Getting Out of Debt, Confessions of a Credit Counselor
“Thank you so much, Somalia. You were incredibly helpful. I've been struggling for a very long time with my finances trying to stay above water. I was really nervous reaching out for help would make me feel terrible or like a failure. Instead you were very kind, patient and treated me like a human being. It meant the world to me. Please feel free to pass this along to your supervisor or anyone who you might report to. I hope you get some kind of kudos. You were awesome to work with. Thank you! Launa”
Comments like these are not the exception at American Financial Solutions. Everyday people contact us worried that they will be judged for being in a financially difficult situation. Like Launa, people struggle to pay their bills and develop plans for getting out of debt all on their own because the stigma of money trouble can feel embarrassing and overwhelming.
But there are reasons that sharing this this burden can be helpful – not only to you, but to the people you turn to for help. First, there are the feelings of shame or embarrassment at being unable to manage the debt on your own. Many people have been in that situation and successfully worked their way out of debt by seeking help. Even financial counselors.
In 2007, I, Becky House, certified credit counselor extraordinaire, sought help from my co-worker. She enrolled me on a debt management plan and the rest was history. I had tried to pay the debts on my own and ended up farther and farther behind. Was I embarrassed to ask for help? Absolutely. Did my co-worker judge me? No, she told me her own story of struggling to get out of debt.
That feeling of comradery and understanding was only part of what was helpful about discussing my debt with someone. The second benefit was the brainstorming of options. I could see my choices much more clearly through someone else's perspective. She helped me evaluate four options – continuing to pay on my own, getting a loan to consolidate my debt, using a debt management plan and filing bankruptcy.
I chose a debt management plan because paying on my own wasn't working - I was getting collection calls and accounts were being sent to collections. I really did not want to file bankruptcy and there was no one (besides a payday loan company) who would be willing to loan me money. I accepted her input and started the plan.
It was not easy. I had some accounts that were in collections and debt collectors are not always easy to work with (are they ever?). Luckily, instead of quitting, I could work with the counselor to problem solve the issues.
It is a lot different being on the receiving end of counseling than it is to be on the giving side. But that experience made me a better counselor. I do know what it feels like to be overwhelmed, frustrated, embarrassed and out of hope when it comes to debt. I also know how much strength it takes to set aside your ego and ask for help.
So, like our client above, I am very thankful that I sought help rather than trying to deal with collectors and maxed out credit cards on my own. Sometimes you just need a little advice, some hope and a plan - and someone to let you know you are not alone.
American Financial Solutions (AFS) is a non-profit 501(c)3 financial education and credit counseling agency that helps people find solutions for managing their money and changing their financial lives for the better. Since 1999, AFS has helped over 750,000 individuals across the United States through one-on-one counseling, financial education classes, or the use of debt management plans. AFS is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) as well as the Association for Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA). AFS is also accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) and has an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. For more information, please visit our website. Find us and like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
Published Oct 6, 2014.