United Way Spotlight The list of United Way of Vermillion agencies for the 2002 campaign year includes four agencies that are new to United Way in our community. During the month of November each of these four new agencies will be featured in this United Way Spotlight column. This week's agency is Lutheran Social Services' Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
The Vermillion office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service is located at Trinity Lutheran Church at 816 East Clark Street. Services include financial counseling, debt repayment programs, educational services, homebuyer and homeowner education, and tenant landlord counseling. There is also an on-campus program tailored especially for college students called "College Credit." Services are available to anyone who needs them. They are not limited to Lutherans nor are they limited to those who are behind. Anyone can seek the assistance of CCCS.
In the eight locations in eastern South Dakota served by CCCS, over $6 million a year is returned to creditors through the Debt Solver Program.
Consumer counseling advertisements are often seen on television. How does the viewer know that the agency is a reliable one? Many offer debt reduction. Others offer credit repair. Still others tout the benefits of debt consolidation. With so many agencies to choose from, how is a consumer to know which one is right for him or her?
Lynn Curtis, certified credit counselor for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Lutheran Social Services, Vermillion-Yankton, said, "Finances are a personal matter and you need a credit counseling agency that you can trust. You want an agency you can count on to negotiate discounted finance charges with your creditors, to arrange a workable debt repayment plan, and to show you how to make the necessary lifestyle changes to avoid future problems."
When it comes to credit problems, easy solutions are few and far between. Bills that took years to accumulate can't be dealt with in one day.
"Many people owe more than $23,000 before entering a debt solver program," said Curtis. "However, the right credit counseling agency can get you started on the road to financial recovery. They can help you trim expenses, analyze your financial situation, and develop a manageable household spending plan."
If one is ready to put an end to the collection calls and to seek professional help, here are the questions to ask to gauge the credibility and integrity of a prospective credit-counseling agency. (1) Is the organization truly not-for-profit? How is it funded? (2) Is it accredited by an outside organization? What does the accreditation process entail? (3) What training does its staff receive?
Among some of the other questions that should be asked to help determine if the agency is right for you are (4) Are its counselors certified? If so, what organization certifies them? (5) How are funds dispersed to creditors? (6) What policies are in place to protect client funds? (7) What fees are charged?
If you ask these questions you should have a good idea as to whether the credit counseling agency is right for you. Remember that you are not alone. There is help available from CCCS.
The assistance of Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Lutheran Social Services is free to the public. United Way funds are used to help provide these services to community members who need them.