What to do When Credit Card Debt is Keeping You Locked Out of Homeownership

Written by Posted On Sunday, 03 June 2007 17:00

It's a painful position -- mounting credit card debt with increasing interest rates and no real vision of how to crawl out from underneath all that financing.

According to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Santa Clara and Ventura County, California, (CCCS) what got most people in financial troubles are: overspending (25 percent), reduced income or unemployment (31 percent), medical reasons (11 percent), divorce or separation (8 percent).

The non-profit agency helps people alleviate their financial burdens and provides financial education and counseling on preparing to buy a home. Last year 7,043 households were counseled and received financial education which included developing a budget, a debt payout plan, analysis of assets and liabilities, and an action plan to solve their financial concerns. An additional 1,604 households received pre-discharge education and another 1,014 received reverse mortgage counseling.

Those figures are from just one non-profit of the many agencies throughout the country that aim to help consumers with their finances. It's no wonder many wannabe homeowners are finding themselves locked out of the housing market. But there is hope.

"We help anybody who has a debt with as little as $3,000 up to $100,000. We've seen it all," says Sonie May, Counseling and Education Manager, of CCCS.

May says the average consumer that the agency sees has approximately $30,000 of debt. She says what tends to happen is the credit card companies rapidly increase consumers' interest rates when they miss a payment and that causes the downward financial spiral of paying out more money and not being able to save to buy a home.

"It's hard to get out of that cycle because the minimum payments are so high; it's hard to get out of that hole that they're in," says May.

The most important advice if you are considering purchasing a home is to find out exactly how much money you bring in, how much money is spent each month, and how much money you can pay out for a monthly mortgage.

The CCCS helps you understand and assess your financial position and what can be done if you have credit card debt.

"We have relationships with most of the creditors," says May. When clients come in, "we develop a repayment plan to get [the consumer] debt-free within a five-year period with low interest rates and low payments."

May says most of the interest rates negotiated for clients are between seven and 18 percent, but she says some are as low as zero percent. "From 30 percent that's a big, big difference -- we save them thousands of dollars not only on a monthly basis but also over the long run we will save them thousands of dollars of interest that they would have paid if they hadn't come to see us," says May.

The CCCS collects the payment from the client and then disburses it to each of the creditors. A monthly fee is charged by CCCS for participation in the payment program.

Of course, while working with the CCCS, clients are strongly urged to not use credit cards or incur any more debt. Once the program is completed, clients are free to borrow again including taking out a mortgage.

"We have heard success stories from many of our clients who were able to purchase homes after they have completed the program," says May.

The CCCS can help with planning to purchase a home. The agency has its clients evaluate and analyze what their future expenses will be once they own the home. They remind clients that homeownership expenses include more than just the mortgage, property taxes, and homeowner's insurance. The agency promotes savings for the unexpected expenses: needing a new roof or the loss of a job.

Always be sure that when you calculate your expenses, you set a portion aside to pay yourself in addition to paying for your new home and other necessities. The other very important advice the CCCS gives is to completely understand the type of mortgage you are getting. May says it's important for homebuyers to know if the monthly mortgage payment will increase.

"If it's a variable rate loan, when will the interest rate go up -- after six months or a year? -- and would they be ready if that mortgage payment were to increase," says May.

Too often, as we're seeing now, in the housing industry, consumers either weren't informed or didn't consider the result of an increase in their mortgages' interest rate and thus are forced to financially buckle down or, in worst case scenarios, foreclose. Another CCCS company in the San Francisco area says help is available for homeowners who are facing foreclosure. Learn what can be done to save your home in next week's column.

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website: www.LiveFitMagazine.com.

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

Contact Phoebe at (858) 259-3646 or phoebe@livefitmagazine.com. Visit PhoebeChongchua.com for more information.

www.phoebechongchua.com/

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