At Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo (CCCS), we are heartened to see the recent media attention highlighting the questionable and predatory practices of local debt collection companies. The New York State Attorney General herself traveled to Western New York last month to call for increased regulation of the debt collection industry. It is extremely encouraging to see how she defends New York residents who are often victimized (sometimes repeatedly) by questionable companies with devious motives.
The CCCS has sought to reform itself for many years – and has heard hundreds of tragic horror stories – but critical as it is, we have been unable to attract the proper attention or receive the support needed for this problem so far.
Debt collection companies are usually problematic – they need more scrutiny – but the problem is much bigger than that. The average person has little understanding of the world of debt, credit, and credit repair. It’s no wonder that a whole world of debt consolidation and debt settlement has emerged to “help” consumers manage their debt.
If you’re having credit and debt problems, it’s usually a tumultuous time in your life. You may be backed into a corner – desperate – and not sure what to do. If you Google “How do I get rid of credit card debt in Buffalo?” you’ll find nearly 30 for-profit companies ready to help you “pay off your debt.”
It’s time for a new approach.
Debt has long been a huge problem for Americans. Currently, 35% of Americans have month-to-month credit card debt, with $15,561 as the average credit card debt per household. Debt is not just a financial problem; it impacts emotional health and regularly leads to frustration, depression, embarrassment and the pervasive feeling of being completely overwhelmed.
At the same time, lack of credit also causes stress in countless people. 47% of Americans currently have poor or no credit, which means they don’t have access to safe credit, putting them in the hands of an alternative economy filled with usurious payday lenders. Without good credit, consumers pay higher interest rates on everything from credit cards to auto loans to mortgages. Credit scores also play a prominent role in determining home and auto insurance premiums.
In Western New York, approximately 40% of residents have either poor credit or no credit. Having no credit can be as bad as having bad credit, or even worse, because the resources available to help individuals establish credit are extremely limited. The general public is poorly educated in this area. People with poor credit, no credit, no debt are worried, scared…and just want the problem to go away. They easily fall prey to the seductive messages of colonization companies with unlimited advertising budgets.
Financial experts around the world unilaterally agree that the best method to consistently pay off unpaid debt is to use a debt management program offered by an accredited non-profit credit counseling agency, such as CCCS, where credit counselors certified work in cooperation with creditors. Unfortunately, countless people are suffering because too many people are attracted to companies that peddle illusions. Better, safer, and far more helpful options like debt management programs, run by nonprofit organizations with no advertising budget, remain under the radar. We need to make the general public aware that there are options; that there is hope… all they have to do is call us at 716-712-2060.
We truly appreciate New York State’s recent efforts to hold debt collection companies accountable and hope this is just the beginning of broader efforts to help the public navigate the difficult financial world that plagues them. surrounded. CCCS is here to help anyone who needs us.
Noelle Carter is president and CEO of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, which has offices in Lockport and Niagara Falls.