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Consumer Watch: More debt help for troops

Credit counselors are ready to help before holiday bills pile up

Nov. 25, 2011 - 02:51PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 25, 2011 - 02:51PM  |  
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Don’t overspend this holiday

Some tips for keeping debt down and spirits up:
Make a list. And stick to it, with abudgeted amount for each person based on the amount you have to spend. Avoid impulse purchases, and remember that you don’t have to buy a present for everyone you know.
Have a plan. Before leaving the house, research some sales circulars and the Internet to get ideas and compare prices.
Shop online. Comparison shopping often is easier, and you may get free shipping.
Leave credit cards at home. Credit card users spend an average of 30 percent more than people who use cash.
Keep receipts. They’ll help you recover if you slip up on step No. 1, and you may be able to return a gift if you find it cheaper elsewhere.
Source: CredAbility.

It may seem odd to think about credit counseling as you gear up for holiday shopping.

But credit counselors say that's perfect timing.

"January is a busy time for us," said Army veteran Mechel Glass, education director for CredAbility, a nationwide nonprofit credit counseling and education agency.

People often don't budget properly for the holidays, and the bills catch up with them at the start of the year, Glass notes.

CredAbility has formed a team of certified credit counselors who are also military veterans to help troops, veterans and families tackle financial problems. For an appointment, call 888-417-3253.

The counseling, as always, is free. CredAbility saw the need for a team of veterans who understand the uniquely military issues that cause financial strain.

Although free services offered through military channels, such as family centers and Military OneSource, are confidential, some troops feel more comfortable going outside the gates.

"We've had active-duty people who felt their security clearance was in jeopardy because of overwhelming debt, and felt they were not able to bring it up to anyone on base," Glass said.

Issues vary from person to person, she said, but some common problems are payday loans and credit card debt.

CredAbility also has specialists to help clients work directly with their mortgage lenders to try to resolve problems or pursue loan modifications, for example.

Military financial counselors often refer clients to nonprofit credit counseling agencies off base anyway, such as Military OneSource's agreement with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

While the counseling is always free, sometimes a client's situation warrants enrolling in a debt management plan, which may involve fees. The counseling agency works with lenders on a repayment plan that may include reduced finance charges. That client pays the counseling agency, which handles payment to creditors.

CredAbility charges a one-time setup fee of $35 and a monthly fee regulated by each state that averages about $25.

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