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Credit Counseling Center ready to help those struggling

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With unemployment numbers skyrocketing in the wake of layoffs resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic, the staff at the nonprofit Credit Counseling Center wants those affected to know help managing their finances is available.

Joan Reading, executive director of the center, which provides free financial counseling to residents of Pennsylvania, regardless of income, said the center has not received an influx of calls since Pennsylvania enacted stay-at-home orders.

“I personally think people are still in shock. This is still a mind-numbing phenomenon,” she said. “I also think our phones are going to ring a lot when this is over.”

Reading said the Credit Counseling Center can help with foreclosure prevention and loan modification, including negotiating reduced interest rates and payments on credit cards, as well as provide credit counseling and help clients improve their credit scores – services it has been providing to clients for 26 years.

The only fee the center ever charges is $30 to obtain a credit report that includes a credit score. Credit reporting companies offer free reports without the score but charge for those that include one.

The center is paid through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It serves 3,500 to 4,500 clients a year throughout Pennsylvania. Currently, it is counseling clients by phone, email and Zoom video conferencing.

Reading said the center also can help people prioritize spending, and can explain what’s going to happen with secured debt, if it’s not paid.

Secured debt refers to car loans and mortgages, for example. “If it’s secured, the bank owns your car, or the mortgage company owns your house,” until the loan is paid off, Reading said. Credit card debt is not secured, and there is a different way to negotiate with credit card companies, she said.

Often, the center can arrange with the credit card companies to lower interest rates dramatically, to as low as 3%, or even 0%, she said, so people can pay off their debt. “At 18%, 26%, 29%, you’ll never pay that off,” Reading said.

She advises those whose finances have been negatively impacted by the pandemic to contact their lenders to ask for accommodations. She also recommends callers find out from their lenders what it means if they receive a deferment – and to get it in writing.

“You want no assumptions going on when it comes to your mortgage,” Reading said, adding, “Also, you need to know if it’s going on your credit report.” Reading said the center can help clients with all of these things. “We know what questions to ask,” she said.

The center also can help clients with bankruptcy, if that is the best option, she said, and it can make sure they know the consequences of taking such a step.

Reading also suggested people contact their car insurance company to see if they can reduce payments during this stay-at-home period.

Most importantly, Reading said, people should take a look at what they are spending monthly, and put it on paper, or on a computer spreadsheet or document.

“You really should be revising your spending plan monthly,” she said. “Make adjustments now, and as you go back to work, readjust.

“Look at your subscriptions and other items. You may not need them anymore,” she said, adding that, even if there is a penalty for canceling, it might be cheaper than the monthly payments in the long run.

“I’m a big fan of putting it on paper so you can really look at item A versus item B,” Reading said. She said the center can help clients prioritize their spending becuase “we don’t have an emotional attachment.”

Credit Counseling Center advises clients who are not currently unemployed to start saving for a crisis, such as three-to-six-months of unemployment. Reading said most people can save – if they prioritize their spending.

As for the current crisis, Reading said, “We will get through this, but it would be nice to get through this as unscathed as possible.”

To help Pennsylvania residents do that, Reading said, the Credit Counseling Center can be reached at 215-348-8003 or contact@ccc-credit.com. For information, and to read the center’s new blog, visit ccc-credit.com.

jarthur@buckscountyherald.com


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