Budgeting, Credit Cards, Debt, Money Management

Ask Chuck: My Spouse is an Impulsive Spender

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Do you have any advice for someone married to an impulsive spender?

Cautious Budgeter 

Dear Cautious Budgeter, 

Sounds like you may be married to an opposite financial personality; my wife and I can relate! 

Most of us have made an impulsive purchase at some point in time. Others struggle with it more frequently. Or they are married to one who does. I was the impulse spender in our marriage for many years. To be clear, impulse spenders buy what they want without considering the consequences. Their behavior negatively impacts others, and the financial stress can be terrible. 

It can be difficult to determine if someone is impulsive, compulsive, or materialistic. Some definitions will help here: 

Materialistic describes one who is excessively concerned with physical comforts or the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. This is an issue of the heart that drives the behavior. Often, people live ignorant of or in denial of this spiritual deception. 

Impulse buying is often related to anxiety or depression. Those who struggle with their self-image desire acceptance, respect, or attention. They shop whether they can afford to or not, in an attempt to meet those needs or boost their mood. Some call this “retail therapy.”   

Compulsive spending, on the other hand, is an uncontrollable desire to shop. It results in spending large amounts of time and money and tends to escalate over time. Mental Health America gives 4 stages of compulsive spending: anticipation, preparation, shopping, then spending. If impulse buying impacts budgets, compulsive spending can destroy them! 

Symptoms of Compulsive Spending:

  • Spending a significant portion of income on discretionary purchases
  • Accumulating a large amount of consumer debt
  • Spending continually, despite resolutions to stop
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones 
  • Experiencing more excitement in purchasing than owning 
  • Feeling let down or shame after buying something
  • Buying things not needed, not using what’s bought
  • Suffering relationship problems due to spending
  • Feeling ashamed of the spending problem
  • Getting agitated or excited when shopping
  • Feeling that the next big purchase will improve life 
  • Shopping is the primary or only means to cope with stress

A Change of Heart 

To help your spouse identify if he/she is struggling with materialism, consider doing an online Crown study together. Typically, the behavior will not change until the heart is transformed. In my own experience, I had to repent of the control money had over my life. I surrendered my life to the Lord’s control in order to escape my double-mindedness. 

Practical Tips 

Ask your spouse to consider some of the steps that will bring impulsive buying or compulsive spending under control. 

Pick a stress-free time and environment to set goals. Write them down, and post them in a visible place. Then, create a budget. Honor God and one another by staying within the spending limits for each expense category. Learn to give first, and then, pay your bills; use automatic transfers to specific savings accounts. Discover what the Bible says about money, and ask the Lord to work in your situation. 

Track shopping sprees. Discover the triggers, and note what is purchased.

Avoid shopping—period. Find a healthier activity to substitute for the rush. If you must make a purchase, determine your needs, make a list, use cash, then exit immediately. Take a spouse or trustworthy friend with you. 

Stop using credit cards. Put them in a very, very inconvenient location. Unsubscribe from store emails, and avoid online shopping. Professional counseling may be necessary. Just remember, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10: 13 ESV) 

Aim to be humble and transparent, committing to honesty in all transactions. This removes distrust in relationships. Seek accountability with your spouse and the wisdom of an older couple. Learn good communication skills. (Check out the numerous resources available at RightNowMedia.org.) 

Learn to appreciate things money can’t buy—like nature, health, and relationships. Ask God to remove the impulses so that you can fulfill His purposes in your life. He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us….” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV) 

Pray for an eternal perspective—that the things of this world would lose their luster. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)

Christian Credit Counselors may be able to provide more guidance, as they are a trusted source of help to free individuals and families from the burden of credit card debt. 

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Debt, Economy, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: Coping With Economic Anxiety

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I don’t think I have ever felt more uncertain about America’s economic future than I do now. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? My anxiety levels are growing! 

Anxious American

Dear Anxious American, 

Your question prompted me to see if there was some measurement of the sense of uncertainty that so many of us are feeling and I found one! The International Monetary Fund published a graphic of the “World Uncertainty Index” in context over the past 25 years. The interesting takeaway for me is that the index peaked with news of the Coronavirus but has decreased by about 60% since the middle of last year. Take a look:

The point is, you are not alone. The world is in a history-making shift right now and most of us are experiencing greater levels of concern and anxiety.

Dealing with Our Unknown Future 

If we focus our minds on all of the uncertainty we are truly in right now, it will no doubt breed anxiety. Financial anxiety begins when we start projecting how our future will be impacted by current events. Not knowing if our needs or expectations will be met creates worry. Dwelling on the unknown can propel us into a vortex of hopelessness. Doubt, disbelief, and negativity will eat away the peace and confidence that God wants us to experience. 

In July of 2020, AnxietyCentre.com released an article with data and facts worth reading to get an idea of how serious this issue is. It states:

According to The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders, a study commissioned by the ADAA and based on data gathered by the association and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost 1/3 of the $148 billion total mental health bill for the U.S.

Anxiety can raise its ugly head concerning health, money, education, careers, family, on and on. However, this is not new to humanity. An idiom came into use in North America during the mid-1800s. You’ve probably heard some form of it: “don’t borrow trouble.”  Worrying solves nothing. It wastes time and energy and distracts us from more important things. Most of what we worry about never happens and reveals our lack of trust.

That idiom is nothing new. The Bible addressed the issue centuries ago:

  •  “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (Proverbs 12:25 ESV)
  •  “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19 ESV)
  • “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 ESV)
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

Because we cannot know the future, we will always be prone to experience financial anxiety if we dwell on all the “what if” scenarios that race through our minds. Here is a simple framework that may help. When financial anxiety is rising, remember S.O.S. Stop. Organize. Start. 

Stop!

If you are overspending, accumulating debt, and living with financial stress to make it to the end of the month, declare that you will stop repeating those mistakes now. This is the first step in gaining financial wisdom that will reduce your anxiety. Stopping is progress! 

Humble yourself and recognize your need to place full confidence in the Lord. Repent of mishandling the money He entrusted to you. Don’t blame others or beat yourself up. Simply agree that you want to discontinue old bad habits with your finances. 

Organize!

Make a plan to repair the problems you have created. They will not disappear by winning the lottery or ignoring them. Get help and seek training to address your issues and establish goals. 

Begin a process to right the wrongs. Ask the Lord to help you persevere through this step with discipline, self-control, and hope. This will reduce your anxiety even more. God promised that we will experience tribulations and storms but He will never leave us or forsake us.

Start!

Once you have stopped and organized, you are 2/3 of the way there. God wants you to start doing what is good and faithful with money. His goal is not that we simply have freedom, but that we use money for His purposes, not our own. 

It can be helpful to find wise mentors and gain knowledge from others who can guide and encourage you. Prioritize your life around the basic principles of giving first, saving second, and living on the rest. Restructure your lifestyle within a defined budget and renew your mind daily. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I truly do not know what lies ahead, although I enjoy watching trends and keeping up with events that threaten our financial future. I just released a new book called 7 Gray Swans where I discuss many of these trends. I also know that there is always a reason for hope. Most of what we worry about will never happen. If it does, God will work it together for our good. We can find His Light shining brightly, no matter how dark our circumstances may seem. 

We offer a variety of online courses and other resources to ground you in Biblical financial principles and fortify you for the days ahead. Christian Credit Counselors can help you eliminate credit card debt. Their Christ-centered values and experienced team of professional counselors can help you overhaul your finances. That step alone will reduce your anxiety.  

Pray for our nation. We are in a turbulent time. We need you and all believers to be the salt and light that Jesus created us to be for such a time as this.

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Budgeting, Debt, Money Management, Saving

4 Steps to Spend Your Stimulus Check and Tax Refund Wisely

By: America Saves

Most Americans don’t have an emergency fund. While we’re all experiencing this pandemic very differently — some having only minor inconveniences and others finding themselves without a job or having to close their business — those without a savings cushion are vulnerable to feeling the ramifications of COVID-19 for a very long time.

With stimulus checks and tax refunds on the way, there will be tough financial decisions to make once received. Here are active steps you can take, along with things to consider to help you develop a solid spending plan.

  1. Make a list of all expenses

Write out every single expense that you have, including essentials like food and utilities. Be sure to go through your checking and savings account history to make sure you don’t have any “vampire” expenses, like monthly subscriptions that you may have forgotten about and no longer need.

  1. Talk to all creditors and lenders

The CARES Act puts into effect two mortgage relief provisions: protection from foreclosure, and a right to forbearance (pausing or making partial payments) for those experiencing loss of income due to COVID-19. However, the provisions are not automatic and are only for federal loans, so you MUST talk to your lender.

If a creditor/lender offers you a payment plan or other relief, make sure you get it in writing and take note of the names and dates of the customer service representatives with whom you speak.

Thankfully, some utility companies have announced they won’t cut off services if they aren’t being paid. Be sure you know all of your utility and service providers’ stance on this, so there are no surprises. You don’t want to make any assumptions.

If you cannot afford your DMP payments, contact your creditors directly to request for deferment on your credit cards. This will prevent your account from falling (further) past due and help to maintain your credit score. Creditors are making payment exceptions on a case by case basis. If you are granted a deferment from your creditors, please contact your CCC representative so that they can adjust your DMP payments.

  1. Prioritize expenses

Expenses relating to food, shelter, and medicine should come first. This would include mortgage, rent, utilities, groceries, diapers, and medications. It also includes medical insurance premiums and homeowners/renter’s insurance.

If you need childcare to work, that is another essential expense. Next in line are auto-related expenses, including transportation, gas, insurance premiums, and car payments.

Loans that are secured by collateral (for example, mortgages and auto loans) are generally considered more important than those without collateral, like consumer credit card debt. For example, if you don’t pay your mortgage, a bank can foreclose on your property; if you don’t pay your car loan, the bank can seize your car. While not paying your credit card bills will negatively affect your credit score, credit card companies will not come into your house and take your personal possessions.

Federal student loans are currently not accruing interest until September 30, 2020, and can be put into forbearance so that no payments are due. If you have a private or institutional loan, you will have to contact the lender for other options.

If you struggle to make the minimum payment on your credit card, call CCC at 800-557-1985 option 5 to add the account to the program for a total consolidation of your outstanding debts.

Expenses for “elective” items, like gym memberships, streaming services, and other subscriptions, come last. Before simply canceling a contract, make sure to contact the vendor – canceling may come with a hefty penalty, but you may be able to temporarily “pause” the service.

  1. Pay your debts in the order of priority.

Now that you know all your expenses, have prioritized them, and know your payment options with creditors and lenders, it’s time to make the payments in order of priority.

It’s important to note that many are still or will be receiving their tax refunds, too. If you receive a refund, you can apply the same process to that extra income.

Remember, there is no prepayment penalty on your Debt Management Program! Contact your CCC representative to apply your stimulus check and/or tax refund toward your balances and pay off your debts.

If you are still unsure or are overwhelmed with where to start, use our decision tree for guidance on what to do with your stimulus check and/or tax refund.

 
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Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Finance, Loans, Money Management, Mortgage, Student Loans

Protect Yourself Financially from the Impact of COVID-19

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Steps to take if you have trouble paying your bills or meeting other financial obligations

If you have trouble paying your bills/loans or paying on time, there may be a number of options to help, especially if you reach out early to your lenders or creditors.

Contact your lenders, loan servicers, and other creditors

If you’re not able to pay your bills on time check their websites, to see if they have information that can help you.

The CFPB and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs.

If you can’t make a payment now, need more time, or want to discuss payment options, contact your lenders and servicers to let them know about your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit.

Credit card companies and lenders may be able to offer you a number of options to help you. This could include waiving certain fees like ATM, overdrafts, and late fees, as well as allowing you to delay, adjust, or skip some payments.

When contacting your lenders, be prepared to explain:

  • Your financial and employment situation
  • How much you can afford to pay
  • When you’re likely to be able to restart regular payments
  • Be prepared to discuss your income, expenses, and assets

Work with housing and credit counselors to understand your options

These trained professionals provide advice for little or no cost, and they will work with you to discuss your situation, evaluate options, and even help you negotiate with your lenders and servicers.

Warning: If you’re considering working with a debt settlement company to address your debts, be skeptical of any company that promises to do it for an upfront fee.

Trouble paying your mortgage?

If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, contact your mortgage servicer.

It may take a while to get a loan servicer on the phone. Loan servicers are experiencing a high call volume and may also be impacted by the pandemic.

Visit our blog on mortgage relief options for in-depth content to help you understand your forbearance options and avoid foreclosure in light of the coronavirus and the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

If you are renting from an owner who has a federally backed mortgage, the CARES Act provides for a suspension or moratorium on evictions. Read more in our renter section of the mortgage relief blog.

Trouble paying your student loans?

If you have student loans, you have options.

If your loan is held by the federal government, your loan payments are postponed with no interest until September 30, 2020.

For other kinds of student loans (such as a federal student loan held by a commercial lender or the institution you attend, or a private student loan held by a bank, credit union, school, or other private entity) contact your student loan servicer to find out more about your options.

Read our FAQs to learn more about what you can do.

Trouble paying your credit cards?

If you’re unable to pay your credit cards, talk with your credit card company and let them know that you cannot make a payment. You may get relief.

You may also want to work with a credit counselor. Reputable credit counseling organizations are generally non-profit organizations that can advise you on your money and debts, and help you with a budget. Some may also help you negotiate with creditors. There are specific questions to ask to help you find a credit counseling organization to work with.

Trouble paying your auto loan?

Your lender may have options that will help. Our tips include changing the date of your payment, requesting a payment plan, and asking for a payment extension

How to work with your bank or credit union

With many of us staying home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, online banking allows you to handle your finances from the comfort of home. Here are some tips for people who are new to online or mobile banking.

Generally, all bank deposits up to $250,000 are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Deposits at all federal credit unions, and the vast majority of state-chartered credit unions, are also insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF).

How to work with debt collectors

If you currently have a debt in collections, you can work with collectors to identify a realistic repayment plan.

The Bureau offers a number of resources for contacting and negotiating with debt collection companies, especially as we deal with the impact of the coronavirus.

What to do if you lose your income

State and local governments vary in the programs and offerings to help those financially impacted by the coronavirus.

You can look to your state’s unemployment policies to identify current options for benefits. The recently passed CARES Act allows states to extend benefits to self-employed and gig workers, and to provide an extra $600 per week as well as an additional 13 weeks of benefits. Your state’s public health office may also have information.

Older adults may be impacted by the coronavirus and quarantine procedures in different ways than the general public. There may be government benefits available to older adults who need financial help. Visit benefitscheckup.org for more information and to see if you qualify for any state or local assistance.

Be aware of potential scam attempts

Scammers look for opportunities to take advantage of the vulnerable, especially during times of emergencies or natural disasters. Be cautious of emails, texts, or social media posts that may be selling fake products or information about emerging coronavirus cases.

Click here for more information on scams specific to the coronavirus.

The Federal Trade Commission has tips to protect yourself from possible coronavirus-related scams. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration have also cautioned consumers to be on the look-out for sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent coronavirus.

Learn more about how to prevent, recognize, and report fraud and scams.

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Debt, Money Management, National Debt

Ask Chuck: The Bible, Money, and Love

By Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I’m growing weary of our society’s overuse (and misuse) of the word love. I hear and see it in advertising, on social media, and in conversations. If the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God, it appears we’ve confused our priorities. It appears we love money more than Him or His word.  

Love is in the Air 

Dear Love is in the Air, 

Thank you for the great question. I chose to answer your question so I could talk about love and money on Valentine’s Day. Did you know, Americans will spend an estimated $50 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day gifts and activities to show their love to a special loved one. My wife prefers that I save the money for chocolate or flowers on this day and show love throughout the year. 

Love and Money

You have identified a significant problem. When love becomes misunderstood or misdirected, we all suffer. Staggering debt levels, lack of savings, and rising stress suggest we have a spending problem and a heart problem. Even recently, experts have declared that when consumption turns into consumerism, it becomes a social disease

The enemy has convinced people that things will bring happiness. Yet, throughout Scripture, God warns us not to be led astray. He tells us:

  • Love God and others
  • Pursue love
  • Guard ourselves
  • Don’t love the world
  • Don’t love money
  • Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions

Just this week, the Wall Street Journal released information that hints at Americans’ disobedience and confused priorities. Credit card debt rose to record highs during the last quarter of 2019. Spurred by a seemingly strong economy and job market, spending increased dramatically. Unfortunately, the number of delinquent payments rose too. Consider this statistic cited in the article:

“Total credit card balances increased by $46 billion to $930 billion, well above the previous peak seen before the 2008 financial crisis, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Tuesday.”

Debt brings stress and bondage. People are unable to live as God designed when they are strapped with debt. In today’s world that includes credit card debt, student loan debt, car loans, mortgages, personal and payday loans. It prevents many from saving money to be used as God directs. Bankrate’s recent poll shows that only 41% of Americans could cover a $1,000 emergency with savings. 

The Apostle Paul wrote: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV)

There’s only one reason God supplies a surplus of wealth to a Christian: so that he or she will have enough to provide for the needs of others. True wealth comes with the responsibility of giving. God promises blessings to all who freely give and His curse on those who hoard, steal, covet, or idolize.

Giving is the foundation of a life lived in selfless devotion to others. It fulfills the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Preoccupation with things of this world gets us sidetracked. We lose sight of our final destination and the purpose for which God has us here. 

Billions of dollars dedicated to credit card spending confirm that we have confused our wants and needs. We have forgotten our neighbor and the Lord’s statement: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 ESV)

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered: “..you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12: 30 ESV)

Divided hearts have divided priorities and those are evident in the way we handle money. That is why He teaches us in Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (NIV) Here is a simple test to know if you love God or money. How do you react when you lose money? Are you in a panic, upset or even angry? Remember, our hope is in God, not the money that he provides. Money will leave us; He will not.

Save Your Way Out of Debt

One way to reduce stress is through automatic saving. The Eli app is a tool that can improve your financial health so you can experience greater levels of freedom in your life. Check out the new Eli app to begin an automatic savings program to reduce your stress and increase your freedom to love God and others as you faithfully pay off your debt. 

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Credit Score, Debt, Finance, Money Management

How Credit Score Can Affect Relationships

By NACCC

Personal finances are rarely discussed but often the biggest strain on a couple. Even in early courtships, a newly dating couple may fret over who will pay for dinner, or have different tastes in entertainment based on affordability. Topics such as careers, hobbies, and interests can easily spill into money talk. Money is just as important as other relationship issues such as family and personal interests.

Whether you’re spending your Valentine’s Day with a long-term partner or having a first date, a conversation about credit scores can provide valuable insight to be considered for relationship planning. Credit scores are always assigned to an individual, never a couple. But joint accounts can have an effect on those individual credit scores.

Credit Score Disparities Can Predict Future Relationship Problems

According to a report by the Federal Reserve, couples with similar credit scores are more likely to stay together, while those with a larger disparity are more likely to separate. Differing spending habits, opposing views on debt and other financial problems can cause stress on the relationship that those with similar credit scores are less likely to experience.

Examples of difficulties these couples may face could include:

  • Lingering debt from the past
  • Poor spending habits
  • Disparities in household financial contributions
  • Difficulty obtaining a mortgage or other important loan together
  • Hiding or avoiding spending, debt or other financial issues
  • Bills and expenses
  • General financial stress

Of course, we aren’t suggesting to dump your partner at the slightest score difference. But it’s important to communicate with each other about personal finance and plan appropriately. If a partner has a low credit score (or no credit), what steps can be taken to improve the score for the long-term? Relationships are about working together, and a partner with a higher score may be able to provide advice and suggestions to a partner with a lower score.

It Takes Trust, but a Low Score isn’t the End

If there is a large disparity in credit scores, both partners should evaluate whether they are prepared and willing to provide the support, communication, and shared responsibility required to fix the credit problem.

Committed couples can move forward with confidence by working together to build both of their credit scores. Two quick strategies for building credit include:

  • Having the partner with the higher credit score add the partner with the lower credit score as an authorized user on a credit card (this method requires a lot of trust!)
    • Remember, married couples do not share a credit score, but behavior in joint accounts can affect both partners’ scores.
  • Using a secured credit card to build credit

If one or both partners have debt, they should work together to develop a spending plan that leaves additional income to pay off the debt. For those in debt, paying off the debt is the best way to improve a credit score.

If one or both partners are struggling in their career, they can come up with a plan to support each other while working towards more prosperous career goals. Couples can turn a weak credit score into a strength by using it to incorporate accountability, good habits, and stronger trust in their relationship.

Conversation is Key

Overall, couples need to communicate about money to maintain a successful relationship. Just like with personal finance issues, avoiding the matter doesn’t solve problems or build wealth. Couples should discuss:

  • Existing debt
  • Joint accounts
  • Credit accounts
  • Spending habits (both good and bad)
  • Major purchases
  • Bills and household expenses

This leads couples towards better financial planning and spending habits as they move forward.

Couples can start with small discussions in the early stages, and then move on to larger discussions later. For example, a couple in the beginning stages of a relationship could discuss the cost of dinner, or compare the costs of phone, cable or utility bills. They may talk about debt or salary, but not go into the specifics or the numbers. Couples in more committed stages can begin more difficult conversations about existing debt, bank accounts, and long-term planning.

If a partner is unwilling to discuss finances or is quiet on the subject, the other partner can start small by mentioning their own personal finances and ask for thoughts and opinions.

At times, there will be misunderstandings and frustrations. Remember that no two people share the same financial education. Financial knowledge that may seem simple and obvious to one partner may be an entirely new concept to the other. Use money talk as a learning opportunity and a habit to build on stronger communication skills.

Everyone has different financial paths. When two paths join, they decide where to go next, together.

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Debt

How to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and scammers

By: CFPB

Dealing with debt collection issues can be challenging—especially when you’re not sure if the person you’re being contacted by is legitimate or trying to scam you.

When an account like a credit card, auto loan, or cell phone bill becomes past due, the original creditor may attempt to collect the amount owed. The creditor may also hire a debt collector or sell the debt to someone who may try to collect the debt. While there are many legitimate debt collectors in the financial marketplace, there are also scammers who may try to get you to pay on debts that you don’t owe or on debts that don’t even exist.

Warning signs of debt collection scams

1. Withholds information from you

A debt collector must tell you information such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and that if you dispute the debt, the debt collector will have to obtain verification of the debt. If the debt collector does not provide this information during the initial contact with you, they are required to send you a written notice within five days of that initial contact.

2. Pressures you to pay by money transfer or prepaid card

Scammers like these payment methods because they may be untraceable, and it can be hard for you to get your money back.

3. Falsely threatens you with jail time or poses as a government official

But beware, if the debt comes from the criminal justice system, it is possible that failure to pay may result in your arrest.

4. Says they will tell your family, friends, and employer 

Some scammers may try to get you to pay by threatening to reveal your debts to family, friends, coworkers, or employers. A debt collector is generally not allowed to tell other people about your debt without your permission. They can only ask others about your whereabouts to try and contact you.

5. You don’t recognize the debt that the person claims you owe money for

Ask questions to make sure the debt is one that you owe.

6. Asks you for sensitive personal financial information

Such as your bank account, routing numbers, or Social Security numbers. You should never provide anyone with your personal financial information unless you are sure they’re legitimate. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft.

7. Calls you at inconvenient times

Debt collectors cannot call you at an unusual time or place or at a time or place they know is inconvenient to you. You might be dealing with a scammer if you are called before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Learn how to protect yourself

1. Ask for a callback number

If you’re uncomfortable providing any information, you can request the caller’s name, company name, street address, and a callback number. You can use this information to verify that they are not a scammer before providing any personal information. Also, if you call back and the business doesn’t answer as the name they provided to you or it’s a nonfunctioning number, it could be a scam.

2. Make sure you have been given information about the debt before you pay

Make sure you have been given information or have received the written notice with information about the debt before you pay anything.

3. Contact your original creditor

If you suspect you are dealing with a scammer, contact the creditor the debt collector claims to be working for and find out who has been assigned to collect the debt.

4. Check your credit report for the account in question

You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies. To get your free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228. Keep in mind that not all debt collectors and creditors provide information to the credit reporting companies. If the debt is not on your credit report, that does not necessarily mean the debt is not valid.

5. Understand your rights

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a variety of practices, such as misrepresenting the debt, falsely claiming to be a lawyer, or using obscene or profane language when trying to collect a debt.

6. Submit a complaint

If you have received a suspicious call or think you’ve been the victim of a debt collection scam, you can submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or you can contact your state Attorney General’s office.

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Budgeting, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Score, Debt, Money Management, Saving, Student Loans

Top 9 Money Mistakes People Make

By Jim Garnett, The Debt Doctor

After counseling average Americans about their financial problems for many years, I noticed early on that there is a common set of money mistakes people usually make.

Money Mistake #1: Being comfortable with debt.

Why would anyone choose to be a slave if he could choose to be free? One answer is because, over a period of time, one seems to develop a “slave mentality.” They have never known freedom and have gotten used to being slaves.

There is a very real sense that being in debt makes us slaves. The wise King Solomon wrote, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7 NRSV). Many in our society have been in debt so long, they have cultivated a “debt mentality.” Because they have never known financial freedom, they grow accustomed to being in debt and accept it as “the normal way of life.”

But just imagine what it would be like to be out of debt and not have a mortgage payment or car payment each month? Just think what you could do with all that money. Out of debt, you would not need as much money to live, and you would be free to use this money which was once tied up in debt payments for whatever you wanted.

Just think of being in your 30’s or early 40’s and being able to have discretionary monies of $2,000 to $3,000 a month. You could put a sizable amount away toward car replacement, house repair, or future education needs. And imagine what it would be like to be able to write checks to your church or charities that are sizable in amount.

Being debt-free would allow you the freedom to grow wealth quickly and give substantially.

It is high time we stop treating debt like an old family friend that has moved in to stay with us forever! We need to kick him out and send him on his way! There is no reason to remain enslaved to debt when we can be free.

Money Mistake #2: Not knowing what we spend each month.

The only part of the budget process that many people know is the “what I make” part. Most people are totally in the dark about the “what I spend” part. This money mistake is one of the main reasons why 40% of Americans spend more than they make each month. Sadly, most of that 40% are unaware that they do.

How can this be? Because by using credit cards each month, an illusion is created that makes us think we are doing fine financially. After all, the bills are getting paid on time. This may be true, but if the credit cards were put in a drawer and not used for two months, the bills would not, nor could not, be paid on time. Without the constant use of credit, we would see that we are running out of money before we run out of the month.

Being smart with our money, no matter what amount that might be, includes knowing how much we spend in relation to how much we make. Using credit hides that fact from our eyes. Once we determine what we are spending, we can bring our spending in line with our earnings by either spending less or making more.

To get to a destination, we must know where we presently are. That’s why the first step in money management is always to know what we spend.

Money Mistake #3: Behaving like credit cards are money.

Many people say they know that credit cards are not money, but their actions betray their words.

A college sophomore once told me, “No matter how broke I am, I always have money in my pocket with my two credit cards.” Like many, he was confusing the “buying power” of his cards with money.

But when we use a credit card, we are not spending money but borrowing money in as much the same manner as when we take out a loan at a bank. The buying power of our credit card originates from borrowing money from a creditor – we call that borrowed money “credit.” If that credit is not repaid within a certain amount of time, a high-interest rate is added to the debt.

I am convinced that if we actually viewed our credit cards as the ability to borrow money – money that must be repaid – we would greatly restrain ourselves in their use.

Money Mistake #4: Being satisfied with only making minimum monthly payments.

Interest.com calculates that paying off a $2,000 credit card balance with an 18% interest rate at a minimum payment of 2% would take 288 months or 24 years to pay off. So, if at age 30 you closed the card and just paid on it at monthly minimums, you would be 39 years old when you finally pay it off! But note, you would not have paid just $2,000 but $6,396.40 because of the added interest charges. I don’t know about you, but I work far too hard for my money to spend it like that.

Money Mistake #5: Borrowing to “pay off” debt. 

Borrowing to pay off debt normally backfires! It has similar results to digging a hole in our front yard so we can fill in the hole in our backyard.

This “money mistake” yields some pretty disastrous results:

  • Our borrowing does not actually “pay off” debt – it merely moves the debt to a different location. Now we have a second mortgage on our home or a loan against our 401(k).
  • The debt we pay off by borrowing usually reappears within 3 years. This occurs because our borrowing makes it unnecessary to change our spending habits.
  • Borrowing against our home equity turns an unsecured debt into a secured debt. That’s why the interest rate is now less – the bank would rather loan against our house than loan against our name because it is less risky.
  • Borrowing against our 401(k) often has a 10% penalty if we are not 59.5 years old, plus the monies we borrow are taxed as income. At times, 40% of the monies taken from a 401(k) loan will “disappear” in penalty and taxes.
  • If we move again, our house produces very little profit because we have increased the mortgage balance, plus there is little to put down for a down payment on our new home.
  • When we are old enough to retire, we often cannot because our home is not paid off. We still have house payments to make because we borrowed against it to “pay off” debt.

Borrowing to pay off debt does not decrease our debt, and often we are worse off than we were before.

Money Mistake #6: Co-signing a loan.

It’s great to help somebody get a loan, but it’s critical to understand the risks before doing so. There’s a reason the lender wants a cosigner: The lender isn’t confident that the primary borrower can repay in full and on time. If a professional lender isn’t comfortable with the borrower, you’d better have a good reason for taking the risk. Lenders have access to data and extensive experience working with borrowers.

The co-signer promises to repay the other person’s debt if, for any reason, he does not. The liability assumed is for 100% of the debt, thus, if $5,000 is the total amount borrowed, the co-signer is responsible for the entire $5,000 if the other person defaults.

Also, the co-signer’s credit score can be affected if the primary signer makes late payments or misses payments on the loan. Currently, 75% of student loan co-signers end up making payments on the student loan.

Money Mistake #7: Having no emergency savings.

A recent survey asked people if they could get $2,000 for an emergency. The results revealed that 55% of the respondents said they could get the money within 30 days, but 92% of those people said they would need to borrow the money from family, friends, bank loans, or credit cards.

Another survey revealed that 28% of the 1,000 people surveyed have absolutely nothing in savings. In other words, many people are simply not prepared for emergencies.

Money Mistake #8: Creating debt for tax benefits or to establish credit.

Debt for Tax Benefits. It is good to claim every deduction that you can on your taxes, but it is often not good to spend money in order to get a tax deduction. An example would be the deduction one is allowed to take for interest paid on a mortgage loan. If I paid $10,000 of interest and was in a 25% tax bracket, I would receive a tax deduction of $2,500. If I absolutely had to pay the interest, I would surely deduct it. But if I had the choice of paying my home off and having no interest to pay, that would be my choice by far. I would rather have the $10,000 non-spent money in my hand than receive a $2,500 tax deduction. I may pay more tax, but on the other hand, if I gave monies to charities, I would receive the same deduction. Remember, you often have to spend your money to receive tax deductions. If you are not careful, you can “tax deduct yourself into the poor house.”

Debt for Establishing Credit. One of my clients followed the advice of her financial counselor and bought a house in order to build up her credit score! In order to establish credit, you simply need to pay your bills on time. You do not need to maintain debt to do this. You can establish your credit just as well by paying your credit card balance in full each month.

Money Mistake #9: Thinking that good credit is the most important thing in life.

Good credit is important, but it is not the most important thing in life. The main benefit of having good credit is being able to go into debt with good terms. But what if we decide we are not going to go any further into debt and work out a plan to get out of debt and stay out of debt? Then the benefits of good credit are not nearly as important to us.

To me, the benefits of living debt-free are much more important than the benefits of having good credit. It is true that most people who live debt-free also have good credit, but it was not their good credit that allowed them to become debt-free. It was their living within their means and discontinuing the use of credit to create any further debt.

Mind you, I am certainly not advocating that one should have bad credit. I am simply stating that getting out of debt and staying out of debt is much more important than having good credit.

The benefit of observing and sharing these money mistakes is that they allow us to learn from the mistakes of others.

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Debt Counseling
Debt

Debt Counseling Teaches You 4 Easy Ways to Get Out of Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is a problem for people of all ages. Experts say cash-strapped college students often live on credit. Meanwhile, young couples use credit cards for miscellaneous wedding and honeymoon expenses. Retired people often use credit cards to supplement their Social Security income. With debt counseling, you learn about different ways to get out of credit card debt including debt consolidation. According to a recent article by U.S.A. Today, the average family in American owes about $15,000 in credit card debt. Paying off credit card debt once it surpasses your yearly income is especially difficult and feels impossible.

Consolidating debt the right way

Some people open a low-interest rate credit card to consolidate their credit card debt. In many cases, people with low credit scores can’t even get a low-interest credit card. Instead sign up for a debt management program that lets you pay off debt with a specific monthly plan. Your creditors get on board. Most consumers love the fact that they don’t have to negotiate a deal because credit counselors work behind the scenes to help you. If you have credit card debt that totals half or all of your yearly income, a debt management plan is ideal. Your creditors work with the income you have. They often lower the interest you owe and forgive late fees.

Making the minimum payment, for now

Continue to make the minimum payments on your credit card until you get everything set with a debt management plan. Another possibility with debt counseling is that you develop a budget and strategy to pay more than the minimum on some credit cards. The point of paying at least the minimum is to keep your credit score at a healthy level. With debt counseling, you learn all the tricks and tips for improving your score over time.

Asking for a better interest rate

Experts say if you have a credit score of 710 or higher, you can often ask creditors for a better interest rate. Of course, most people struggling with credit card debt also struggle with a low score. Receiving debt counseling gives you an edge because you find out about debt consolidation for a reduced interest rate on credit card debt. Boosting your score is key to better personal finances. Once you reach the 700 or 800 mark, it’s easier to get mortgages, car loans and lower interest rates.

Making two minimum payments a month

Another tip is to make two minimum payments a month on a particular credit card. By doing that, you reduce the balance owed and pay off the debt quicker. Making two minimum payments is a good holding strategy until you can pay off your debt completely with a debt management plan. If you get paid twice a month, you can often budget to make credit card payments with each paycheck.

At Christian Credit Counselors, we help consumers battling credit card debt and desiring a more positive financial future. For more tips on how to quickly improve your finances with debt counseling, please contact us.

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Debt Counseling
Debt

Debt Counseling for an Upbeat Debt Escape Plan

Wishing away your debt does not get you too far, but there are foolproof plans to pay off credit card debt. With debt counseling, you figure out how to keep your finances in check so you feel empowered in all parts of your life. Debt affects not just your physical surroundings, but your spiritual and emotional health. According to an article by U.S. News & World Report, the average American household has about $7,300 in credit card debt. The article interviewed author Beverly Harzog, who wrote the book, “The Debt Escape Plan.” After receiving debt counseling, consumers often devise a budget and plan so they don’t rely on their credit cards as they should an emergency fund. Interestingly credit card debt appears as a greater problem for women in the 18 to 24 age category with 63 percent of females carrying credit card debt compared to only 36 percent of men. It’s not just younger women who carry more credit card debt. A study showed 66 percent of women versus 33 percent of men in the 55 to 64 age category carried credit card debt. Whether you are male or female, consider some of the author’s tips to escape debt.

Making specific goals

A credit counselor helps you come up with financial goals. Experts such as Harzog recommend making specific goals with a timeline. She says the most difficult part is just getting started. By receiving debt counseling, you motivate yourself to nail down specific financial goals.

Cutting back instead of eliminating

Instead of trying to do without certain pleasures, the author suggests scaling back on lifestyle choices. Maybe you can’t give up coffee, but at least choose a less expensive brand. Instead of giving up pedicures, look at your history and make adjustments. If you used to go every other week, go once a month.

Knowing your triggers

With debt counseling, you often identify your spending triggers. For some people, the spending trigger is looking at sales on the Internet or shopping at particular stores. If you tend to buy more when you shop with your sister, consider exercising or going to the library with her instead.

Consolidating your debt

Experts recommend people make more money and consolidate debt. Making more money involves starting a side gig and working overtime. Consolidating debt is easy with a debt management plan through a credit counseling agency.

Once you pay off debt with a debt management plan, you feel free and enjoy your other goals in life. At Christian Credit Counselors, we provide debt counseling to consumers. For more information on consolidating debt, please contact us.

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