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‘Just Fix it!’, credit counseling group CEO says

Connie Prater

FIX IT! That was the rallying call issued last week during the annual meeting of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). The group’s members are non-profit credit counseling agencies that have been helping millions of Americans dig out of debt and save their homes from foreclosure.

To illustrate her point, Susan C. Keating, the group’s CEO, showed a clip during her speech of “Saturday Night Live” character Oscar Rogers, played by comedian Kenan Thompson. For those who aren’t SNL fans, Oscar is a recurring news commentator on the weekly comedic news roundup. He screams “FIX IT!” throughout his monologues on the U.S. economy.

Watch the SNL video here.

“We may laugh, but Oscar is the American public. He is every American. Oscar is you. Oscar is me – angry, frustrated, certain that FIXES must be put in place,” Keating told the group meeting in Minneapolis Oct. 4-6, 2010.

She added: “Unlike Oscar, however, we do know at least some ways to FIX IT, and we know that THEY means every one of us in this room… Agency leadership, counselors, financial services companies, personal finance writers, as well as the Administration, Congress, and the American people themselves. Armed with the right tools, the right knowledge and – perhaps most of all – the will power to make the hard decisions, we can FIX IT so we don’t find ourselves in this economic situation again.”

Keating said that over the past few years, “millions lost their jobs, their homes, their savings, and their sense of financial security, resulting in many turning to credit counseling for help.”
Keating says although the Great Recession is technically over (it officially ended in June 2009), many homes across the country are still in financial distress and need a FIX IT strategy. In 2009, NFCC agencies served 4 million people, 22 percent more than the year before.

“Technically, we are in recovery right now, but many would say it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Just ask those who are losing their homes, in bankruptcy, unable to make their credit card payments, or are unemployed or suffering from income reduction. We all read the same headlines.”

Solutions ahead
How do we FIX IT? Keating outlined four key areas that will help: legislation, housing, the consumer experience, and financial education. Financial education, she said, is the key to everything.

“This is the best way for us to FIX IT – to prevent bad financial decisions in the first place with a more financially knowledgeable population. And, we’ve worked to influence federal legislation to address some debt settlement practices,” she said.

She added: “I don’t pretend that a more financially literate population would have prevented the economic difficulties of the past year, but I do think we could have avoided thousands of bankruptcies and foreclosures if the American people had the tools they needed to better manage their finances and, particularly, their debt.”

Biggest losers of debt (2010 edition)
During the meeting, NFCC presented New York couple Carole and Don Carroll with its annual award for clients who’ve succeeded in wiping out their debt. The Carrolls paid off $88,000 in nearly four years . I was one of the judges for the annual contest and was happy the other judges agreed with me that this couple deserved recognition for their efforts. I hope they inspire others to FIX their own debt woes.

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