You know you need to seek help from a credit counselor when …
It may sound like a comedy routine opener, but for lots of people it’s definitely not a laughing matter.
Many who are weighed down with debt opt first for self-help, trimming back on spending and keeping a close eye on accounts. But much like losing weight, some people have the willpower to shed a few pounds on their own while others require the help of a personal trainer.
When do you need to call in a financial fitness expert? Here are 15 instances that could indicate that your balances are getting the better of you and that credit counseling might help:
Look for a pattern There’s no magic number of statements with which you must agree to determine if you have a credit problem. Even if you see yourself in several of these instances, you still might be able to deal with your credit crunch on your own.
But if you spot a trend, beware.
For example, don’t panic if you occasionally shop surreptitiously, not letting the spouse in on your splurge. “Anybody might do this once or twice,” says Debby Vinyard, co-owner of Vinyard Financial Planning and Associates, in Marion, Ill. “But if it’s becoming routine, you probably have a problem.”
Similarly, paying of minimum balances once in a while could be acceptable. But if it’s more than an isolated money management misstep, you could be headed for trouble.
“If you see some of these warning signs, you need to take a serious look and find out why,” Vinyard says. “Maybe it’s something temporary. You’re between jobs.
“But if it’s becoming a bad pattern, you need to be honest. Admitting you have a problem will go at least halfway toward solving it.”
Don’t wait too long Cate Williams, vice president of financial literacy and corporate representative for Money Management International, says it’s far easier on families to seek help sooner rather than later.
“The best time to seek credit counseling is before all the extreme warning signs show up,” Williams says. “Generally, it’s easier to work with someone heading down the path toward financial difficulties rather than someone that’s already reached that destination. Just like we should have fitness checkups, in light of the ever changing economy everyone could benefit from a ‘financial checkup'”
Any trip to a credit counselor should be preceded by a thorough analysis of your family’s personal finances: how much money you have saved, how much you owe, how much you have coming in each month, and so on. Such an analysis will help you assess how much trouble you’re in and how much help you need.
“MMI believes that most consumers could benefit from a good old fashioned budgeting session,” Williams says. “Having a monthly cash flow budget and a review of your balance sheet will give anyone encouragement to keep doing things right or adjust their plan to meet goals.”
|— Updated: April 28, 2005|