It turns out college IS worth it - If you want to get a job

By Jamie Altman

July 16, 2016

Prompt response is best when debt collector comes calling

June 14th, 2016

By Anya Kamenetz

Even the most organized and financially responsible person can have a debt go into collection. It might be a single overlooked lab charge from a complex medical issue or just a bill never forwarded to you after a move. The question is what to do about it once you find out.

When a bill goes into collection there are four interested parties. There's you and the creditor -- the original entity you owe, be it a large bank or a small business. There might also be a collection agency, which may be acting on the creditor's behalf or may have acquired the old bill from your creditor outright. Finally, there are the credit scoring agencies, which report the information they get from creditors and collectors.

Ignoring collectors is not recommended. That leaves three good options. You can pay the bill in full. You can try to settle for less than you owe. Or you can dispute the bill and refuse to pay.

How should you proceed? I asked Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He's also worked for lenders, for a collection agency and as a credit counselor, so he's been on all sides of the table when it comes to collections.

The most important question, according to McClary, is whether you owe the debt fair and square.

If there are significant extenuating circumstances -- if you don't recognize the time, place, amount or account, if previous bills were directed to the wrong address, if you were hospitalized at the time, the victim of a natural disaster or identity theft, or you believe you've already paid the debt off -- then gather your documentation and prepare to either dispute outright or try to settle the debt for less than face value.

If not, the best recourse is to pay in full, or pay enough to get it current, whichever is feasible.

Here are some things to know.

--If it's a medical debt, the repercussions are not as great. Newer credit scoring models put less weight on medical debts, including those in collection.

--Once a debt in collection is settled, it continues to have a negative impact on your credit report for up to seven years. You can lessen the impact of a collection during that time and raise your score, McClary says, by opening more credit accounts and keeping them up to date.

--If the original debt was less than $100, an account in collections is unlikely to significantly ding your credit score.

--If you dispute a collection with a creditor or collection agency, you should contact the credit scoring agencies. Send a letter by certified mail "return receipt requested" to Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, the three credit reporting companies. Include any documentation that bolsters your position. Sample letters are available at

--Once you've settled a debt, wait 60 days and then pull your free credit report from to make sure the information has been updated.

--Your negotiating position can vary depending on who owns the debt. Big banks and credit card companies aren't going to be very flexible. On the other hand, you can try calling an old landlord, a dentist or an exterminator and offer a settlement in return for taking the bill out of collections. Make sure you get this in writing (what is sometimes called a "letter of deletion").

--If the debt has been "charged off," that means it's been sold to the collection agency, likely for pennies on the dollar, and your settlement negotiation should be with them.

Is There a Difference Between a Co-Signer & a Co-Applicant?

June 10, 2016 

by Jeanine Skowronski

Try this before you turn to a 390 percent payday loan

Thursday, 2 Jun 2016

Kelli B. Grant | @kelligrant

5 ways to build credit and save money in your 20's

May 29th, 2016

by Wise Piggy

Most of us have either heard about or lived through the war stories of the struggling 20-something. The cramped apartments, the diet that should have been ditched after college and worse, the savings account you expected would explode after snagging your first real job has remained sadly modest.

While the struggle may be real, it’s also an opportunity. The low-expense lifestyle of a 20-something is the perfect opportunity to slowly build credit and savings a solid financial future.

Here are five ways to build credit and savings in your 20s.

1. DON't spend too fast

Landing your first salaried job is exciting, but go slow spending the new paycheck — moving too fast can set you back.

“Live like a broke college student for a little while,” says Liz Weston, author of “Deal with Your Debt: Free Yourself from What You Owe.”

It can take half a year (or even longer) to build up cash reserves, and that’s if you’re living very lean. Give yourself time to adjust to the influx of pay, and determine exactly how far your new income can go.

“It kind of takes that long to figure out what your expenses are, once you’re out of college or away from home,” Weston says.


Student loans typically have low interest rates, so paying them off quickly won’t save you a mountain of money. Stay current on your student loan payments but focus on putting your money aside for more strategic purposes like an emergency fund or retirement.

“There’s no need to rush with student loans. Save for retirement,” Weston recommends. “Hands down, there’s no better way to spend your money than putting it in a 401(k) or IRA.”

If you need more breathing room with your student loan payments, there are options. Check out the income-based repayment programs on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

“It can really get your payment down to an affordable level,” Weston says.


Saving — even a little — for retirement in your 20s will make a big difference later.

“There’s no better time to save than in your 20s, particularly saving for retirement because you have all those decades ahead for compounding interest,” Weston advises. “The best time to save is right now.”

Participate in your company’s 401(k) plan and shoot for placing 10 percent or more of your pre-tax salary in this account, Weston recommends.

Don’t lose heart if your 401(k) balance seems miniscule for a while — use time to your advantage, as compound interest will eventually work its magic.

“Think of every dollar in that account growing to $20 over time,” Weston says.


Having a strong credit score will help you to save money more diligently. Once you’ve proven yourself as a low-risk borrower, lenders will start to reward you with lower interest rates and insurance rates.

“Get a small starter credit card account. Establish some on-time payment history,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “On-time payments are the single most important factor in a credit score, so you want to make sure you are making payments on time [and] don’t miss one.”

Do your homework to determine the best credit cards for your spending habits and be sure to keep an eye on the fine print so you don’t end up paying unexpected fees.

Set up email and text reminders when credit card payments are due rather than relying on memory. You can automate your payments as well. Consider scheduling your monthly payments a couple of days after payday, so there is plenty of money in your account.

Remember you’re building credit, not debt, so go easy on the credit card spending. Weston recommends using less than 30 percent of a credit card’s limit at any time. Spend a little each month and pay your balance in full. Keep tabs on your credit score to see the effects of your on-time payments on your financial health.

The first thing McClary ever charged with a credit card was a shirt and a pair of socks, spending maybe $40.

“It was very manageable,” McClary says. “That got me on the map.”


Nothing derails your finances faster than an emergency. Tucking away some money into an emergency savings account can help you stay on track with your savings goals when unexpected bills come your way.

“You want to have an emergency fund,” says Beverly Harzog, author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” “I don’t care if you can only put $40 a month in an emergency fund. Get started. Lack of an emergency fund is why so many people end up in debt.”

An emergency cushion of six months of living expenses is ideal, but maybe that’s not attainable immediately.

“Start out small. Don’t freak out,” Harzog says. “Make your goal to be one month worth of expenses and then try to get to three months and then try to get to six months.”

Whether your savings priorities are long- or short-term, visualizing your goals can help you stay on track. Harzog uses Pinterest as her motivation: Saving for a house or a car, or want to build a travel fund? Pin it to remind yourself where your money is headed.

Don't Let Debt Keep You Down, Soldier

July 15, 2015

Struggling with debt is bad enough - whether you're a veteran or are about to transition into civilian life - but when you're actively deployed, it can threaten your job status.

Debt can also get in the way of civilian employment opportunities for military spouses, making it difficult to provide the additional income necessary to manage the home front.

If you're among those who feel what they've already achieved may be in danger due to their financial issues, there is a place you can turn to for help.

At Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama (CCCS), we recognize that the ever-changing nature of military life can create and foster difficult and dangerous financial cycles. In fact, military participants surveyed after enrolling in NFCC's Sharpen Your Financial Focus program were found to have fewer tangible assets (16.2% less than the overall program participant average) and a higher level of unsecured debt (7.1% higher than the average program participant) according to The Ohio State University data.

When you make a call to CCCS, an NFCC member agency, you gain access to certified financial professionals who understand your circumstances and needs. Programs like our Hands on Banking for the Military, offered by Wells Fargo and NFCC, specifically provide education and assistance to keep families on track for achieving and maintaining financial stability through all stages of their military lives.


  • Provide straightforward debt-relief plans.

  • Consolidate bills into one smaller payment.

  • Understand special circumstances.

  • Lower interest rates regardless of credit score.

  • Eliminate late fees and over-limit charges.

  • Ensure you know where you stand at all times.

You owe it to yourself. Let us help you secure your military career and restore hope for your financial future in your civilian life.

Breadwinner Moms, Make the Call

July 7, 2015

When you just can't seem to get out from under your bills and your family's future is becoming harder to focus on, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and a little lost. You aren't. It's actually the first step to tackling your money issues.

While a call to Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama (CCCS), an NFCC member agency, is an important step to solving money problems, the first step is actually facing the fact that you need help, and it's the hardest. But, once you make the call, we can help put you on the right path to resolving your situation.

It's a situation we understand well. In fact, NFCC and The Ohio State University worked together to survey participants in NFCC's Sharpen Your Financial Focus program we offer. Data from this program found that the type of counseling we provide helped reduce revolving debt levels, specifically for wage-earning mothers, by nearly 49.5% from pre-counseling levels within a year.

How we help and the results you realize depend on you and what you need.


  • Consolidate bills into one smaller payment.

  • Pay off your debt faster.

  • Improve your money habits.

  • Lower interest rates regardless of credit score.

  • Stop collection calls.

  • Eliminate late fees and over-limit charges.

Helping women, especially those who are the primary breadwinner for their household and have found themselves in tough financial situations, is what we do. If that's you, you owe it to yourself. Make the call.

Avoid a Holiday Spending Hangover with Sharpen Your Financial Focus

November 22, 2013

Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of West Georgia/East Alabama is excited to announce that as a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), we are participating in the Sharpen Your Financial Focus campaign (  We have joined forces with leading financial services companies and other national partners to launch this initiative. Programs offered to consumers through this initiative will provide you with great information to help you make smart money decisions during the upcoming holiday season and throughout life.

Our NFCC Certified Financial Professionals are here to provide you the tools, information and coaching needed to secure financial stability for you and your family.  You can take the first step toward achieving your financial goals by completing one or more of the following action items:

1.   Take MyMoneyCheckUp®, available at MyMoneyCheckUp is an online financial self-assessment tool designed to increase financial awareness and provide consumers with concrete steps to improve their financial well-being.

2.   Contact local NFCC Member Agency, CCCS, by calling (706) 327-3239 to schedule a one-on-one financial review with an NFCC Certified Financial Professional.

3.   Participate in an online course offered through CCCS or a follow-up financial review.  Visit our website at or call (706) 327-3239 for more information.

CCCS is proud to take part in this initiative, and is here to help get you on the path to financial success! Get started today!


Rob Pitts, Program Director                          

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama

(706) 327-3239

Eighty FREE freecreditscore.comTM Memberships to be Available Locally

November 18, 2013

As part of a collaboration between the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® and Experian®, NFCC member agency Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama (CCCS) will provide 80 free need-based, 12-month memberships to Experian’s product.  In support of the NFCC’s Sharpen Your Financial Focus™ program, Experian is donating a total of 80,000 free memberships to be distributed to NFCC member agencies nationwide.  CCCS will use its allotted memberships to complement financial education provided to individuals who take part in the program.

Among other features, the membership includes access to:

·        The member’s Experian credit report and credit score

·        The Score Planner™ feature, which allows consumers to see how various financial actions can impact credit scores

·        Credit monitoring

·        Alerts that notify members about new activity on their credit reports

·        A mobile app enabling alerts and updates on the go

·        Access to fraud resolution agents if suspicious activity is found in the member’s report 

These features all are designed to increase consumers’ understanding of credit and to provide knowledge that can be used to make educated financial decisions.

The Sharpen Your Financial Focus program is a new three-year grassroots initiative launched by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and leading financial service companies, such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase, who are committed to increasing the financial well-being of American consumers by assisting them in stabilizing their personal financial situations and encouraging them to take action to improve their personal finances.

The three steps of the Sharpen Your Financial Focus program are as follows:

1.   A visit to MyMoneyCheckUp®, available at MyMoneyCheckUp is an online financial self-assessment tool              designed to increase financial awareness and provide consumers with concrete steps to improve their financial well-being.

2.    A one-on-one financial review with an NFCC Certified Financial Professional to find solutions to current concerns and develop a realistic plan  to meet long-term goals.

3.   A financial education workshop designed as a “deep dive” into the major area(s) of interest to the consumer.

"Knowing how to manage your finances is an important skill to have throughout your life, but especially during times of economic uncertainty," said Rob Pitts, Program Director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama. "This timely donation from Experian will help people in our community get the information they need to increase their financial literacy, improve their financial situations and, as a result, their overall economic stability."


Rob Pitts, Program Director                            

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama

(706) 327-3239

The Family Center receives grant from Allstate Foundation

August 15, 2013

The Family Center of Columbus is pleased to announce receipt of a grant from The Allstate Foundation for the Empowering Survivors of Domestic Violence Towards Financial Independence and Economic Self-Sufficiency Program.

These funds will be used to teach weekly classes at Hope Harbour domestic violence shelter to help the residents become financially self-sufficient upon their departure from the shelter. A CCCS financial professional and a counselor from Family Counseling of Columbus will conduct classes using the curriculum supplied by The Allstate Foundation.

We are pleased to provide these classes and thankful to The Allstate Foundation for this grant. We would have been unable to perform this much-needed service without assistance from The Allstate Foundation.

Rob Pitts

Program Director

CCCS of West Georgia / East Alabama

“Neighbors: Agency offers solutions to financial difficulties”
By Becky Holland Lifestyle editor LaGrange  News
March 13, 2010

For people facing financial difficulties, Consumer Credit Counseling Service can be a beacon of hope. It offers financial management, debt reduction and prebankruptcy counseling through personal, one-on-one sessions to evaluate and discuss financial problems and other issues. And those are only a few of the free services offered by the agency, which is funded by United Way.

In the middle of it all, guiding clients to changes in their lifestyles is Beth McMillian. McMillian has been with the organization since moving from the foster grandparent program at West Georgia Medical Center. Even in the bleakest of moments in a person’s life, where worries surround money, McMillian is there to meet clients with a smile and a positive outlook. “It is only money,” she said with a laugh, “and everything will work itself out, so why worry?” She pointed at the door in her office. “I want every person who comes in here to walk out feeling better about their situation, even if they have to file bankruptcy.”

Her clients range from the blue-collar to the white-collar workers, to the unemployed to those in the medical profession. “I have a complete array of clients,” she said. “In today’s society, with the economy as it is, everyone is facing hard times.” With a degree in business from Auburn, McMillian always has been able to work with numbers and planning. “This job was right up my alley,” she said. She has seen it all when it comes to people in financial need. “And the way people worry. Some people literally get sick over their money issues, and it is my goal to help them get a new perspective,” she said.

With more than 18 years’ experience, McMillian usually can point folks in the right direction. “When someone comes in here, I ask them questions and pretty quickly can tell what the issue is and we start working on a solution,” she said. Solutions could be budgeting, checking account matters, altering money-management styles, credit counseling or evaluating credit reports. Calling herself “overly organized,” McMillian guides her clients through implementing a plan of action. “Sometimes, it is just getting their bills organized or showing them how to manage their money,” she said. “Today, with the economy as it is, we need to be more frugal and tucking money away is a good option.”

— The LaGrange office of Consumer Credit Counseling Services is at 309 Mooty Bridge Road. For more information, call (706) 845-7204.