Christian Credit Counselors
Christian Credit Counselors, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Personal Goals

Credit Counselors – Easing Debt Worries

Seeking Credit Counseling

As the recent financial crisis slowly abates, many families are left in desperate need of the assistance of credit counseling. Many families today have discovered themselves upside down in their mortgages, owing huge amounts to creditors, and with barely enough budget left over to finish out the month let alone enough to save for the cliched rainy day.

Fortunately, credit counselors can offer many solutions to those currently drowning in debt. Choosing the right credit counselor is imperative, but the task becomes quite easy with the help of a few simple guidelines.

Researching Credit Counseling Services

First, research credit counseling services with organizations that you already trust. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities offer low-cost debt counseling. Your family and friends might also be able to offer up names of credit counselors that have been helpful to them. Regardless of the source you use, finding a trustworthy, honest credit counselor can be the most important step that you take.

Also, it is important to understand that fixing your credit is neither easy or quick. Credit agencies and businesses want assurance that your financial behavior is a lifestyle. This means that the pattern is built up over extended periods of time, not simply months.

Credit Counseling Accreditation

Whatever credit counseling program you choose, you should ascertain that they are accredited and in good standing with their business practices. Trade associations, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA), monitor the dealings of credit counselors. Credit agencies should also be accredited by either the Council on Accreditation (COA) or the International Organization for Standardization (IOS). A Better Business Bureau reliability report of good standing is also an effective measure of a company’s business practices. It should be free from unresolved complaints.

Gathering information from the firm itself is equally essential in making an informed choice. Seek out an agency that provides a wide range of services, such as budget advice and savings/credit classes. Uncover the qualifications of their counselors, how their employees are compensated, as well as the security of your information. All of these factors will have influence on the service that you receive from the agency.

Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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    Credit Cards: Considering Credit History

    Considering Your Credit cONSUMER-cREDIT

    Do you have credit card accounts that you don’t use? Are you thinking about closing these unused accounts to clean off the slate? Read this article to learn more about the effects of closed accounts on your credit history.

    A Fair Isaac representative reported that closing accounts does not directly hurt one’s credit score, regardless of whether it was closed by the cardholder or the credit grantor. That’s the good news. The other side of the story, and there is always another side, is that closing accounts indirectly affects your credit history and therefore, your credit score.

    Closing Credit Card Accounts

    Closing unused credit card accounts can increase one’s credit utilization ratio. Credit utilization is a measurement of the difference between one’s available credit and the amount being used. This figure is calculated by taking the sum of your credit card balances and dividing that by the sum credit card limits. One’s credit utilization ratio directly affects credit scoring. Simply put, the higher one’s credit utilization ratio the lower his or her credit score.

    How does this come into play with regards to cancelling unused credit cards? The unused credit cards have low utilization since the entire credit limit is available. This offsets the higher utilization that one’s other credit cards may have. Thus, it reduces one’s overall credit utilization ratio boosting his or her credit score.

    Putting that into perspective, let’s say you have a credit card with a $5,000 credit limit and another card with the same. That’s $10,000 of total credit limit. Now let’s say you spend $2,500 on one card and some minor purchases on the other, which you have paid off. Your total balance, or debt, is $2,500, which equates to a credit utilization of 25%. If you were to close the card with no balance, your overall credit limit would decrease to $5,000, which would in turn increase your credit utilization ratio to 50%.

    Considering Credit History

    Closing credit card accounts can also lower one’s credit score by reducing the credit history age. Credit age is essentially that. How old are your accounts? In the credit scoring world, the older the better. Age is one representation of stability. Since older is better when it comes to credit card accounts and credit scoring, if you’re thinking of closing old unused accounts, think again. These accounts can actually help your credit score. Keep in mind, however, the FICO score does take into account both closed and open accounts, and closed accounts can remain on a credit history report for up to a decade.

    Setting all that aside, if keeping credit card accounts open leaves an open door to more spending – close them! Better to be financially free of debt and its negative impact on your finances, which we all know can lead to increased stress. And, who needs that!?

    Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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      Financial Planning: A Dose of Truth and Grace

      shutterstock_55416607_montage

      Planning for a Financial Planner

      So you’re considering a financial plan! Perhaps your finances have told you that you need one. Planning with purpose for your financial future is a noble task. Sure many good things come to us in unexpected surprises, but planning for a good future, especially when it comes to finances, is a wise strategy indeed! You’re reading this article because financial planning interests or excites you, and just doing so is taking the first step.

       

      Financial planning is a well marked plan to thrive financially, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want a secure, successful financial portfolio. It’s never too late to start making changes and never too late to pursue financial freedom. The key is: start where you are. Don’t dwell on where you have been or the mistakes and poor choices that you may have made. Everyday is a fresh start to the life you want to live, to the best you yet!

      Your Dreams, Desires, and Goals

      You have dreams, desires and goals. Everyone does. But, not everyone lives in such a way as to see them come to pass. Why do some succeed where others fail? Why do some thrive while others seem to strive after the wind? Not all of life’s answers come sugarcoated and some pills are hard to swallow. But, taking in wisdom, advice and eating humble pie is good for us all. With humility comes honor, and sometimes taking a long, hard look at ourselves is truly a humbling endeavor.

      Finances are a major test and testimony of our maturity and level of personal responsibility. It’s important in the process of self-discovery to admit the truth about your behaviors and choices and the effects they have had on both your life and the lives of those you influence, whether for good or for bad. Be sure to give yourself a healthy measure of both truth and grace. As imperfect people, who make not so perfect choices, grace is something we all need.

      Consider Your Financial Peace

      Start today by considering who you are, who you want to be. Consider what your financial situation looks like and what you want it to look like. Consider what it will take to get you there. Look at the situation objectively. Keep negative thoughts and emotions at bay. You are strategizing, planning, preparing and leading. It takes a strong mind and a strong spirit to be a good leader. The first person you lead is always yourself. And the truth is, if you can’t lead yourself, you really can’t lead others, not well, anyway.Financial grace is not a credit card with no limits and no consequences. If you charge, you owe. Same goes in life.

      Your material choices have consequences, both positive and negative. Grace goes the extra mile, however. It says, “Yes, you are where you are, but…you don’t have to stay there, and you certainly don’t have to return.” Grace gives us the opportunity to make a change, to make the change we desire. It helps us to feel empowered to walk out the lifestyle we want for ourselves and to make the daily choices that both get us and keep us there. Mary Poppins should have said a spoonful of grace helps the medicine go down.

      Planning Short and Long Term Goals

      As you begin to plan, look at both short and long term goals. Write out the steps it will take to accomplish them. With your basic plan in hand, your road map, determine if further help is needed to bring clarity or to implement your newly devised strategy. Share your newfound view with others and invite them to partner with you where appropriate. Your close family and friends are key players in the game called “your life.” And, be proud of who you are because no matter where you’ve been, what you have or have not done, you are this day, an overcomer.

      Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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        Debt Collectors: Know Your Rights Against Wrong Practices

        Doomsday Debt Collectors debt1

        Debt collectors may be within their right to pursue repayment, but you should know how to protect yourself against doomsday debt collectors and their extreme tactics.

        Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

        First, you should be aware that there are laws in place that govern the practice of debt collection. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was written for your protection and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, our national consumer protection agency. This Act covers a variety of debts, including personal and household, but not business debt. Examples of covered debts are: home, auto, medical, and credit card debt.

        The Facts about Debt Collectors

        • May not use abusive or deceptive tactics
        • Must send the debtor a validation notice within 5 days of initiating contact
        • Written validation notice must include: amount owed, the creditor to whom money is owed, and what to do if the debtor says they don’t owe
        • Must contact during reasonable hours (Ex. not earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 9 p.m.)
        • May not attempt contact at a person’s work (with a written or oral statement)
        • May contact third parties for a person’s contact info (often limited to one time)
        • Must contact your attorney, if you are being legally represented
        • May not discuss the details of the debt with those outside of the debtor, debtor’s spouse or representing attorney
        • Must stop contacting the debtor upon receipt of a written notice by debtor indicating the debt is not owed or seeking proof (within 30 days from date of validation notice)
        • May continue to contact the debtor once proof of debt has been provided

        Putting a stop to Debt Collection

        Your first conversation with a collector should be an attempt at resolution. Determine whether you owe the debt. Depending on the outcome of that initial conversation, decide how you will proceed. If you want to stop a collector from contacting you, provide it in writing. Be sure to make a copy of everything you send and mail the document by certified mail with a return receipt. From that point, the debt collector may tell you that there will be no further contact, or they may indicate their next step. If a creditor still wants to collect from you at this point, they may pursue legal action by filing a lawsuit.

        In the event that you are sued by a debt collector, respond or have your lawyer respond by the date indicated in the lawsuit to stay within your rights.

        Reporting Debt Collection Misconduct

        Notify the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of a debt collector who doesn’t operate within the bounds of the law. Additionally, inform your state Attorney General’s Office, and inquire about the state laws that differ from the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as, your rights.

        Christian Credit Counselors is a non-profit organization that was created to help individuals and families regain control of their finances through the use of educational tools, credit counseling and other resources. For more resources, visit www.christiancreditcounselors.org.

        Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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          High Car Payments Can Drive You Over the Edge

          car

          High Car Payments

          It is an all too common story. Many people struggling with debt can trace the beginning of their debt problems to a new car purchase – a big monthly payment, financed for too long. Some households even have two vehicles with large payments in the $400 to $500 range. With the budget maxed out, you can see how this type of financial burden could lead to a crisis. It’s easy to start falling behind on your budget and ultimately turning to credit cards, cash advances or loans to make up where your cash flow is lacking.

          Test Drive the Monthly Payment

          You may think you’re getting a steal of a deal on that new SUV or speedster. After all, the dealer said he’d take $2,000 off the sticker price – how could you pass that one up! You know the saying: Buyer beware. Be aware of what you can afford, and go into the purchase with a plan. Find a comfortable monthly payment that allows room in your budget for maintenance, and possible gas and insurance increases. You want a vehicle that improves your lifestyle, not one that enslaves you to a high monthly expense.

          Car Payment Facts

          • Monthly payment

          Financial experts recommend spending no more than 15% of your monthly take-home pay on a car payment. If your budget is tight, a more conservative figure like 8% would be appropriate. Even though a lender may approve you for more than you have budgeted, you don’t need to spend it. Consider the future effects of your decision and your other lifestyle and financial goals. Balance is key to budgeting.

          • Term of the loan

          According to the Federal Reserve, the average auto loan term has been creeping up over the years. In 1998, the typical car loan was a 4-year term, and now, lenders commonly offer 6-year terms. It certainly lowers your monthly payment and may help you reach the 8% you budgeted for. However, it doesn’t come free of charge. Obviously, you’ll pay a lot more than you signed for because of the increase in overall interest. And, if you want or need to sell, chances are you’ll owe more than what the car is worth. It takes longer to build equity with a long-term loan. Consider what you can afford monthly and base a purchase on a four year loan. This doesn’t have to mean less car. Shopping used cars in your price range can offer a fleet of options.

          • Interest

          Do some investigating and shop around for the best interest rate before negotiating a purchase with a dealer. Check other dealerships and financial institutions. Dealerships and financial institutions often run promotions, offering incentives like lower interest rates, zero down and cash back. Also, if you can afford to send in payments above your monthly payment, it will pay down your premium faster, save on the overall interest and shorten the life of your loan.

          • Pleasure

          Don’t buy a vehicle that you don’t like or are embarrassed to drive. It is important that you are happy with your purchase for more reasons than simply the cost. The best car deal is one that you can afford, meets your lifestyle needs and that you enjoy driving.

          Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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            Credit – The Four Most Common Forms

            What is credit? art-credit-cards-620x349

            Credit is defined in a couple of ways. One is the amount of money you are approved to borrow from a lending institution. With this approval comes an agreement to repay the charges, any additional fees that can or will be applied, and to abide by time restrictions.

            Credit can also be classified as your borrowing reputation. It paints a picture of your payment history and provides the lender with information regarding the likelihood of your repayment, in other words, your risk factor.

            Use of Credit

            When used responsibly, credit can be a convenient and effective financial tool. From a simple credit card to an auto or home loan, credit is the American way of life. Cashless transactions are soon becoming the way of the future, and credit cards are among the most prevalent. Understanding credit is important in order to use credit to your advantage and to prevent the common financial pitfall – debt.

            Four Common Forms of Credit

            Revolving Credit

            This form of credit allows you to borrow money up to a certain amount. The lending institution sets a credit limit, or the most you can borrow. In revolving credit, the borrower revolves the balance by rolling from month to month until it is paid in full. Interest charges typically occur for any revolving balance. As the money is paid back, the difference between the maximum credit limit and the current balance is available to be borrowed. This is the most common form of credit issued by credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard, and store and gas cards. Credit cards are considered unsecure credit because there is no collateral securing the amount borrowed.

            Charge Cards

            This form of credit is often mistaken to be the same as a revolving credit card. However, the major difference between a credit card and a charge card is the credit card can carry a balance, whereas the charge card must be paid in full each month. If the balance is not paid on time and in full, penalty fees will be added. American Express is an example of a well-known charge card. This form of credit is advantageous against accumulating credit card debt.

            Installment Credit

            Installment credit involves a set amount borrowed, a set monthly payment and a set timeframe of repayment. Interest charges are pre-determined and calculated into the set monthly payments. Common forms of installment credit agreements are home mortgages and auto loans.

            Installment credit is also typically secure. Secure credit requires security for the lender. The borrower must provide collateral, something of value pledge in order to guarantee loan repayment. If the borrower fails to repay, or defaults on the loan, the lender may confiscate the collateral. A home is an example of collateral on a mortgage, and a vehicle on an auto loan. If the borrower were to default, the home or vehicle would be repossessed.

            Non-Installment or Service Credit

            This form of credit allows the borrower to pay for a service, membership, etc. at a later date. Generally, payment is due the month following the service, and unpaid balances will incur a fee, interest, and/or penalty charges. Continued non-payment will result in service cancellation and can be reported to the credit bureau, affecting your credit score. Service or non-installment agreements are very common in our everyday life. Cell phone, gas and electricity, water and garbage are all examples of service credit.

            Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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              Making Money Matters Manageable in Your Marriage

              Mutual Money Management moneymarriage

              Is it love or money that makes the world go round? It’s both…Make money work for your marriage, not against it.  You need tips on strengthening your marriage through mutual management of your money.  This can be done and can even be fun!  Keep reading to find out how.

              Financial Honesty

              Have open, honest and non-confrontational discussions about your finances.  Set aside a regular time to talk about where you are, where you want to be and how you will get there…together.

              Budgeting and Strategic Spending

              Make budgeting a positive and fun project, rather than a chore.  Don’t view a budget as a way to plan spending out of your life.  News Flash: While you are alive, you will never stop spending money.  And, the ultimate goal is not to spend less, but to spend strategically and find ways to increase your income to continue to meet your financial goals.  Plan in the things you want and enjoy and work together to achieve them.

              Money Habits

              Be aware of your spouses habits and tendencies when it comes to finances.  Don’t eye one another to find fault, but look for opportunities to step in and offer encouragement or a listening ear.  Fear can lead people to hold onto finances tightly, or spend impulsively.  Find ways to help build faith and trust into each other, and encouraging one another daily.

              Reward Sacrifice

              Regardless of the roles you’ve decided upon in the area of finance, you are both working towards your mutual goals.  Look for opportunities to reward your spouse for their hard work.  Have they been making personal sacrifices to stay within the budget?  Acknowledge that in a way that will tell him or her: Thank you. I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m glad we are on the same team.

              Learn from Financial Freedom

              Get around other couples who are walking in financial freedom and learn from them.  Look for couples who are seasoned and successful in the area of mutual finance, and allow them to mentor you as a couple. They have been where you are and have insight into your success.

              The Three L’s

              Love much. Live well. Laugh often.  Always remember the love you have for your spouse.  Keep that as a forethought, prizing it more highly than anything money can buy.

              Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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                Money, Love, and Marriage

                il_570xN.417833387_htxl

                Marriage and Money

                Roses are red; violets are blue. No matter the cost, I’ll stand by you…

                Have you had the talk yet?…You know, the one about money, spending habits, future goals, budgeting…?

                If you haven’t, it should be a top priority for your relationship.  If you have, have it again.  Discussing finances should be a regular and healthy part of your lifestyle together.  Being on the same page in this area will protect your marriage (or future marriage) against the most common relational enemy.  You’ve heard the statistics.  Money and finances are the number one reason couples argue and ultimately divorce. Don’t let your marriage become a number.

                Make Finances a Joint Venture

                Regardless of you or your spouses accounting or investment skill set, planning out your financial future and implementing those strategies should be a mutual effort.  Coming together to decide matters in the area of finance will allow you both to be on the same page number…of the same book.  Couples drift away from each other day by day when they are not planning their future together.

                Relationships and matters of finance should not be left to one person alone, even if he or she is “better at it.”  This disconnects one partner from a key area and anytime one of the partners is left out of a major area of the relationship, it will lead to the two of them planning and living, by default, two separate lives.  We, as humans, are meant to be in relationship with each other, and drifters will eventually wash up on someone else’s shore.  So, make it a priority to come together and stay together in the area of financial planning.

                Tip for Financial Success

                Use this time of planning as an opportunity to build closeness into your relationship.

                Respect and Love

                The two greatest relational needs. Anytime you are communicating with your spouse, you are communicating either respect and love or their opposites.  Since the topic of finance can stir one or both of you up, be especially careful to communicate this respect, love and trust through words, tone and body language.

                Listen and Speak Lovingly

                Listen for his or her dreams, desires, goals, reasons.  Your partner has spending habits, as we all do.  Find out the why behind the what.  This will help you to understand your partner better and offer support when needed.

                Be a voice of encouragement. Speak highly of and to your spouse.  Build him or her up with your words. Remind your better-half how capable, intelligent and valued he or she is.  You have the power to build up or to tear down, and it starts with a simple comment.

                Give Financial Grace

                If this is a new process for your relationship, a new way of doing things financially.  Give yourselves grace to get through the transition. Old habits may die hard, but building new and healthy patterns into your relationship is definitely worth the initial investment!

                Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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                  Financial Literacy: Money Lessons

                  Financial Literacy Month

                  We are back! I hope you had a Happy Easter with family and friends. And even though April is coming to an end, it is still Financial Literacy Month. Gregory Karp of the Chicago Tribune has put together a money quiz to help contribute to your understanding of money topics. Here is a chance to test your knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two that will ultimately help you with your finances.

                    • Do your credit scores rise when you get a higher paying job?

                  Simply put, no. Your income in not shown on your credit report, so that isn’t a factor when determining your credit score. Using credit, and using it well, is what really matters.

                    • Is a household budget meant to restrict your spending?

                  Restrict is the wrong word. Budgeting allows you to tell your money what to do instead of wondering where it disappeared to. If you keep track of your spending and budget wisely you can set aside money to spend on fun things. Indulging once in a while will keep you on track so you don’t feel so restricted.

                    • Should I pay off highest interest-rate debt first?

                  Mathematically, using extra money to pay off high-rate debt, such as credit cards, makes sense. But if you have many different debts, you might get a psychological boost by wiping out smaller debts first.

                    • What is the only official site for getting your credit report?

                  You can request a free credit report annually from the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. For the most part, they have the same information, so you could request one every four months to keep track of your score throughout the year.

                    • If a thief steals your credit card and charges $1,000, you’re responsible for how much?

                  Federal law says you’re responsible for $50, but most major credit-card issuers absolve you of all liability if it’s a clear case of a stolen card or number.

                    • What is likely to provide the highest returns over time: stocks, bonds or CDs?

                  Most financial advisers suggest a mix of stocks and relatively safer bonds, with the mix getting more bond-heavy as you approach the time you’ll need the money. Stocks have provided the highest returns over long periods, especially if you’re talking about decades.

                    • Which is more expensive for a family of four: food or financing a new car?

                  Food costs more, unless you’re talking about an especially pricey car. The American family of four spends about $8,700 on food in a year, or $725 per month, according to the most recent government Consumer Expenditure Survey. That’s far more than most monthly car payments. People will research for months to get a good deal on a car, but many won’t look at a sales flier or clip a few coupons.

                    • How large should your emergency fund be?

                  Three to six months of bare-bones living expenses, most money experts advise. But with the current state of the economy, six months should be the minimum.

                   

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                    Your Finances and Financial Spring Cleaning

                    Financial Spring Cleaning

                    With winter gone, and spring in full bloom spring cleaning is on probably on your mind. This is what you’ve been waiting for all winter, to clean your entire house from top to bottom. Wait, you don’t do annual spring cleaning? It’s okay, I don’t either, but the idea of going through your finances at least once a year seems a lot more beneficial then scrubbing the toilet.

                    Know Your Financial Goals

                    This may seem like a no brainer, but most people don’t have a defined plan concerning their financial future. Figure out exactly where you are now, and where you want to be in the next year, 5 years, 10 year, etc. Having a written document you are able to look at every so often will keep you on track toward securing your financial future.

                    Get Rid of Unnecessary Documents

                    While it is good that you are keeping a hold of valuable documents, some that have been in your pile for years may not be needed anymore. Visit bankrate.com to see what records you should have on hand and for how long.

                    Review your Credit Report and Score

                    The three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion offer you one free credit report annually. This is something you should take full advantage of. For more information about credit reports and your score, check out our last blog!

                    Analyze your Insurance Coverage

                    To make sure you are getting the best plan at the best price, shop around and compare rates. Companies are competing for your business, so you may be able to get a better deal somewhere else. Visit sites such as insurance.com and insure.com to help you in your research.

                    De-clutter your Home

                    Go through your closet, old boxes, basement, attic, etc. and get rid of unnecessary items that are sitting there collecting dust. You can opt to make a little money by trying to sell some of your goods, or you can always donate/recycle them. Either way, after de-cluttering your home, you will be inclined to improve other areas of your life, such as your finances!

                    Happy Financial Spring Cleaning!

                     

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