Nonprofit agency’s credit clients span the economic spectrum
Despite encouraging economic news, for many people, The Great Recession is far from over. Here in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, thousands continue to struggle, attempting to pay bills while dealing with decreased incomes.
The Partnership for Families, Children and Adults is well known for the many services it provides to the community—but relatively few people are aware that one of these is Consumer Credit Counseling Services. “The Partnership itself is 134 years old,” says CCCS Director Linda Rath, “and we have been offering credit counseling for more than 30 years. But people still find out about it mostly through word of mouth.”
Unlike for-profit services, which often charge exorbitant fees, “and are mostly debt settlement agencies,” says Rath, the Partnership’s Consumer Credit Counseling Services offers a free, confidential initial consultation, and charges only a small monthly fee (limited by the state) to process payments to creditors. The fee, never more than $30, is based on the amount owed by the client. The debt-management plan created for each client is monitored periodically by the agency, which helps people stay on it, she explains.
Clients range across the economic and age spectrum, Rath says. “Some people come to us owing as much as $100,000. And we deal with people in their 20s on up through their 80s.” The CCCS reassures clients that there is no shame in admitting they are having problems managing, and that taking this first step will be hugely helpful.
The CCCS has an outstanding record of successful negotiations with creditors, Rath notes, and almost always is able to reduce and bundle monthly payments to a more manageable amount. “The credit card companies want to work with us, because they know the goal is to pay off the debt,” Rath says. “Sometimes there is bargaining and counter-proposals, but we usually can work something out.”
Clients can arrange to have the monthly payment direct debited from a checking account, or they can bring in a monthly money order. The average client’s plan lasts for almost five years, Rath says, but those who stick with it emerge credit-card-debt-free. “We are serving nearly 1,000 people at any one time,” she says, “but our goal is to help as many people as we can.”
The CCCS also helps people learn money-management skills and create budgeting plans to help regain control of personal finances.
In addition to the main office on Olan Mills Road, the agency offers Family Financial Counseling Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Good Shepherd Ministries in Soddy-Daisy, Wednesdays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Career Center in Eastgate Town Center, and Thursdays 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Northside Neighborhood House in North Chattanooga.
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