10 Questions for … a Debt Counselor

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debtThere’s a reason why it’s called “drowning in debt.”

When you feel as if you’ll never pay off your mountain of loans or credit card bills, it can be hard to see a way out.

Americans have been consistently trimming their debt since the 2008 financial crisis, but those balances have been edging up again in recent months.

According to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, consumer credit broke a record $3 trillion in the second quarter of this year, driven largely by increases in borrowing for student and car loans. Americans also remain saddled with high levels of credit card debt—to the tune of more than $15,000, on average, among indebted households.

If money problems are keeping you awake at night, you might consider contacting a debt counselor, who can help prioritize your payments and create an action plan for getting back in the black.

Sherry Tetreault of Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions, who has been a debt counselor for nearly 14 years, recently spoke with LearnVest to explain how consumers can benefit from such professional advice.

LearnVest: What does a debt counselor do?

Sherry Tetreault: Our number-one goal is to understand what a consumer’s number-one financial goal is, so we can empower them to resolve the issue and stay focused. The first thing we ask is what prompted them to contact us. In posing these questions, we not only listen to the words they are saying, but the way they are saying them. Often, the tone of their voice or their body language reveals so much more about what is keeping them up at night. This helps us understand what they want to see accomplished. Our goal is not to steer them in any one direction, but to give them unbiased information. Their biggest problem is often a fear of the unknown—of being unaware of what their options are.

What’s the most common money issue that you encounter?

As a rule, it’s credit card or unsecured debt—whether that’s a personal loan or one through a finance company. Maybe they’re getting collection calls or maybe they aren’t yet behind, but are worried about the volume that they owe.

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