Getting out of debt by loan consolidation

February 2, 2009 7:32:15 PM PST
Your bills are piling up, your mortgage never seems to get smaller and you just can't keep up. What's a person suppose to do? Here's the journey of Myra Garces of Hercules, who's muscling her way out of debt.

Myra Garces is haunted by her bills every night.

"I feel so overwhelmed. I have panic attacks at night," said Garces.

Her credit cards are maxed out. Her late fees keep mounting and her interest rate has shot up from an already high 25 percent to an even higher 31 percent.

"I'm already thinking, oh my God, I'm in more debt than ever," said Garces.

On top of that she's used up the equity she borrowed on her home.

"I'm just trying to figure out how to survive this. I don't want to lose my home," said Garces.

So she contacted 7 On Your Side and asked if Consumer Credit Counseling Services of the East Bay is reputable, and it is.

The agency is one of several non-profits that can assist those in financial trouble.

Personal financial expert Erika Sandberg recommends going only to debt counseling services connected with the National Foundation of Credit Counseling.

"Anything else, anything that promises too much, that's really saying we're going to take over your debt for you. We'll make these crazy settlements for you. It's really is not recommended, they're usually very expensive and sometime they're scams or they're actually illegal," said Sandberg.

The hotline staff of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco is prepared. The agency is also a member of the National Foundation of Credit Counseling, but not affiliated with the similarly named agency in the East Bay.

It takes calls from across the country from people looking to get out of debt, and it puts those that can afford it into a debt consolidation.

"We contact the creditors on their behalf. We negotiate the special payments, the lower interest or zero interest if possible," said Dan Parrish from Consumer Credit Service of San Francisco.

The non-profit charges less than $35 a month for the service. If you're asked by another agency to pay much more, look elsewhere.

Myra took advantage of a debt consolidation and now she's sleeping much easier.

"I'm not having panic attacks anymore, and they consolidated my debts," said Garces.

CCCS of the East Bay negotiated with her credit card companies to lower her 31 percent interest rate to 10 percent.

She sends in $271 a month to the agency, and it divides it up and send that money into each of her creditors.

CCCS San Francisco estimates about one out of four who request a debt consolidation get one.

"We will not put them on a debt management plan if they can't afford it," said Parrish.

Myra feels fortunate she received the help she received.

"Out of all this, there's hope. And I normally don't always believe in hope. But now I do," said Garces.

Myra has been less successful in getting a loan modification for her mortgage. Her lender told her it would only negotiate an interest rate reduction if she was late on her payments.

This Wednesday, you're invited to phone in your questions on debt management from 5 until 8 p.m. The staff of Consumer Credit Counseling of San Francisco will be here at ABC7 to answer your questions.