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Credit Card Blues

For the average American family, debt, and especially credit card debt is spiraling out of control at a record pace. The average household credit card debt has risen dramatically from $3000 in 1990 to over $8000 today. Personal bankruptcies are also at an all time high, prompting Congress to consider a radical bankruptcy law overhaul, designed to weed out those who are merely taking advantage of the system loopholes while directing many to more palliative alternatives such as a debt management program.

Of course some debts are considered necessary and indeed wise choices. For instance, few if any could afford a house if we had to wait until we could buy it outright. Generally speaking, a home is an asset that, over time, appreciates in value. Another debt that "makes sense" is a student loan. All data points to a direct correlation between income and educational level. However, what about that big screen TV you really didn't need, or that new car when a used one would have served the same purpose and not have created a financial nightmare. We need to start telling ourselves NO!

According to the experts at The Credit Counseling Foundation, Inc. (www.GoDebtFree.com), statistics show that about 60% of all credit card holders do not pay off their entire balance each month. With average interest rates still hovering around 15%, this increases the cost of everything you buy by at least 15%. And if you are only making the minimum payment, you could be looking at 20-30 years to pay off that balance depending on your interest rate. Minimum payments are designed to cover mostly interest, thereby keeping the holder chained to their credit card debt. One may ask with interest rates at 30 year lows why are credit card interest rates still so high? Simply put, there are no regulations on credit card interest rates requiring that they mirror prevailing interest rate indexes. Along with late fees, user fees and penalties, these interest rates, which can be greatly increased due to just one single late payment, are all implemented to generate tremendous revenues for the issuers, while at the same time creating a situation of unwanted indentured servitude for the debtor.

When faced with this overwhelming problem, what is one to do? Well the first line of attack is to cut up all credit cards. Only buy what you can afford to pay for in full. If you decide to keep a credit card, pay it off every month. This may sound like basic, common sense advice, but what about the average Joe who has already accumulated too much debt and cannot pay it off? If you are extremely disciplined and have the extra cash, you may want to formulate a plan to pay off the higher interest cards first. For most us who neither have the cash flow nor the self-discipline to adhere to such a plan, or don't want to lose the built up equity in our home by taking out a line of credit or re-financing which, by the way, could put the family home at risk should future financial setbacks occur, a good alternative would be to use a non-profit 501 (C) (3) credit counseling service. These companies can afford their clients many benefits that they could not ordinarily accomplish on their own. Interest rates can be reduced, accounts can be brought back to current status through re-aging, and maybe best of all, can stop those annoying and embarrassing creditor calls. It can get you a workable monthly payment while shortening the payoff term to typically 4-6 years. This can save thousands in interest costs! Another overlooked benefit is that all credit cards put into a debt management program are closed, thus eliminating all temptation no matter how hard you find it to say NO! All this without the trauma and stigma caused by bankruptcy or settlement.

Since there are literally thousands of these debt management companies out there, how does one go about choosing the right one? In addition to using a non-profit agency, check factors like the company's Better Business Bureau report, are they accredited by a nationally recognized certifying agency such as ISO or COA, are their counselors certified as well, how long have they been in business and word of mouth recommendations. Another consideration is whether to use one of the local community funded agencies or a private one. Although the local agencies have the advantage of being able to meet you face to face, due to limited budgets they can lack the expertise of private companies as they are often staffed predominately by volunteers and don't offer the array of modern on-line and technological services which today's consumers deserve and most large creditors demand in order to extend the debtor their most favorable terms. Moreover, many locals encumber their clients with restrictive guidelines, going as far as limiting the number of haircuts you can get or movies you can view.

If you have reached the point where you are transferring balances just to keep afloat, making minimum payments and getting nowhere or getting harassed by creditors and view bankruptcy or settlements with your creditors as both far too damaging and morally unacceptable, you may want to consider contacting a reputable credit counseling/debt management organization. A good starting place besides the BBB, would be one of the debt management organizations that belong to the American Association of Debt Management Organizations (AADMO). Most of all, don't despair! Help is out there, just do your homework and choose wisely. With the right agency to guide you combined with a true commitment to getting out of debt once and for all, there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.

The Credit Counseling Foundation, Inc provides web-based education and personalized consumer credit counseling to clients and the general public in an effort to help consumers use credit wisely. Visit us at www.godebtfree.com


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