Fewer people in debt trouble seeking counseling, other help

— -- Even as more Americans are piling on debt, fewer are seeking counseling or other kinds of relief to try and get their finances back in order.

Poverty has increased. Unemployment stubbornly hovers around 9%. Meanwhile, consumers accumulated $18.4 billion in credit card debt in the second quarter, according to a new study from CardHub.com. That is up 66% from the same quarter in 2010 and up 368% from two years ago.

"People need help more than ever, but they are not coming to us," says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "I think some are just tired of trying and have given up." Consider:

•The number of people who went to a credit counselor declined 20% last year from 2009, and the downturn has continued so far this year, the NFCC says.

•Fewer consumers are signing up for a debt repayment plan at the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. In the first half of the year the number dropped by 38% compared with 2010, the AICCCA says.

•The number of people resorting to bankruptcy protection to escape onerous debt loads is down. The first nine months of 2011, consumer bankruptcy filings were 10% lower than the same period last year, the American Bankruptcy Institute says.

So why aren't more people getting help?

Cost may be a factor. Debt-settlement companies can't charge upfront fees under a new Federal Trade Commission rule. But consumers still have to pay for a portion of their debt and a fee for service once a settlement is reached.

"Now consumers are saying they can't even afford a debt-settlement payment," says Andrew Housser, a board member of the Association of Settlement Companies and CEO of Freedom Debt Relief.

Bankruptcy is considered a last resort, and the cost of lawyers and other fees have gone up since the bankruptcy law changed in 2005.

Also, filing for bankruptcy is a way for financially strapped people to protect their remaining assets from creditors.

"For people who have no income and assets, there is no point in filing for bankruptcy," says Robert Lawless, law professor at University of Illinois.

Finally, others may have "a bailout mentality," says Dave Jones, president of AICCCA. If they lost their jobs, they may be counting on unemployment benefits to be extended. "There is a huge segment of the debt-burdened population that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," he says.