Civil suits up in Knox County

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KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- As Washington tries to stimulate the economy, there is a strong indicator locally that a growing number of people are struggling financially.

Court records show a dramatic increase in debt collection lawsuits filed over the recent months in Knox County in recent months.

The records don’t show that the courts are handling big money lawsuits, but rather the type that involve credit card companies and other creditors who try to collect when a debtor hasn’t paid.

"Since July 2007, many months we've seen an approximately 50 percent increase in our filings in civil session’s court," said Cathy Quist, a Knox County civil sessions court clerk.

If you were to make a graph of the January filings for the last three years, it would give you an idea of what is happening.

In January 2006, just over 900 civil suits were filed.

January 2007 brought less than 1,200, but last month, nearly 1,600 were filed.

Unlike circuit and chancery court, where big money lawsuits are filed, session’s court deals with amounts no larger than $25,000.

Trial dates can be set about a month after filing.

That's perfect for credit card companies and others who are trying to collect money from people who don't pay."

"A wise man will save for the future and a foolish man will spend all that he has,” said Augie Barker, a credit coach. “I'm seeing people that are spending 125 percent of what they have."

While running his business, Augie has spent 16 years offering free advice to people who bite off more than they can chew financially.

According to him, if you are behind on your finances you should stop using credit, establish a budget, list all your assets, list all your debts, and don't give up.

"People who find themselves in a credit crunch did not get into that mess overnight, and they're not going to get out of it overnight, so persevere," he said.

The clerk's office said it has dealt with the increase by moving four employees from elsewhere into the civil session’s office, but it still makes for some very busy days in court.

Though most cases are settled without a trial, judges in civil session’s court often start the day with over three hundred cases on the docket.

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