Busy season begins for credit counseling service

Take an already overextended budget, add in the arrival of a few larger-than-expected bills from the recently ended Christmas season, and what do you get?

A very busy few months for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

“Our first quarter is very busy,” says Michele Johnson, the nonprofit organization’s chief executive officer. “And it extends past January, when the first bills come in.”

The problem, according to Johnson, is that many consumers take advantage of deferred payment offers, expecting to use a year-end bonus or savings to eventually pay off the debt. When that doesn’t work out, the consumer’s finances take a hit.

Christmas spending that gets out of hand also prompts visits to the credit counseling center. Consumers whose budgets already are stretched “get caught up in the Christmas spirit,” Johnson says, “and spend money they didn’t anticipate and don’t have the ability to repay.”

The Consumer Credit Counseling Service was created in 1972 and offers Southern Nevadans a comprehensive roster of financial services. Among them are: HUD-approved housing counseling and financial assistance to eligible first-time home buyers; financial literacy programs; a variety of public outreach and educational programs; and tax preparation services in partnership with AARP.

But the agency also continues to offer the one-on-one financial counseling and debt repayment programs that always have been the backbone of its mission.

“Of course, the debt management and financial counseling are certainly part of what we do and are a very vital service,” Johnson says.

Most recently, she says, “we’ve been deluged with families who are facing foreclosure because their mortgage is adjusting and they simply haven’t the means” to pay.

“Many people take cash advances (and) payday loans to try to stave off foreclosure or meet adjustment payments, and it just can’t continue. They’ve used all the resources they’ve borrowed and now they’re in trouble financially. With consumer debt, they’re not able to make house payments.”

Working with a counselor, clients can develop a realistic budget that will enable them to meet their obligations. Often, the agency can even negotiate with creditors to accept a reduced payment, reduce finance charges or waive late fees.

“We don’t pretend it’s going to be easy,” Johnson says, but a client’s debt often can be liquidated within 36 to 60 months.

For more information, call the Consumer Credit Counseling Service at 364-0344 or visit the agency’s Web site (www.cccsnevada.org).

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0280.

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