Getting A Handle On Debt
Wednesday - October 04, 2006
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Sharing smiles at CCCS of Hawaii (from left): Tom Horton,
Marie Mangca, Jeff Babcock, Joan Jones, Becky Salaski,
Donald Martinez and Wendy Burkholder
Have you ever had to choose between making a car payment and buying food for the kids? Have you ever had your telephone service cut off because you paid the credit card bill instead? But that was okay because you were afraid to answer your phone anyway- it might have been a collection agency calling? Did you get a payday loan for an “emergency” six months ago, and it’s still not paid off? Are you so close to your credit limits that you break out in a cold sweat every time you use your credit cards because you’re afraid you’ll be declined? Do you worry that you are so broke that you have to charge EVERY little thing and payday is still a week away?
You’re not alone.
CCCS of Hawaii is a non-profit community service organization providing confidential, professional financial education and debt counseling - at no or low cost - to Hawaii’s families. Our job is to aid and rehabilitate financially distressed people and families through credit counseling and, when necessary, to negotiate payment arrangements with their creditors. Also, we provide group educational programs on family money management, budgeting and the wise use of credit. We have provided these services for over 37 years from our Honolulu, Maui and Big Island offices. We are the only credit counseling service in the state with membership in the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), fully accredited by the Counsel on Accreditation for Children and Family Services (COA) and the sole Hawaii-based provider of pre-bankruptcy counseling services approved by the Executive Office of the US Trustee/Dept. of Justice.
Each year, our counselors conduct face-to-face and telephone counseling for hundreds of individuals and families. These counseling sessions involve a total review of the client’s financial condition, spending habits and debt load. After setting up a realistic living expenses budget the counselor determines the next steps needed to solve the client’s debt issues. Most of the families who come to see us are able to manage their own finances after receiving this educational counseling and a little on-going support and coaching if needed. The counselor will also refer the client to other social service agencies in the community for assistance with special problems.
For some of the families we counsel, their financial crisis is so great they require intervention in the form of a Debt Management Plan. CCCS of Hawaii negotiates directly with each of the creditors to establish a repayment plan that is suitable for the client. By acting as an intermediary, we give the client the opportunity to start fresh and to regain control of their financial lives.
Fewer than 10 percent of the clients who come to see us actually need protection under the bankruptcy laws. This is remarkable considering that practically everyone who contacts us thinks bankruptcy is their only option.
There has been a huge increase of profiteering counseling agencies within the past few years. You can see their flashy ads on TV and the Internet, promising quick and painless solutions to debt problems. Don’t believe them! Often they charge enormous start-up fees for long distance “counseling” that is of no long-term benefit to anyone but themselves. Little or no time is spent on budgeting or finding the source of financial problems. No attempt is made to help the consumer to develop better money management skills. These are crucial to the person’s success in repaying debt and avoiding over-extension later.
Many of our clients get into financial trouble because of simple need and a lack of financial know-how. Few have used credit to support an extravagant life-style. Some may be in crisis because of divorce, illness or unexpected job losses. However, the majority are families whose income has failed to keep pace with Hawaii’s rising cost of living. Increased rents due to our housing shortage and soaring property values, rapidly rising gasoline and utility costs are also severely impacting our population. Many low to moderate income families are mistakenly covering shortfalls by using credit for basic necessities such as rent, gasoline, car insurance, groceries, etc.
The impact of being overwhelmed by debt reaches much further than you would imagine. The No. 1 cause of divorce is still financial stress. It splinters families, often leads to substance and alcohol abuse and domestic violence, and influences homelessness rates.
Our sense of self-esteem is strongly connected with our financial lives and choices. It is easy for some to be apathetic toward folks with money problems, but the truth of the matter is that we all engage with the credit industry on some level, and it only takes a few missteps (or a series of unforeseen events) to derail us. We at CCCS of Hawaii know this to be true as we see it every day.
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