In a Nutshell: One of the most challenging aspects of being in debt is that the longer you’re in it, the worse it can get when you factor in late fees and potentially higher interest rates. This also means that the longer you’re in debt, the more difficult it is to climb out of it, especially if you’re only making minimum payments. LSS Financial Counseling is a nonprofit organization that works with Americans to help them find manageable and affordable solutions to get out of debt, and to do so within a reasonable time frame. It begins with a free budget and debt counseling session with an NFCC-certified advisor, who will walk you through your options without judgment, empowering you to take control of your debt on your own terms.
When you factor in secured debts, like those on homes and cars, around 80% of adult Americans are in debt — a figure that also includes credit card debt and student loans.
Credit card debt is one of the primary culprits of personal debt, with 39% of Americans reporting unpaid credit card balances. The average American consumer carries more than $5,000 in credit card debt. Unlike installment debts, such as student loans or car payments, credit card debt is revolving, which means borrowers can continue spending money they don’t have, month after month.
“With credit card debt, so many of us don’t pay our balance in full each month,” said Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director of the LSS Financial Counseling program. “And so many Americans are also low on savings, so we fill in the gaps with more credit card debt.”
Consumers who owe more than they can pay off can quickly fall behind in payments, face late fees, and incur the added stress of dealing with debt collectors. To make matters worse, late payments or the inability to repay debts at all will lower your credit score and make future personal financing expensive or nonexistent.
Based in Minnesota, LSS Financial Counseling is a full-service nonprofit agency that provides credit counseling to consumers both locally and nationally. As a member of the NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling), the organization is trusted across the nation and helps people with all types and sizes of debt, both over the phone and online.
“Most people we work with are upside-down and don’t even know it, so we help people make a budget that’s actually going to be healthy moving forward with them,” Darryl said. “There’s no judgment — just lots and lots of insider tips and conversation.”
Once users have established that they’re ready to get onto a debt repayment plan, LSS can help them assess their credit reports, navigate spending habits, and come up with manageable solutions they can maintain. These measures can reduce their monthly payments, speed up debt repayment, and in certain situations with medical debt or federal student loans, even have their debts forgiven.
Free Budget & Debt Consultations Available for Consumers Considering a Debt Management Plan
People considering debt management plans (DMPs) who come to LSS Financial Counseling for the first time are offered a free session with a certified counselor. Once the conversation is complete, they’re presented with a variety of suitable options that are based on their specific circumstances.
“Everybody who is considering a debt management plan gets a free session of budget and debt counseling,” Darryl said. “We want them to feel confident that they have a budget and that they understand all of their options.”
Families and individuals often have no idea what their spending habits really look like each month because they’ve never written down their expenses. This means there’s no existing budget, and no real way to gauge what’s coming in versus what’s going out. As a result, they’re not setting aside a reserve for necessities, like car repairs, emergencies, or taxes, and many of them are simply living off their credit cards.
“Counseling focuses on an honest look in the mirror and an honest conversation about what we can do to adjust this,” Darryl said. “We give lots of suggestions, but it really comes from the client because we can’t make those values and priorities for them.”
Trusted Counselors Provide Housing Education, Credit Report Review & Student Loan Support
Every counselor who works with LSS Financial Counseling is certified through the NFCC. Counselors provide clients with clear guidance and tools to help get them out of debt. In addition to credit card debt counseling and other services, they’re available for housing education, student loan support, and credit report review.
“Total student loan debt is $1.4 trillion, which is more than all of credit card debt combined, so it’s the new epidemic,” Darryl said. “And so with that, people are just buried in what they should do.”
Once clients have established where they need the most support, counselors will attempt to contact lenders to come up with possible solutions. They’ll also provide support to help prevent home foreclosure by identifying options for mortgage adjustments and introducing consumers to government programs that can provide additional aid.
“We do reverse mortgage counseling, housing counseling, and foreclosure prevention,” Darryl said. “And where people are talking about housing issues, they walk out with an action plan for how they can move forward with their pros and cons, based on their home choices.”
Lastly, counselors offer credit report review, where they’ll pull a consumer’s credit report and FICO score as a soft pull, which keeps it as a consumer inquiry so it will not lower your score to look. Consumers will be provided a one-page action plan in addition to a budget so that, with the guidance of the counselor, they can start taking steps to repair their credit, one step at a time and based on their budget.
Debt Management Plan is Faster Debt Payoff
Individuals who do a debt management plan with LSS are able to consolidate debts into one monthly payment, and get them paid off faster and at lower interest rates. Borrowers are paying in full, but with drastically reduced interest rates, no fees, and attainable monthly payment plans, so solutions tend to be manageable. The end result has a much more favorable impact on their FICO score than, for example, a settlement agreement.
“All of the national creditors have negotiated down a set rate for the debt management plans, so people pay through the agency to their creditors,” Darryl said. “What they get are rock-bottom interest rates, and all the fees stop and all the interest rates are good.”
Default interest rates of up to 29% APR, for example, are often reduced to single digit rates, which makes a significant difference to the consumer when it comes to getting back on track through monthly payments.
To sign up for a DMP, there is a one-time set up fee of $25 to $35, depending on which state you live in. Then, there is a monthly service fee based on the size of the monthly debt payment, between $1 to $50 per month. Darryl added “the average DMP fee at LSS has been $11, so it is very small compared to the money saved with reduced interest and late fees stopping.”
“The largest DMP I ever wrote was for a stockbroker with $165,000 in credit card debt,” Darryl said, “and that person paid the maximum $50 monthly fee — but I also helped write a DMP for an elderly woman with $900 in credit card debt, and her monthly fee was $3. Sounds like a small amount, but her reduction from 28% APR to 5.9% allowed her to get debt-free in less than four years, compared to never, on her own at those penalty interest rates.”
Affordable Debt Solution Plans that Put the Client’s Best Interest First
Success story after success story illustrates that LSS Financial Counseling has helped many people gain control over their debts, and successfully move forward in their lives with budget management solutions that work.
With affordable payment plans and low interest rates that are negotiated down by national creditors, LSS Financial Counseling helps Americans find tangible solutions to their debt problems. Once you’ve made the decision to work with the organization, and provided you stick with your debt management plan, you’ll be on the road to erasing debt.
“It’s a lovely program where people are guaranteed to be debt-free in five years or less,” Darryl said.
While collection agencies often prey on the desperation of the borrower, leaving them feeling powerless and unaware of favorable alternatives, LSS Financial Counseling’s primary goal is to help their clients — not to turn a profit. The organization not only guides borrowers through the process of getting out of debt, but it does so in a way that actually helps credit as opposed to causing further damage.