Taking credit

Counselors help residents handle money woes

For those saddled with seemingly impossible budget or debt problems, there are expert resources available locally and to a large part offered free of charge.

On Wednesday, a credit counselor from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Denver visited Craig, offering free debt and budget advice and low-cost debt management plans.

"We're primarily a debt management service we work to consolidate unsecured consumer debt into one monthly payment instead of dealing with several bills," CCCS credit counselor Kori Hughes said. "We can work with credit card companies, debts on a credit report, loan companies, bad checks. We can put together a new arrangement for paying off debt.

"If someone put together a debt management plan with us, we can get concessions, such as lower interest rates and waived late and penalty fees. Then someone will have to make one payment to us each month and we take care of all the individual payments."

Car loan and mortgage payments cannot be added to the program, but CCCS can help consumers plan for these costs along with their debt management, Hughes said.

The best plan, of course, is to avoid debt in the first place by properly managing your income.

"The number one thing is live within your means," Hughes said. "It's very important that you know where your money is going. Eating out frequently, buying cigarettes, what you spend on groceries and utilities there is no way your money will work for you if you don't know where it's going. If you don't have that latte everyday or eat at McDonald's several times a week, you can save $60 to $70 a month. Then an increase in car insurance, for example, is more manageable because extra money is available."

According to Hughes, consumers should plan all major expenses so they can avoid using credit cards for large or holiday purchases. They should keep car and health insurance. People should pay off purchases on a credit card in three months and have an emergency savings account, even if it's only $20 or $30 put away each month. They should take on part-time or seasonal work to help pay for seasonal expenses, such as Christmas shopping. They should also monitor the amount of taxes that are taken out of their paychecks too much or too little will either take away funds that should be available each month or add a major annual expense in taxes that will knock a budget out of whack.

The Consumer Credit Counseling Service offers free advice by telephone or in person, and organizes its debt management plans for a nominal fee, which is based on a client's income. The monthly cost, which is built into the plan, ranges from $11 to $38 and the program has a $25 start-up fee.

"Most people are on a plan for three to four years, and 80 percent walk out with a lower (total) payment each month," Hughes said. "We also concentrate on education; we offer budgeting classes, which are down in Grand Junction, and work to help people understand what is happening with their money."

The CCCS does not have an office on Craig. The organization's two counselors for the Western Slope are based in Grand Junction. Counseling in this area is done primarily over the telephone, Hughes said.

The first step in looking at one's credit is getting a copy of credit reports and consumers are entitled to one free copy from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, which are the three major credit report companies. CCCS counselors can help consumers understand these reports as well as begin solving any debt issues that may exist, Hughes said.

For more information about the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, call (303) 632-2227. To make an appointment call (970) 242-2000 or toll free (800) 224-9885.

The CCCS is also online at www.cccsdenver.com.

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