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CCCS reaches $1 million in disbursements to creditors

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by Melissa Wilson

SBJ Staff

Consumer Credit Counseling Services, recently accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services for Family and Children, was responsible for $1 million in disbursements to creditors last month, said President and CEO Jerry Jones.

"When I took over in March of 1993, this office was disbursing a little over $200,000 a month to creditors for clients ... (clients) make one payment here and we disburse it to their creditors for them," Jones said. "At the end of March 1999, we reached that milestone of $1 million in disbursement, and that's a really, really big deal to us."

CCCS, a not-for-profit organization that offers free credit counseling to people with debt problems, now operates satellite offices out of Mercantile Banks in Branson, Pittsburgh, Kan., Lebanon and Nevada two days per week, as well as two full-service branches in Springfield and one in Joplin.

A storefront satellite office in Mountain Home, Ark., will become a branch office with regular hours in the near future, Jones said.

"The number of clients in Mountain Home is increasing all the time, and I'm going to have to hire a resident counselor down there sometime soon," Jones said.

Jones said that although CCCS's clients have increased from about 1,300 in 1993 to nearly 4,000 in 1999, many debtors are not aware that such a service exists.

"There's tremendous debt out there, and people need help with it. This is a free, successful community program, but still there's people who don't know we're here and can help them," Jones said.

Jones said about 90 percent of the creditors CCCS deals with are credit card companies. "We see some medical debt and debt to local lenders, but a massive amount of it is credit card debt," Jones said.

Jones said credit card debt is on the rise, and so are bankruptcies attributable to credit card debt. "Predictors say that almost 2 million personal bankruptcies will be filed in the year 2000, and in 2001, 2.4 million will file," Jones said.

Jones said a bill to require those declaring Chapter 7 to obtain debt counseling from an accredited institution first has been proposed in Congress.

"If Congress passes this legislation, the number of bankruptcies filed will go down dramatically ... there's so many people that have filed bankruptcy that had no need to do that, they could've been helped by us or another debt counseling service."

Jones said CCCS counselors work with creditors to arrange a payment schedule for each client, which prevents the client from declaring bankruptcy.

"Most creditors will at least work with us on interest rates, either lowering or eliminating them altogether," Jones said. "We know which ones will work with us and which ones won't."

CCCS's counselors are mainly former loan officers or bank employees, although Jones said he has also hired employees with psychology backgrounds who may not have had previous financial experience. The counselors go through an intense training program after six months on the job and must be certified after 18 months on the job.

Jones said the average CCCS client is 39 years old, female, married, has an income of about $25,000 and is about $10,500 in debt to at least seven creditors.

The two CCCS offices in Springfield are located at 1675 E. Seminole and 1425-F E. Kearney.

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