Expert Interview with Lauralynn Schueckler About Credit Counseling
Lauralynn Schueckler of Advantage Credit Counseling Service understands that money worries are a common occurrence in individuals just starting out and in retirees, but she knows that credit counseling is a helpful tool that benefits everyone.
Here, she offers some of the tips and tools credit counseling can provide individuals.
Advantage Credit Counseling Service is a non-profit organization committed to helping individuals get out of debt and have financial security. How does Advantage CCS differ from similar organizations?
Advantage CCS is a National Non-Profit Credit Counseling Agency. There are only about nine or 10 other National agencies in the country. We’ve been around since 1968. Advantage Credit Counseling Service offers an online credit counseling system that is by far the best in the industry (in our humble opinion). We’ve worked extremely hard and have invested a lot into our online credit counseling system to ensure that it’s the best.
What are some unique financial concerns for those getting ready to retire or already retired? How does Advantage CCS address those needs?
I think the biggest financial concern of retirees is that they are worried about outliving their money. It can be difficult to know how much is needed because no one knows how long they are going to live. Medicare costs or health care costs are also a big financial concern for most retirees. Advantage CCS’s certified credit counselors can take a look at your current financial situation, create a budget, and give you an overall outlook on how your finances are performing, and what improvements you could make. We also offer free tools such as Online Budget Advisor and Goal Tracker that could help you with your money management.
What goes into the process of credit counseling? Who should consider using a credit counselor?
Credit counseling has come a long way, and it’s now easier than ever to do a free credit counseling session from the convenience and privacy of your own home. We still offer phone counseling and face-to-face counseling, but our online counseling sessions seem to be the majority favorite.
If you are doing a face-to-face session or a telephone session, you can expect to have a discussion with your credit counselor about how you got into debt in the first place. You’ll also review your current spending habits, talk about your income, your assets, and your liabilities. The certified credit counselor will create a custom realistic budget for you. They will show you some possible cut-backs or ways to save you money each month. Once the counselor has all of the necessary information, he or she will design a detailed analysis or an Action Plan for you. They will also review some debt repayment options with you, such as a Debt Management Program. You have the final say as to which option is best for you. The counselor can only give you advice and answer any questions that you may have.
Anyone can benefit from talking to a certified credit counselor. It doesn’t matter if you are in debt or not. They have the knowledge and expertise to help anyone manage their money properly and find them more ways to save money each month. It’s completely free and doesn’t take much time, so there’s really no reason why someone shouldn’t contact a credit counselor.
Name some of the misconceptions about credit counselors or reasons why some individuals may feel they do not need the services of a credit counselor.
Some people feel that credit counseling is only for individuals who are deep in debt or ready for bankruptcy, but that’s not true; anyone can benefit from free credit counseling.
Another misconception is that credit counseling will hurt or lower your credit score. We don’t report to the credit bureaus at all. In fact, many clients’ credit scores will improve after credit counseling or by utilizing a Debt Management Program, because payments to the creditors will become consistent and on time. Your credit score can also increase because your total debt starts to decrease.
Describe your debt management program and how it benefits individuals.
Our Debt Management Program (DMP) is a proven method for decreasing your debt while saving you money in the long run because of reduced interest rates and eliminated monthly fees. Our customer service representatives will send out the proposals to your creditors and be your personal advocate throughout the entire DMP process. Your personal advocate will work closely with your creditors, identifying opportunities to relieve your financial burden as much as possible, putting you back on track toward financial freedom.
Some of the benefits of a Debt Management Program include: waived and/or reduced high interest rates, eliminating late and over-the-limit fees, no more harassing phone calls from creditors or collection agencies, a reduced monthly payment to the credit counseling agency, the agency handles your payment to the creditors each month, learning to use and maintain a healthy budget, living without being dependent on credit, and learning the importance of proper money management so you don’t fall back into debt.
What kinds of educational tools can you offer customers? What benefits do customers derive from these tools?
We offer many free educational tools and resources available to the public. Some of these include our blog, financial calculators that include an awesome retirement calculator, our Online Budget Advisor and Goal Tracker tools, our educational library with helpful articles, videos, guides, slideshows, infographics, white papers, helpful links, newsletters, community outreach programs, free workshops, and more.
All of the tools and resources mentioned above are totally free to the public. You can get daily money saving tips and advice, find other helpful resources in your area, learn how to budget and set financial goals, manage your money correctly, learn useful information to help further your career, gain knowledge for retirement investing, and have a support network of people in similar situations.
Some individuals may be hesitant to use a credit counselor, especially if they are not familiar with using online services. How do you address those concerns?
Anyone who is considering contacting a credit counseling agency to speak with a credit counselor needs to make sure that the agency is reputable and that the credit counselors are properly trained and certified. Whether it’s online, over the phone or in-person credit counseling, you should do proper research on any agency that you are considering.
Look for a qualified NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling) member agency that is Non-Profit and is licensed in your state to handle credit counseling. Read reviews about that agency online and find out what previous clients are saying about them. See if they are highly recommended by anyone else such as Angie’s List, The Better Business Bureau (BBB), The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), The Council on Accreditation (COA), and any other accreditation they may have.
Always carry out your due diligence before discussing your finances with anyone. Advantage CCS has been in business since 1968, and we are a 501(c)3 organization that is a proud member of the NFCC. We are accredited by the COA and HUD. We also have an A+ Rating with the BBB. These are the types of accolades you should be looking for to make sure you’re speaking with a reputable agency and highly trained and certified credit counselors.
What are some trends happening in the world of credit, debt, and financial management?
One horrible trend that we would love to see go away is payday loans. We have so many people contact us because of their payday loans that they can’t seem to get paid off. These payday loans have ridiculous repayment terms that hardly anyone can actually meet. It becomes a vicious cycle of obtaining more loans to try and pay off that payday loan with the interest rate of 300% (some loans do have an interest rate that high). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that more than 80% of payday loans are rolled over or followed up by another payday loan within 14 days. It’s sad that so many people get stuck in this payday loan trap.
How can individuals ensure that they maintain a healthy financial life throughout the years regardless of their current age?
Proper money management has nothing to do with age. The same smart tips, tricks, advice, and tactics work no matter how old you are. It’s important to start young so you can build on good healthy money habits. But starting now is way better than starting tomorrow, and that goes with just about anything in life.
Some ways to maintain a healthy financial life is to be diligent about your budget. Review your budget almost daily, if you can. Understand how much money you have coming in versus how much money you have going out. Keep an eye on your checking account daily as well. Not only will this let you know how much money you have in there, but it could also help you identify any recent activity that may not be from you. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, reviewing your checking account could help you catch that problem early on.
Be mindful of how much debt you are paying off versus how much money you are adding to your emergency fund. It’s important to pay off debt as quickly as possible, but it’s also important to set up an emergency savings account, just in case you lose your job or other unforeseen life changes happen that could cost you a lot of money.
Commit to making small, incremental changes to boost your savings account over the next three, six, or nine months at least. Bank any unexpected income like bonuses, pay increases, that Christmas bonus check, tax returns, etc. Always be super responsible when using your credit cards and pay off the entire balance each month. Reevaluate your finances at least once a year or preferably every six months. Look into ways that make it “automatic” to save money, pay down debt, or put more money toward investments such as your child’s college education or retirement. Check your credit report and credit score at least once a year or more if you can.
Please share anything additional you would like individuals to know about your company or credit counseling.
As a non-profit organization, you can count on us to perform as your advocate. We’re not here to sell you anything – rather, we are completely focused on educating and preparing you to improve your money management habits and to use credit more wisely. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that you have the education, tools and support you need to move forward and regain control of your financial future.