I’m often asked exactly what we do when people come in for credit counseling. Unfortunately, few enough people have been to a credit counselor that it is a very legitimate question. So here’s the answer: we dig through all of your history (business, personal, and otherwise), point out every mistake that you’ve made, belittle you for those mistakes, paint a pretty hopeless picture for your future, and then lecture your children on how they should never turn out like you because of what you have done financially.
Sound like fun? Now that we have all of those misconceptions out of the way, let’s talk about what credit counseling is really like…..
At a recent staff meeting, we had this very same conversation among our staff. We wanted to know what we really do for people and how we do it. It was very interesting to see what we came up with based on the feedback we get from our clients. Here are some of the highlights:
“Meet them where they are” – That has to be our starting place. While there is obvious need for change, we have to respect where the client currently stands and begin the process there.
“Calm fears” – Often, it is our human nature to expect the worst. Knowing what could happen (even if unrealistic), we can become overwhelmed with what we perceive our situation to be. We don’t see any hope. And yet our counselors provide a vision of what the positive future may very well be for the client.
“Provide a confidential/safe place” – Our counselors follow the same HIPPA privacy laws as your doctor. All services are confidential, even to creditors and family, unless the client otherwise authorizes. You are in control of who knows what.
“Facilitate home” – A home, whatever shape it takes, is so critical to people’s identity, self-worth, and safety that it is often one of the first issues that gets addressed. What can be done to protect the home? Even if it is through education for new home buyers, we value home as much as you do.
“Provide stability” – So many people report that they simply want to be free from living month to month, worrying that they will have enough money to make it to the next paycheck. With some attention to detail and a plan, our counselors help many people achieve that stability they are looking for.
“Restore dignity” – For many people, the financial crisis is so deep that there is no way for others to not know their problems. They have to admit the issues and the restrictions that those problems put on their lives. Beginning with treating our clients with respect, we help them establish a life they feel dignified to live.
“Gain control” – Due to the overwhelming debt, many people simply feel out of control of their lives. We help them form a plan to take control back and move towards their goals for the future.
“Provide a process for change” – While we may like quick-fixes, that rarely works with finances. Instead, w e can help clients put steps in place to achieve their goals. Over the time it takes to achieve those steps, we can provide accountability and support when life changes.
“Improve relationships” – It’s no secret that money is one of the biggest sources of marital strife. Even further, it can impact our relationships with other family and friends as well. By helping our clients take control and better communicate about financial issues, relationships are often strengthened.
“Make them cry” – And not in a bad way. Our clients are occasionally so moved by the new-found hope they have that they break into tears. These are different tears than they are used to. They are tears of joy and optimism.
“Teach skills” – Our counselors don’t just tell our clients where they need to end up, they can provide the skills and tricks to help the client get there. While it may take some looking back at past mistakes, it is to help identify what can be done to address the problem.
I could go on as this is only about a third of what we put together. And then there is the list of how we accomplish these things for our clients. Aside from budgets and payment plans, we use respect, positivity, mediation, awareness, focus, compassion, and so much more. But that’s an entirely other blog post.
Please don’t take this is me tooting our own horn about how good we are. That’s not my point at all. Instead, this is an attempt to help people overcome the huge stigma surrounding credit counseling. These are, after all, items we get as feedback from our past and current clients.
Perhaps the best proof of that is one other realization that our counselors have all faced – we as ‘the professionals’ have all learned and grown in our own financial well-being through what we have learned and done as counselors. We are human too. We have been there. We’ve had credit card debt, missed payments, collections, and so many more things that our clients face. We get it.
If you are feeling like your life would be benefited by any of the above actions of our counselors, please give the Center for Financial Resources a call at 605-330-2700. You can also schedule an appointment on our website. We aren’t the judgement police. We’ve NEVER had an appointment go like described in the opening paragraph. We wouldn’t want to be treated like that and we won’t treat you like that either.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net