Magazine article Newsweek

Ask the Pro

Magazine article Newsweek

Ask the Pro

Article excerpt

Byline: Linda Stern

Susan C. Keating, CEO of the National Foundation For Credit Counseling, spoke to Linda Stern about the current credit crunch.

How much debt trouble are we in?

Seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes, are carrying an average of over $4,000 in credit-card debt. Recent college graduates are also in jeopardy from credit-card debts that average $2,200, on top of student loans that average about $40,000. If the current softness in the economy continues, a growing number of people won't be able to keep up.

What are the signs that you need help?

You are at or near the limit of your credit lines. You can only make the minimum payments on your credit cards. More than 15 percent of your take-home pay is used to pay credit-card-debt payments. You have to skip some bill payments to make others. You are unable to make your payments as your adjustable-rate mortgage increases.

Does debt consolidation make sense?

Rarely. Using credit to pay off other credit can become a vicious cycle. However, if you have considered the total costs of the loan, both principal and interest, and understand the risks, a debt-consolidation loan may be a viable option for some.

What's the best single move consumers can make now?

Create a budget and stick to it; figure out how much you owe and to whom. Exceed monthly minimum credit-card payments as often as possible and add extra cash to accounts with higher interest rates. …

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