Beating the Recession: Consumer credit counseling

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In our area, thousands of people seek help with credit card debt every year and the numbers have grown over the last six months.

If you open up your phonebook, you will see all kinds of consumer credit counseling numbers, but only a few are Better Business Bureau approved. You must make sure you pick the right place to get help.

However, the first step is realizing you need credit help.

"3. 3 credit cards? Yes, I'm good," said Jody Mock of Savannah.

"You know actually two, two credit cards," said Marshall Green of Savannah.

Marshall Green and Jody Mock are like many of us, they each have large credit card debt.

"Maybe $2,000 combined," said Green.

"2800 dollars," added Mock.

And they have their own ways of paying off that debt.

"It depends on how the month is and how other bills are," said Mock.

"I generally like to pay 60 to 70 dollars on it every month," Green told WTOC. "I like to pay two to three times more than the minimum."

"We always look at that minimum payment and we want to keep the extra money and the balance continues to grow," said John Wills, president of Consumer Credit Counseling of Savannah.

Wills is a licensed, non-profit, debt management option. He says consumers are making bad decisions with their credit.

"We are seeing record consumer debt; we are seeing rise in personal bankruptcy and unemployment, which makes it hard to pay your bills," said Wills. "People are just spending more than they make."

Last year, 5,000 people walked through John's door. He says the numbers are growing and the sigma of credit counseling is fading fast.

"It shouldn't be a stigma associated, because we all have those bills, we all have those issues," Wills explained. "It's avenue where you can pay your debt back in full and at same time have good relation with creditors to restart their credit. We'll get those individuals out of debt within 4 to 5 years and the creditors are willing to waive interest rates to save families thousands and thousands of dollars in unnecessary charges.

At consumer credit counseling a professional sits you down, goes over your bills and helps you make a budget.

"You have to have a budget," said Wills. "You have to know what is coming in and what is going out, what are your future financial goals, needs versus wants. You may want they flat screen TV, but you need that washer and dryer."

He says over obligation and excessive spending have lead to millions of americans in credit debt, paying the minimum payment on a credit card is mistake number one.

"That will take them 30 years to get out of debt if they pay the minimum on a credit card," Wills said.

John suggests keeping one credit card for emergencies and like many of his customers, cutting up the rest. And, he warns don't fall for credit card gimmicks at your favorite store.

"They offer you a 10 percent discount, if you put 300 on the card and you don't pay it off get hit with 20 percent interest rate, you lost the discount," Wills explained.

He suggests if you are in credit debt and need help don't hesistate to call them.

"Everyone out there has bills to pay, it's just a matter of how quickly you wish to get out of debt and how much you wish to manage your money," he said.

Half the battle is knowing your own budget limits whether is 20,000 dollars in credit debt...or two thousand.

"I believe its manageable.," said Green. "I was always taught having credit and debt is okay, if it is manageable."

"I've known a lot of people who have used consumer credit counseling service and they had good luck with it and they got things straightened out," said Mock.

There is a notation on credit report saying you are receiving credit counseling if you participate in a debt management system. But, it doesn't effect your score.

Not paying your bills will effect your score and if you are in the program, you can still buy a house or car. They'll even write credit reference letters. And consumer credit counseling also offers free foreclosure counseling.

If you choose another credit counseling service, do your homework, check with the Better Business Bureau. If you don't, you could find yourself in worse shape than you started.

For more information on Consumer Credit Counseling Service call their office at 1.800.821.4040 or visit

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