Consumer Debt Counseling: An Inside Look

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Christina Pirtle found herself in substantial debt stemming from hospital and doctor's bills and credit cards, the single mom and student tackled it head on by working with a financial counselor.

Not only did she want to improve her credit score so she could buy a house, Pirtle wanted to be responsible for her financial decisions. She took the first step to reducing her debt by getting help from a counselor at Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc., a National Foundation for Credit Counseling member agency in Topeka, Kan.

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The counselor helped Pirtle, a 43-year old senior administrative assistant in the financial aid department at Washburn University in Topeka, prepare a budget, find ways to save money with coupons and search for ways to generate extra income.

While it wasn't easy, Pirtle was able to eliminate $3,132 or 47% of her debt and also paid off her car loan and her washer and dryer in just six months.

"I felt that I wanted to be held accountable for my actions and updating my progress with a counselor not only did that, but she was very encouraging and helped me find resources in my area that I may not have known about on my own," she said. "I think it's a great resource and opportunity to utilize the mentoring and counseling to help you figure out what you need to do to go forward with your goals."

Consumers should conduct a "financial check-up" several times a year, and many people evaluate their finances during the middle of the year, said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.