Over 1.5 million consumers in 2013 sought help to their questions and found solutions to their concerns about debt, housing, budgeting and bankruptcy from a NFCC member agency.
The number one reason that led people to seek counseling was "poor money management," eclipsing "reduced income," which had held the top spot since 2009. While many consumers are earning more because the economy is improving, they still need to learn to manage it well, she said.
Paying off a huge chunk of debt meant Pirtle dedicated much of her spare time to her goal. One of the most important tasks that she tackled first was disputing items on her credit report
that were inaccurate, settling with some companies and using her income tax refund to pay them off.
Pirtle used coupons, utilized local food distributions which didn't entail income requirements, bought food on sale in bulk and froze it and utilized apps like Ibotta and Shopkick to get rewards towards cash.
She went the extra mile and in her spare time donated plasma and referred friends and family to donate also in order to receive rewards and even recycled cans on a regular basis. When she wasn't working, she found herself also driving her family members who paid her for mileage and gas.
Pirtle didn't stop there and cut her entertainment budget by borrowing movies from the library instead of renting them and attended a coupon workshop to save money on groceries. Her counselor taught her the importance of having a savings account that she could dip into for emergencies.
Sticking to a budget helped Pirtle reached her goals and she even created a "vision board" of items she wanted to purchase in the future.
"Determine your wants from your needs," she said. "Figure out what you can live without. Take it seriously and visualize the outcome."
When she had extra money, she allocated the money toward a savings account or paid off more debt.
"Don't get frustrated or discouraged," Pirtle said. "You are working towards a goal and in the end, and you will feel great in what you have accomplished."
Financial problems can occur at any stage in a person's life - 24% of people seeking counseling were 25-34 year olds, 23% were 35-44 years old and 21% were 45-54 years old. Addressing problems early on can help mitigate problems before they become serious and difficult to recover.
The NFCC found that the average household income was $35,081, with an unsecured debt of $17,548, resulting in an unsecured debt to income ratio .50.
"Owing too much relative to your income resulting in a high debt-to-income ratio not only makes it harder to meet all debt obligations, but can hinder future borrowing," Cunningham said.
Consumers seeking help carried an average of 5.7 credit cards. The number of credit cards a person has is not as important as how they manage them, because maxing out the lines of credit will harm a person's credit score, she said.
"Consumers are smart to contact a trusted organization for financial help," Cunningham said. "However, the one mistake many of them have in common is that they wait too long to reach out assistance. Delaying taking action allows the problem to escalate, often causing financial damage that could have been prevented."
Consumers who have questions about how to address their debt can find a local agency by clicking here.
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet