (to save), that it's OK not to have a Suburban in the driveway with a boat behind it."
"Build Wealth Not Debt: Become a Utah Saver" is the title of a brochure explaining the new program. Sponsors include United Ways of Utah, Utah Issues and AAA Fair Credit Foundation.
The free program includes access to volunteers with expertise in financial/savings strategies, House said. For more information, call the Utah Saves Money-line at 1-800-350-9899 or visit the Web at www.utahsaves.org.
Those signing up will have access to a Utah Saves "wealth coach" who will discuss individuals' savings plans and membership. Savings goals can include home ownership, emergency fund, retirement or debt reduction, among others.