Kurt’s Picks

Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007.  Furthermore, this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being.

Norman B. Anderson, PhD, CEO, American Psychological Association, February 4, 2015.

Below is my referral list for credit reporting, debt management, consumer protections, budgeting, and other personal finance topics.

Whenever possible, I refer to nonprofits, government, or educational institutions that are considered among the most credible sources of information and services.

Please note that even among nonprofit organizations the quality varies, and the quality and experience of individuals within an organization vary as well.  I encourage you to shop for a financial counselor or advisor like you would for a doctor, attorney, accountant, or mental health counselor – if something doesn’t feel right, or if it seems too good to be true, get another opinion.

First, a few thoughts about financial advising and financial counseling.

Financial Advising

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA provides guidance on how to select an advisor, describes what professional designations mean, what to look out for, what questions to ask, and so on.  It also has a “Broker Check” feature and “Smart Saving for College—Better Buy Degrees” (this includes information about 529 college savings plans).

Someone considering either annuities or mutual funds might benefit from Investopedia’s tutorials covering annuities and mutual funds.  Here are additional Investopedia tutorials.

Financial Counseling

Personal financial problems are clearly linked to reductions in workplace productivity, embezzlement, depression, marital problems, and even murder/suicide.

With feelings of desperation and helplessness, we grasp at any shred of hope, and deceptive and fraudulent debt relief companies take full advantage of our vulnerability.  They bombard us through the Internet, radio, late-night television, illegal robocalls, and even through our local yellow pages.  Though there are effective, reputable counseling agencies out there, it’s difficult to tell the difference until it’s too late.

The Federal Trade Commission’s “Fiscal Fitness: Choosing a Credit Counselor” recommends finding an organization that offers in-person counseling.

Ten years ago, member agencies of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) operated thirteen locations in Indiana, and seven of the state’s eight federal bankruptcy courts had in-person bankruptcy counseling and education nearby.

NFCC agencies offer services such as:

• Bankruptcy Counseling and Education
• Credit and Debt Counseling
• Credit Report Reviews
• Debt Management Plans & Programs
• Financial Tools and Education
• HUD Housing & Home Ownership Counseling
• Reverse Mortgage Counseling
• Student Loan Debt Counseling & Advice

Unfortunately, beginning aggressively in 2010, the counseling industry experienced a series of mergers and acquisitions that closed most local offices.  My own office – very likely the smallest in the nation – was the first domino to fall in our state, and today there are no remaining Indiana-based NFCC affiliates.

But two do have physical locations in Indiana: Michigan-based GreenPath has an office in Mishawaka and Ohio-based Apprisen has one in Indianapolis.

Talk with someone BEFORE you’re at the end of your rope!

Certainly talk to someone if you’re thinking of a 401(k) withdrawal or debt consolidation loan, or if you carry credit card debt from month to month, or if you hide purchases or debt from your spouse.

But crisis prevention is preferable to crisis intervention, so don’t wait until you’re desperate. Once there is financial trouble there is seldom a single “good” solution, one must simply decide upon the least damaging among the various alternatives. The sooner you take control, the more viable options you will have.

For an overview of common alternatives that people consider, read the Federal Trade Commission’s “Coping with Debt“.

Consumer Protection

Lafayette Area Resources

Lafayette Crisis Center
First Call 211
Phone 765-423-2255 (or “211” in some Indiana counties)
Note: In 2014 the Crisis Center merged with Mental Health America of Tippecanoe County.

General credit counseling, budgeting help, or credit reporting questions

Housing counseling: pre-purchase, foreclosure, and reverse mortgage

  • Homestead Consulting 765-423-1284
  • Joe Kellogg joe@homesteadconsulting.net
  • For a new checking account if you’ve had trouble in the past, look into Bank On Tippecanoe; here’s a brochure.  For locations across the nation click here (then scroll down).

Paying for College

Nonprofit legal assistance