Credit Counseling? Bankruptcy?
Question: My husband and I have been offering budget counseling to friends and family for about 2 years now. It is rewarding to help people find their way back on track. Recently though, I'm afraid we've strayed out of our league and know it. We're trying to come up with a budget for a family with 40,000 in credit card debt that has eaten away at the monthly salary. Their mortgage is 50% their monthly income and they're a large family. I can't send them away empty-handed though, so what are some resources we could share with them and when (as homeowners) is it time to think about filing for bankruptcy? Thanks, Jacqueline, Sacramento, CA.
Answer: It's great that you help out family and friends with their money issues. It's also smart to know when someone needs more expert advice than you can offer.
That said, there are a lot of scams at worst and incompetence at best in the consumer credit counseling and debt management business. The organization that I like is the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling. NFCC has a search engine at its website for you to find an accredited Consumer Credit Counseling Service near you. (To be sure, the quality of the advice varies across the country with some offices better than others, but the service is legitimate.) I took a quick look and I didn't see a CCCS in Sacramento. I do know that the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco (www.cccssf.org) offers credit and bankruptcy advice over the phone and the Internet.
If your friends would like to do some research on their own, one of the best consumer- friendly guides to bankruptcy and credit is offered at Nolo.com (www.nolo.com.) Their books are good. Your friends can profitably spend some time on their website gleaning information.
And they can always consult with a bankruptcy attorney to talk through their options.