By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Debt-management firms look to increase awareness
Officials remind public facing bleak outlook that free help is available
Placeholder Image
"Is there anyone out there to help?"
This was the plea of an anonymous Sound Off caller trying to figure out how to budget rising gas prices into his fixed income.
The economic pinch has more people struggling to make ends meet with mortgage and credit payments, resulting in a national trend of foreclosure and defaults.
John Wills, the president of Consumer Credit Counseling Services in Savannah, recently increased his staff and established a waiting list for services to meet the public's need for help with debt management.
"A lot of families were just one paycheck away from financial disaster as it was and small little fluctuations in prices ... have just set them into a tailspin," Wills said.
"We've seen a lot of families being, just hit hard on the normal budget with high gas prices, there's also the higher food prices," Wills said.
He said these new economic adjustments add to the weight most families have in debt, such as credit cards.
Georgia is leading the nation as one of the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates. Wills said the office sees a number of clients behind on their mortgage and need help.
"It's very, very high here," he said. "So we got into providing foreclosure prevention services."
"We encourage them cut out all the little, frivolous spending so they can concentrate on making a payment in a bit to try to bring up that mortgage current and up-to-date," Wills said.
Wills wants people who find themselves in a bind to know there is free guidance available.
"If you're behind on your mortgage, the last thing I want to do is charge you a fee to come in and get help," he explained.
The agency is nonprofit and partly sponsored by the United Way.
"If you feel that you're in fear of falling behind in your mortgage or you are behind in your mortgage, come on in for some free services," Wills said.
He explained how CCCS decided to make foreclosure prevention counseling available in March to "help that family save their biggest asset and biggest debt that they have."
Counselors offer specialized guidance and will work with families in making a budget "to get the most efficient use out of each dollar coming in to the household," and managing debt, which is "a viable alternative to bankruptcy," according to Wills.
"Of course they'll be doing a lot of plastic surgery," he warned. "Because we have them cut up those credit cards so that they're not incurring further debt as we are trying to get them out of debt."
This was the case with Susie Q., a single mother to an autistic son, who wanted to keep her identity private but wants people to know that help is available.
She is out of the CCCS program now and living debt free, but remembers the overwhelming feeling of $8,000 of mounting debt between four different credit cards.
"It was bad," Susie Q. explained. "It made me nervous when my automatic light came on outside because I didn't know if they were coming to repo my car."
She described herself as being "constantly uptight, constantly checking (her) money figures and constantly trying to rearrange how you're going to pay what."
"When you're carrying the debt monkey on your back, it subconsciously affects other areas of your life," Susie Q. said.
The debt caught up with her and she decided to seek counseling after she could not pre-qualify for a home purchase.
"The guy was just disappointed in my debt/income ratio and, really as a favor, pointed me in that direction," she said.
It took about three years for Susie Q. crawl out the hole.
Following professional advice, such as paying the smallest debt first, really did make a difference she said.
"I definitely have a better outlook," she said. "I'll definitely never have another credit card again."
However, both she and Wills, do not see a bottom out in the economy any time soon.
"What we're seeing now is pretty much what we'll be seeing next year," Will said, predicting adjustable rate mortgages will still be resetting.
"Always remember that prevention is the earliest and most effective form of intervention," Wills suggests. "When financial issues hit, they hit quick and they hit hard."
She suggests paying cash, sticking to lists while shopping and taking advantage of thrift stores.
"Go with the cheaper gas in your car, buy generic food items, use coupons at the grocery store," Wills said. "Find every which way you can to cut corners at this time because things are just getting so expensive."
Sign up for our e-newsletters