The South Coast region of California is one of America’s most beautiful places. Featuring an idyllic climate, luxuriant beaches and a backdrop of imposing mountains where snow can sometimes be seen from the semi-tropical ocean side, it’s no wonder that so many settlers across the centuries risked life and limb to seek the fruits the promised lands of the South Coast of California had to bear.

The area features two of the largest ports in North America, with the Port of Los Angeles being the single largest of its kind. The economy of the Los Angeles metro area ranks second only to that of New York City and far ahead of even most first-world national economies. San Diego is no slouch, either. With one of the largest military presences of any town in America, the city has a diversified economy that includes the headquarters of world-leading companies in biotech, telecom, defense and aerospace. This impressive roster is complimented by the San Diego area being one of the nation’s most visited tourist destinations. Both Charles Lindbergh International and LAX are among the busiest primary destination airports in the entire world. People don’t fly to So Cal to change flights. They fly there to stay.

And over the years, many have stayed, indeed. Despite its permanent boom economy, the Southern Coast area has a burgeoning underclass for which the picture of the American Dream might as well be an abstract painting hanging in a museum for which they cannot pay the entrance fee. With, perhaps, more illegal immigrants than any other region of the United States, the region suffers from widespread income inequality, manifested as poverty and living conditions so poor that many Americans could be forgiven for mistaking them for scenes from some Latino slum. These disenfranchised residents often do not participate in the official economy, living in the shadows as a permanent untouchable class.

But the region’s problems don’t stop there. The rapidly changing demographics have formed a sort of positive feedback loop, decimating the ranks of the state’s middle-class, as working class whites flee the state amid soaring home prices and encroaching no-go zones. This has served to create an increasingly third-world-like social divide, with the rich elites living in gated communities, like those of Brentwood or Hollywood, and the largely minority underclass confined to the sprawling slums of places like Compton and Baldwin Village.

All this adds up to considerable hardship among large swaths of the region’s populace. While the unemployment rate in the state of California is 5.5 percent, that of Los Angeles is 7.5 percent. And this is a dramatic understatement due to the large portion of its residents who don’t participate in the official economy. What’s worse, the soaring housing costs in desirable neighborhoods have often been complimented by plummeting costs in those areas where white flight has given way to the underclass. This has left many homeowners unable to afford the homes they desire and many more upside down on homes that are likely to continue depreciating.

All this adds up to a city that reflects the state’s record-setting numbers of annual bankruptcies. But for many Southern Coast residents, bankruptcy may be the worst choice. Debt settlement can often capture many of the benefits of bankruptcy while avoiding its worst costs.

What are the benefits of debt settlement?

For those who have unsecured consumer debt, debt settlement may offer a way out of an otherwise unworkable situation. It should be noted that one of the most common objections raised by personal finance advisers in regards to debt settlement is that it is only a way of putting a band-aid on a stab wound. Critics of debt settlement point out that, in order for the program to have lasting effects, the debtor must recognize and correct the underlying behavior that led to the debt accumulation. Lastly, the yearly income level of the debtor should be preferably more than one third of the amount owed. If this requirement is not met, it may be too likely that the debt settlement program won’t be completed.

So, assuming these criteria are met, what can debt settlement do that bankruptcy can’t? First, debt settlement won’t mess up your credit score for decades. Most people who go through debt settlement take hits to their credit scores of between 100 and 150 points. But this can be easily fixed with some simple credit repair techniques. With bankruptcy, you may not be able to get a mortgage, auto loan or any kind of small business or short-term financing for between seven and ten years.

Debt settlement also allows you to keep all of your assets and essentially continue the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed. With bankruptcy, assets are often forced into liquidation. In some cases, this can even include primary residences and cars, especially where the bankruptcy court may deem the assets to be beyond the basic needs of the debtor. Finally, debt settlement allows you to escape the indignities of defaulting on loans to neighbors and local business people. With debt settlement, they will all have been repaid, even if at a discount.