Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday shopping simplified

Overall, holiday shopping can be stressful from choosing the right gifts, sticking to a budget, avoiding the last minute-scramble and more.
The December 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, is stuffed with holiday advice that can help shoppers select the perfect gift, wrap it like a pro, save on holiday purchases and more.

“Our goal is to bring more joy to the holiday gift-buying season by helping shoppers make smart choices,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “We wanted this issue to be a one-stop shop to help them fine-tune their holiday shopping and entertaining game plans.”

Here are some tips on how to shop smarter – not harder:

• Get last-minute gift help. Last-minute shoppers have two things going for them – deep discounts from retailers hoping to clear out their inventory and new ways to make gifting easy and even automatic.
Feeling stumped about what to buy for the people left on your list? ShopSmart suggests trying a gift-finder tool for inspiration, such as the one at (
• Avoid shipping fees. More stores are giving shoppers the option of ordering items online and picking their purchase up at a local store – eliminating shipping charges. Best Buy, Finish Line and Target are among the retailers offering this perk.
• Cash in coins for gift cards. Coinstar kiosks won’t charge a fee when users opt for a gift card instead of cash at a bunch of participating retailers. New merchants include Applebee’s, GameStop, Home Depot and Southwest Airlines.

Gift card gotchas

A gift card seems like the perfect option as a last-minute gift or for someone who’s hard to shop for, but some still have huge drawbacks; here are some things to keep in mind:
• Purchase fees. Retailer gift cards usually do not charge purchase fees, but shoppers may be charged around $3 to $5 for bank-issued cards that feature logos such as MasterCard or Visa.
• Evaporating value. An inactivity fee can’t be charged unless a card hasn’t been used for 12 months. But the fees can kick in as long as they don’t exceed one per month.
• Lost card headaches. Gift card holders may be out of luck if they lose them. Some issuers will replace a lost card for a fee. Target and Walmart will offer a free replacement with the original receipt.

DIY fancy gift wrap

ShopSmart shares some budget-friendly tricks for keeping wrapping costs down from paper artist Mollie Green, author of Sweet Paper Crafts (Chronicle Books, 2013), using a few basic craft supplies:
• Load up on paper. Plain metallic and solid-colored papers are sold for a reasonable price at craft stores – about 20 cents to $1 a foot, which can save at least $1 a foot over high-end papers.
• Skip wallet-busting ribbons and bows. Shoppers can buy a giant roll of red and white baker’s twine for as little as $5. Or check out the sale bins at craft stores for yarn, rickrack, ball fringe and other inexpensive ribbon alternatives.
• Save on gift toppers. Look for inexpensive knickknacks to tie on gifts at the dollar store, such as small, shiny ornaments, toy Santas and candy canes.

Set a game plan

ShopSmart’s eight-step game plan will help holiday shoppers stick to their budgets and avoid some of the worst holiday shopping headaches. Sample steps include:
• Make a list. List each person, gift and budget. Promise to avoid impulse purchases. Consider apps to create shopping lists, such as Smart Shopping List a la Carte (Apple), so the list is always handy.
• Scope out sales before shopping. Subscribe to email newsletters from favorite retailers. Use one email address to corral all alerts. does an excellent job of putting sale notices all in one spot.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Holiday debt can turn joy into sorrow

The debt counselors at Consumer Credit Counseling Services have seen it all – stories of regular families like yours and mine that have been pushed into desperate circumstances because of snowballing debt that took over their lives.
The holidays, charged with emotion and focused on gift giving, are the time of year when families are most vulnerable to the devastation overspending can bring.
“Holiday overspending can often be the tipping point for folks who are marginally managing their household budgets,” said Paul Atkinson, president and CEO of CCCS of Buffalo. “There is no joy in the lingering pain of overspending.”
The ghost of Christmas purchases past can haunt you well into the future.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind this holiday season, courtesy of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
1. When credit card debt rolls over from one month to another, you lose your grace period and interest begins accruing immediately, even on new purchases. If you can’t afford to pay your credit cards off completely before interest is charged, you might consider not using credit cards for those purchases at all.
2. Compound interest is a great thing when you’re earning it on savings, but not when you’re paying it on debt. When you carry debt from month to month, you will end up paying interest on top of interest. That makes it very difficult to climb out of debt in the future.
3. Late and over-limit fees can negate any savings snagged on even the greatest of Black Friday deals. Late payments can result in a $25 fee and an increased interest rate.
4. Racking up holiday debt on credit cards means less credit will be available in cases of emergency. No one plans to get sick or for their car to break down, but when that happens (and it will), you want to have enough space on your card to serve as a safety net.
5. Even if you have the best intentions of paying your credit card bills in full and on time, things happen. Late or missed payments will put a negative mark on your credit report that will stay there for seven whole years. Depending on whatever else is going on and how long your bills are delinquent, your credit score could drop by as much as 100 points.
6. Now that employers, insurers and others use credit checks, credit mishaps could have serious consequences beyond your ability to borrow money. You could be turned down for a job, charged more for insurance, denied an apartment or have trouble setting up cellphone or utility services.
7. The more money you’re devoting to debt and interest payments, the less you have for savings or investments.
8. Having credit card debt can seriously impact your quality of life. It can result in aggressive and harassing collection efforts, lawsuits, judgments and wage garnishments. Money problems are leading causes of personal stress and divorce.
9. Debt can snowball to unmanageable levels and quickly lead to desperate choices that have negative consequences, such as payday loans, pawn shops, bankruptcy or debt settlement.
10. The best gift you can give your family is health and happiness. Stable finances can go a long way toward ensuring both.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

America’s Student Debt Balance Is Growing And Less Of It Is Getting Paid Back

Now it’s over $1 trillion, bigger than credit card debt.
Total outstanding student debt has now crossed the $1 trillion mark. According to data from the New York Federal Reserve Bank that tracks total consumer debt, America’s total student debt balance is $1.27 trillion, up $33 billion from the second quarter of this year. Broadly, consumer debt has risen $127 billion in this third quarter to $11.28 trillion trillion.
So, while increasing student debt is less than ten percent of the total debt held by individuals, it’s growing as a share of all consumer debt and is now the second largest type of consumer debt, greater than home equity lines, auto debt, or credit card debt. The lion’s share of consumer debt is, as always, mortgages, with $7.9 billion outstanding.

The serious delinquency rate for student debt, which the Fed defines as 90 or more days without payment, is peaking up too, faster than overall consumer debt. The Fed reported that the delinquency rate is now 11.8%, up from 10.9% last quarter. In comparison, the delinquency rate for credit cards fell to 9.4% from 10%. The 90 day delinquency rate for all consumer debt is 5.3%, down from 5.7% last quarter—the only other category of consumer debt to see its seriously delinquent rate go up was home equity lines of credit.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York / Via
And the real delinquency rate for student debt might be twice as high: an earlier New York Fed report said that the delinquency rates for student loans it reports “likely understate the actual delinquency rate” because about half of seriously delinquent student loans don’t have to be repaid immediately because the borrowers are in a grace period, have deferred repayment, or have gotten forbearance from their lender.
Last year, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke said “I don’t think student loans are a financial stability issue to the same extent that, say, mortgage debt was in the last crisis because most of it is held not by financial institutions but by the federal government.”

While the risks to the national economy may not be large, the growing delinquency rate has been showing up on the balance sheet of some banks and student lenders, about 85% of student debt is government-backed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top 10 Financial Mistakes That Women Make

We all make mistakes. I’ve made more than my share.
Here are the top 10 financial mistakes professional women make:
1) Letting your husband or partner manage the money without your involvement. Very 1968… and not in the cool, mod way. Few of us think we’ll get divorced or that tragedy will strike, but look around. It does. You don’t want to be learning about your financial situation while you’re in shock.
2) Signing your joint income tax return without reading it. This is the mistake that divorce specialists often cite. If tax returns are handed to you at the last minute with a “Don’t worry. Just sign it, honey,” don’t. You’re on the hook.
3) Using your husband’s financial advisor, even if you don’t really like him / know him / can’t stand him. (And he is usually a “him.”) Here’s a test: at your next joint meeting, how much does the advisor engage you / speak to you / look at you? If “he” spends most of his time talking to “him,” find your own.
4) Not asking for jargon to be explained. Don’t let politeness or not wanting to look dumb get in the way of understanding your finances. Research shows that both men and women are shy of asking for explanations of financial terms; even so, men still invest while women more typically won’t. (I agree: it’s hard to know which is the worse outcome. So please just ask the questions. It’s your right.)
5) Not taking into account your greater longevity in your investing plan. If you’re married, you’re likely to live 6 – 8 years longer than he does. Does your financial plan take this into account, and your years without him? Even if both of you are “moderate risk” kind of investors, that means different things if you’re living longer.
6) Not buying long-term care insurance. Here’s a shocker: 70% of 65-year-olds will need some form of long-term care. And, again, we’re around for 6 – 8 years longer than he is.
7) Not taking enough risk. We women tend to be more risk averse in our investing. While this may sound counter-intuitive, our longer lives – and the fact that we retire with 2/3s the retirement savings of men – can call for somewhat greater (but still prudent) risk taking, to earn a higher return. This is something that many women have to push themselves to do.
8) Making the “keep working / stay at home” decision based on today’s salary. How often do you hear this: “If I leave the workforce, I’ll be giving up $x in salary, which barely covers the babysitter’s cost”? Rather than analyzing this based on a static point-in-time, it is more accurately thought of as a net present value calculation. That’s because once we women step out of the workforce, we average 84% of our prior compensation if we return after one year and just 50% (!) after three years. This earnings stream should be compared to the (admittedly tough-to-forecast) salary raises one is likely to receive if one stays in the workforce. This very personal decision may not be one based solely on the dollars; but we should at least make sure we are looking at the right numbers.[1]
9) Don’t necessarily judge a product by your old impression of it. People often tell me they simply want to ensure a steady income during retirement. When I say ‘How about an annuity?”, they most often say, “Oooh, no, not an annuity!!” The reputation of the product – driven in part by its complexity – turns them off. But it can be worth spending the time to understand and relook at a product, if it can accomplish an important goal.
10) Not seeing your money as a means to express your values. Many of us express our values through the products we buy, the non-profits we support, the way we spend our time, and the companies we work for. But few of us view our investments as just such a tool. And, indeed, back in the day, values-based investing had a fringe-tree-hugging reputation. The industry has matured, and today can represent a way for individuals to have their money work at more than just earning a financial return for them.
These are the ten that I have seen. What did I miss?
(1) In The Investing Mistake Almost All of Us Make, I wrote that almost everyone fails to recognize that, for many of us, our most significant asset is the net present value of our future earnings. Thus, many of us do not take steps to protect it or hedge it. Instead we ignore it.
Sallie Krawcheck is the Business Leader of the global professional woman’s network, 85 Broads. The network is 30,000+ women strong, with members from across industries and around the world.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Niagara To Hold Ribbon Cutting;
Launches Economic Empowerment Coalition in Niagara County

Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition Will Have Sites in Lockport and Niagara Falls

October 29, 2013, 10:00 am
1522 Main Street, Niagara Falls

 Economic prosperity in Niagara Falls has eluded many residents in the past several years. While there are many reasons for this, it is not so much a question of how this happened…the better question is, what do we do now?

While there is no magic cure, Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) has established the Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition (NCFLC) to provide opportunities for financial education and awareness, and set up an office at 1522 Main Street, in the Family and Children’s Services’ Niagara Family Center.

On Tuesday, October 29th at 10:00 am, CCCS will cut the ribbon for their new office, and invites the community to join their economic empowerment initiative.

CCCS began implementing this project in September 2013, with offices in Niagara Falls staffed as of October 15th. A Lockport Office will be opened in Winter 2014. To date, CCCS has received $70,500 in funding toward this initiative (along with a pledge of an unspecified amount of funding from the United Way of Greater Niagara), ensuring successful implementation. In the past year, the East Hill Foundation awarded $23,000, the John R. Oishei Foundation awarded $45,000 and First Niagara provided $2,500.

“We are proud to launch this much needed service in Niagara County,” said Paul C. Atkinson, CEO and President of CCCS. “Our goal is to provide the community with financial education that will help them attain security and success.”
The  NCFLC approach identifies financial coaching for low-income populations as a core feature because its effectiveness helps families achieve their long term financial goals. CCCS has modeled this project on the Center for Working Families approach.  The One Stop Shop concept already in place at Family & Children’s Services’ Niagara Family Center made this location a perfect fit. 

Our project is the first time that a model similar to the CASH Coalition in Buffalo is being used to benefit Niagara County residents.  It addresses the community need for economic empowerment and serves a community that CCCS has served for over 45 years—low-income individuals and families. We plan to serve 750-1,000 residents annually. 
The Niagara Falls community is strongly embracing this new project.

“We are extremely excited to be a part of the launching of this program for Niagara County residents. Financial Literacy is a huge area of concern and funding a program to address this need is critical to the future stability of our community.”  Said Carol G. Houwaart-Diez, President, United Way of Greater Niagara

The Consumer Credit Counseling Service office is located in the Niagara Family Center—a one stop of human service providers.

“We are happy to have Consumer Credit Counseling as a partner in the Niagara Family Center to provide services to individuals and families with financial needs and to complement the other services available in our building “ said Ken Sass, President and CEO of Family & Children’s Service of Niagara.

As is well documented, there is great need for economic empowerment in Niagara County. Low income levels and poverty are pervasive. The poverty rates in Niagara Falls from 2005-2007 indicated that an overall 22% of residents were living in poverty. Within this figure, 33% of related children under age 18 were below poverty level and 34% of female led households had incomes below poverty level. According to the Niagara Falls Reporter, “those who actually deal with the problems in the City of Niagara Falls will tell you that the biggest problem in this city is the crushing poverty under which many of our neighbors subsist, a poverty so widespread that generations of the same families are tied to welfare, public housing, drugs, street crime and other social ills.” In Niagara County’s other major city, Lockport, nearly 12,800 documented people  are doing poorly or struggling financially. This is almost 1 out of every 3 in Lockport.

 The philosophy behind the NCFLC is to break the cycle of poverty via free educational opportunities and counseling.

“First Niagara is committed to collaborating with our community partners to make a difference in Western New York,” said Buford Sears, First Niagara Buffalo Market Executive.  “Our contribution to Consumer Credit Counseling Service will help provide the resources and opportunities for all citizens to achieve financial independence and success.”

Here is the array of services that CCCS and the NCFLC now offer: 

1.            Financial Coaching (One on One): Participants will meet with certified financial counselors for sessions on a quarterly basis.

2.            Financial Literacy: Classes-Dollars & Sense; Credit Counts and Money in Motion

3.            Access to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

Collaboration and synergistic partnerships play a key a role in the project. CCCS is counting on community engagement with partners in building the Coalition, and has received an overwhelmingly positive response from many local agencies. CCCS will use partners’ offices to deliver financial education and counseling services as needed--or requested. Participants in our financial counseling program will be provided with referrals to other agencies with whom we collaborate.

To date, CCCS has forged partnerships with the following Niagara County providers:

•             United Way of Greater Niagara

•             Family & Children’s Service of Niagara

•             The American Red Cross

•             Literacy Volunteers

•             NiaCap (Niagara Community Action Program)

•             Child & Family Services Ways to Work Program

                    YWCA of Niagara

                    Niagara Falls Housing Authority

                    City of Niagara Falls Department of Community Development

                    Worksource One

                    Niagara University

                    Soul for Heart, Love and Soul

                    Highland Community Revitalization Services

For more information on the Coalition and CCCS —or to get involved—contact Tara Vogel at 716-712-2062 or

Monday, October 14, 2013

Please join us for a Ribbon Cutting for the Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition

October 29th, 10 am
1522 Main Street
Niagara Falls
Office of Family & Children's Services

We are working to expand financial literacy....and help the folks of Niagara Tara at 712-2062 for more information

CCCS is launching the Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition

to focus on the financial stability of low-income families—increasing

access to tax credits, refunds, and needed income supports;

improving financial literacy, and providing

O 29th at 10am


Ribbon Cutting

Friday, September 20, 2013

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo Joins New Initiative Empowering Western New York Consumers to Manage Personal Finances, Secure Financial Future
In an effort to ensure that Buffalo area consumers achieve financial stability and reclaim their financial future, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo (CCCS Buffalo) is participating in the Sharpen Your Financial Focus™ program. This nationwide initiative, launched by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) in partnership with major financial service companies, was developed to allow consumers to take the first step toward achieving their financial goals. CCCS Buffalo, a member of the NFCC, is providing local residents with financial reviews, financial self-assessment tools, and educational workshops as a part of the initiative.
“CCCS Buffalo is pleased to be a part of this important program. With support from national financial service companies including Bank of America, Chase, GE Capital Retail Finance, and Wells Fargo, we are able to provide consumers with the financial skills necessary for sound financial management and long-term stability,” remarked Paul C. Atkinson, President & CEO of CCCS Buffalo.
Area residents are encouraged to participate in the Sharpen Your Financial Focus program through the following actions:
• Take MyMoneyCheckUp® at MyMoneyCheckUp is an online financial self-assessment tool designed to increase financial awareness, and provide consumers with concrete steps to improve their financial well-being.
• Contact CCCS Buffalo by calling 712-2060 to schedule an appointment with an NFCC Certified Financial Professional for a financial review, and
• Participate in a CCCS Buffalo financial workshop. Designed as a “deep dive”, the education class will focus on the major area(s) of interest to the consumer. Visit our website at for a listing of workshop dates and times.
About CCCS Buffalo: CCCS of Buffalo is a non-profit, full-service credit counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling and credit repayment assistance to consumers since 1965.  CCCS of Buffalo helps consumers trim expenses, develop a spending plan and repay debts.  Counseling is available at our Main Office in West Seneca, in one of our Satellite Offices, by telephone and via Internet.
About the National Foundation for Credit Counseling
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling®(NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving network of national nonprofit community-based credit counseling agencies. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help millions of consumers each year through more than 600 community-based offices nationwide

Monday, September 16, 2013

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Niagara Invites Community To Attend Stakeholders Meeting; Will Soon Unveil Their Economic Empowerment Coalition in Niagara County

 Who:                     Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS)

What:                   Invites the Niagara Falls community to attend a Stakeholders Meeting to discuss a new economic empowerment initiative in Niagara Falls

When:                  Wednesday, September 18th, 9:00 am—12 Noon

Where:                 Family & Children’s Services Building, 1522 Main Street, Niagara Falls, 14305

Why:                     As everyone can agree, persistent poverty across Niagara County is a major concern.  While there is no magic cure, CCCS Buffalo wants to create lasting economic change, based on successful programming in Erie County, and will launch the Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition in November 2013. The Niagara County Financial Literacy Coalition will focus on the financial stability of low-income families--increasing access to tax credits, refunds, and needed income supports; improving financial literacy, and providing opportunities for homeownership, education, or other asset building.
Niagara Falls Community members are encouraged to attend this session. Please contact Tara at 712-2062 or  to reserve your space.
Collaboration and synergistic partnerships play a key a role in this project. We plan to fully engage our partners in building the Coalition, and have received an overwhelmingly positive response from all of them. To date, we have forged partnerships with the following Niagara County providers:

•             United Way of Greater Niagara

•             Family & Children’s Service of Niagara

•             The Red Cross

•             Literacy Volunteers

•             NCAP (Niagara Community Action Program)

About CCCS Buffalo: CCCS of Buffalo is a non-profit, full-service credit counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling and credit repayment assistance to consumers since 1965.  CCCS of Buffalo helps consumers trim expenses, develop a spending plan and repay debts.  Counseling is available at our Main Office in West Seneca, in one of our Satellite Offices, by telephone and via Internet.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Average American expects to be debt free by age 53

But 1 in 10 expects to die in debt


When will you be debt free?
Independence from debt will come at age 53, say Americans in a new poll commissioned by But at each age group, expectations for a clean slate remain in the future, just out of reach.
"We see lots of people with fairly high incomes -- they should be comfortable," said Sandy Shore, a consumer finance expert with the credit counselor Novadebt. "But their spending is just somewhat more (than income), and they're falling further behind."
Survey: Debt free by 53
The poll asked people to predict when they will win independence from all their debts, including mortgages and credit card debt. Among the key findings:
  • When asked, "When do you expect to be debt free?," 9 percent of Americans answered "never."
  • The age of predicted debt freedom was 53 on average.
People 18-24 are the most optimistic, predicting debt freedom at about age 33; but the prediction keeps advancing, as 25-34 year olds predict age 38; 35-49 year olds predict age 56; 50-64 year olds predict age 62; and at age 65-plus, debt freedom is expected at age 77.
"We, especially Americans, tend to be an optimistic crowd," said Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University. "We generally tend to overestimate how quickly we'll lose weight or get out of debt."
Not-so-great expectations
The telephone survey of 1,007 adults fielded by GfK Roper May 31 through June 2, 2013, includes a mix of responses from singles and couples, as well as people with mortgage debt and those without.
The results show traces of the housing boom and bust, as people heading into their sunset years expect to drag a load of payments along with them. Among people age 65 and up, nearly 23 percent expect their debts to outlive them.
That prediction jibes with research by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which found that large mortgage debts are following seniors into old age. EBRI's February 2013 study found that more than half of people now age 55 to 64 still face substantial debts.
"The group from 55 to 64 have been taking on more debt," said Craig Copeland, senior research associate at EBRI and author of the study "Debt of the Elderly and Near Elderly, 1992-2010." "If people in that group were in better (financial) condition, it would help them be better prepared -- because when they hit 65, they'll probably be on a fixed income."
How long do you think it will take you to pay off ALL of your credit card debt?
Getting poll results. Please wait...

Retirees in debt
How do expectations about future debt measure up to the reality? Many people facing retirement soon have sizeable debt burdens, and few traditional working years to pay it down, according to EBRI's study.

About 63 percent of families headed by someone over age 55 are still shouldering debt payments, EBRI found. Their average burden was $75,082 in 2010 -- up about $1,400 since 2007. Housing is the main culprit, as the house price bubble and home equity borrowing binge of past years saddled people with outsize costs that take many years to pay off.
Not surprisingly, the size of a debt load weighs down hopes of paying it off. Of people with $50,000 to $100,000 of debt, 48 percent expected to still be making payments after age 60, the survey found. By comparison, just 39 percent of people with $10,000 to $50,000 in liabilities expect payments to last that long.
People with the least debt were not the most optimistic, however; 41 percent of people with less than $1,000 in debt expect to be making payments after age 60. The gaps in people's expectations may reflect differences in income and education as well as sheer debt levels. People with more than $250,000 in debt were more optimistic about paying it off by 60 than those with less than $1,000.
The difficulty of getting out of debt is not just a matter of how deep the hole is, Yarrow of Golden Gate University noted. "It's kind of like the Olympics -- you have to factor in the difficulty of the project in order to give it a rating," she said. Income and expenses -- which in turn are heavily influenced by family size and region of the country -- contribute to debt gaps between households.
The problem with a lot of things people work toward is they have to be not doing something -- not eating to lose weight or not spending money. In the abstract, not doing something seems easy -- but it's not.
-- Kit Yarrow
Golden Gate University
Making a plan, then following it are keys to eliminating debt, but it is a heavy lift for many. A financial education survey released in May found that 40 percent of adults lacked any savings, even a rainy-day fund for emergencies.
"The problem with a lot of things people work toward is they have to be not doing something -- not eating to lose weight or not spending money (to reduce debt)," Yarrow said. "In the abstract, not doing something seems easy -- but it's not."
Poll methodology
The survey of 1,007 U.S. residents 18 and up was conducted May 31 through June 2, 2013, via random dialing of a blend of landline and cellphone numbers. The results were weighted by age, sex, education, race and geographic region.  The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample, with a confidence interval of 95 percent.
The results are based on responses to these questions:
  • Thinking now about personal debt -- that is the amount of debt you have when you think about your credit card bills, car loans, student loans or any other types of loans, mortgages, etc., -- about how much personal debt would you say you have today?
  • By what age do you expect to be debt-free? If you're not sure, your best guess will do.

Read more:
Compare credit cards here -

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Managing Back to School Shopping

School time again. 
According to a leading national accounting firm, parents expect to pay an average of $430 on items for children in K through 12 and $900 on items for college.
Back to school shopping is unavoidable, but it can be manageable.
Here are a few money saving tips to help you save.
  1. Take an inventory of what your children already have.  Do not assume they have outgrown all their stuff.  Check your home’s collection of backpacks for pencils and crayons and other supplies.
  2. Set a budget.  Develop a list of what is needed….not what is wanted.  Have your children develop a budget.  Tell your children they can keep any cash that that save in spending less than what they budgeted.
  3. Take advantage any “tax saving” days that are offered.
  4. Make sure to use coupons.  Check for store coupons and make sure to go online for savings.
  5. Go digital where you can.  Many books are available digitally and at a lower cost than print editions.
  6. Use the Social Networks.  Many offer exclusive deals.
  7. Use children’s consignment sales.
  8. Make sure to take advantage of cash back sales.
  9. Organize a neighborhood children’s clothing swap and get the children involved.  Use your church and office as well for the swap sites.
  10. Enjoy the time organizing and shopping time together……it can be fun and children can learn, too.
To get help, or for more information, call Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo at 712-2060.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Two-thirds of Engaged Couples Express Negative Attitudes Toward Discussing Money
Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo Advises Couples to
Talk Before They Walk

The recent poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website revealed that 68 percent of respondents held negative attitudes toward discussing money with their fiancé, with five percent indicating the discussion would cause them to call off the wedding.
“It is telling that two people who intend to spend the rest of their lives together would see a conversation about money as so disconcerting,” said Paul C. Atkinson, President & CEO of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo.  “The ability to have open and honest discussions is key to a successful marriage.  With many brides and grooms walking down the aisle in June, regardless of how difficult it may be, the conversation about personal finances is one that should be neither ignored nor postponed.  As a matter of fact, to increase the odds of making ‘happily ever-after’ a reality, the discussion should take place before the ‘I do,’ not after.”
We recommend the following Do’s and Don’ts for that much-needed financial conversation:
           Don’t spring the conversation on the other party.  Instead, set a time to talk that is convenient for each.
           Do make it a casual conversation about a serious subject, respecting the fact that each person has valid opinions and concerns.
           Do be honest about the current financial situation.  If the courtship phase of the relationship has painted a financially unrealistic picture, it’s time to be honest about what the long-term lifestyle will look like.
           Do probe to understand long-held financial attitudes, often present since childhood and likely ingrained by observing how parents addressed money issues.
           Do acknowledge that one may be a saver and one a spender, understanding that there are benefits to both approaches and agreeing to learn from each other’s tendencies. 
           Don’t hide income or debt.  This is known as financial infidelity.  Instead, in the spirit of openness, bring financial documents, including a recent credit report, pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, existing debt obligations and investments to the table.
           Don’t point the finger of blame.  That’s a real conversation stopper.
           Do make a plan in advance to deal with any skeletons that come out of the financial closet.  Such surprises can potentially compromise access to future credit.  Now is the time to deal with surprises.
           Do construct a budget that includes savings.  When just getting started, money is often tight, making it tempting to delay beginning to save.  However, when every cent counts, it is even more important to have a financial safety net in the form of savings.
           Do decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills.  It is likely that one spouse will be a good fit for this task, while the other finds it burdensome.
           Do allow each person to have independence by setting aside money to be spent at his or her discretion.
           Do decide upon short-term and long-term goals.  It’s appropriate to have individual goals, but having family goals is important, too.
           Do talk about loaning money to family members and friends.  Decide if it’s something each is comfortable with, or should be avoided.
           Do talk about caring for aging parents, and how to appropriately plan for their financial needs, if necessary.
“The fact of the matter is that people bring financial baggage into a relationship, but often don’t deal with it until problems arise.  Baggage can come in the form of a poor credit rating, significant debt, or no experience managing money.  Regardless of the issue, the time to address money differences is up front, before the financial bottom falls out.  Court records show that financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce.  Taking action now could prevent a disaster later,” continued Atkinson.

For professional assistance bringing two incomes, two lifestyles and two financial attitudes together, or for help in working through financial problems that have never been addressed, consider an appointment with a certified consumer credit counselor at our office.  Call us at 712-2060 to make an appointment.

The actual poll question and answer choices are below:

If I were getting married, I think that discussing money with my fiancé would...

A.        Be a necessary, but awkward, conversation = 45%

B.         Likely to lead to a fight, so I would avoid this topic = 7%   

C.         Reveal financial issues I wasn’t aware of = 11% 

D.        Cause us to call off the wedding = 5%   

E.        Be a productive and easy conversation to have = 32%   

Note: The NFCC’s May Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC Web site ( from May 1 - 31, 2013 and was answered by 802 individuals.

 About our Partner--the NFCC

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help millions of consumers through more than 700 community-based offices nationwide. For free and affordable confidential advice through a reputable NFCC Member, call (800) 388-2227, (en Español (800) 682-9832) or visit  Visit us on Facebook:, on Twitter:, on YouTube: and our blog:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

6 Ways to Stop Impulse Spending

stark target store aisle
 (Photo credit: Cubosh)
Unless you track every penny you spend, you’d be surprised how much of your daily spending goes to waste. Whether it’s walking past a store and insisting on buying a new pair of sneakers or stumbling across a sweet deal on a trip to Ireland on one of those daily deal sites – you know you’ve done it before – and here’s how to stop:
1. Know the layout of the store
We tend to overspend at the grocery store. Have you noticed that the staple items (milk, bread, eggs) are usually located towards the back of the store? This way, you have to walk through the entire store just to get to what you need – and while you’re at it, you pass tons of items along the way, which makes it more likely for you to throw some items you don’t need into your cart. This is the heart of impulse spending!
Also – items on the shelves that are eye-level tend to be a bit more expensive, since the stores know that it’s so much easier to grab an item mid-level on the shelf, rather than having to reach for items at the top and bottom of the shelf.
2. Don’t get distracted in the grocery store
The less time you spend in the grocery store, the less chance you’ll start buying items you don’t need. First, don’t shop with a shopping cart, because you might feel tempted to fill up the cart – use a basket instead.
Also – listen to your own music to the store. You may not realize this, but stores will play different types of songs with different beats, depending on the how busy the store is at a given time, just to keep you in the store longer.
3. Stay away from daily deal sites
Have you perused the deals on sites like Groupon, Gilt and LivingSocial? The offers can be pretty tempting. From clothing, restaurants to trips to Europe to spa treatments, you can find a deal for just about everything on these social couponing sites.
Unless in you’re in the market for something specific – maybe a new jacket or a deal for a restaurant in your area – stay off these sites. Think about it: if you stumble upon a sweet deal on a gym membership, you might feel tempted to take advantage of the deal. What if you never went to the site – would joining a gym even be on your mind?
4. Unsubscribe
Any time you subscribe to a store’s email list, they’re going to flood your inbox with sales and special events to try and lure you into the store. So if you get an email that the store is offering 25% off dress shoes, but you already have three pairs, that email might prompt you to stop by the store to try and purchase yet another pair of shoes that you don’t need.
Unsubscribe from emails that will tempt you to spend money – it’s that simple. If a store is having a sale, you don’t want to know!
5. Say NO to department store credit cards
Another tool that causes us to spend money is having a wallet filled with department store credit cards. With these cards, the retailer will give you a 10-15% discount when you buy something in the store using the card.
But now when you walk into the store, every item you want to buy will seem even more attractive and tempting thanks to this discount.
6. Stick to cash
You’ve heard this many times, but when you think about it, it makes total sense. Paying for items via credit card doesn’t allow us to psychologically realize exactly how much money we’re spending. There are no boundaries with credit cards (besides the actual credit limit, but many times we don’t remember what our credit limit is). The cashier swipes the card and gives it right back to you so you can keep spending. With cash, you’re actually removing something tangible from your wallet.
Shelling out five twenty dollar bills for a $100 pair of jeans just might make you reconsider that purchase.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Discounts For Student Loan Counseling

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo To Hold Discount on
Student Loan Counseling Sessions June 24th-29th

Will Lower Prices to Help People With Student Loan Debt; Only Local Program Available

Student loans are a growing financial concern for many individuals with the negative ripple effect of slowing economic growth throughout the country.

Student-loan defaults surged in the first three months of 2013, while efforts to collect bad loans are faltering, according to credit analysts and government audits. It is the latest twist in a college debt crisis that is hanging over recent graduates and dragging on the broader economy.

In June of 2012, in response to the growing need for education and assistance with student loans, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc. (CCCS Buffalo) kicked off its Student Loan Counseling Program, a service designed to assist individuals with student loans. To date, 142 people have received help from this program. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

CCCS Buffalo knows that there are many people suffering with student loan debt, and invites the community to partake in its’ services. From June 24th through June 29th, the Student Loan Counseling Program will offer counseling sessions at a greatly reduced cost--a 50% discount. The price for a normal student loan counseling session is $50 but will be offered at a rate of $25. This will enable more people to find the help that they need.

Credit-rating firm Equifax said $3.5 billion in government and private student loans went bad in the first three months of 2013, the most since the company began keeping track. The U.S. Department of Education said 6.8 million federal student loan borrowers are now in default, representing $85 billion in debt.

In addition to loan borrowers who are in default, there are currently nearly 7 million consumers who are significantly behind on their student loan payments.

Due to the complexity of the student loan market and options available during repayment, many individuals with student loans feel overwhelmed and have no place to turn for help. CCCS Buffalo designed its program—the only in our area—to aid debt-saddled borrowers.

Consumers with student loan debt believe they have few, if any options to tackle their student loan debts.

In our Student Loan Counseling Program, Certified Financial Counselors:

           Evaluate student loan debt (current or in default)

           Explore options for student loans including deferments, forbearances, alternative repayment plans, and consolidation loans

           Assist in applying for the appropriate option

           Assist in communicating with the lender, as needed

           Review credit score, credit report and living expenses

With average student loan debt upon graduation currently standing at $25,000, many people will find relief through student loan counseling programs. It is time for the government to do their part, and fund student loan counseling.

It is time for help to come at the national level. CCCS Buffalo is now joining with the National Foundation of Credit Counseling (NFCC) to call on the Federal government for additional resources to achieve the outreach necessary to help student loan borrowers. The NFCC and CCCS Buffalo recommend that the United States Department of Education fund student loan counseling programs. Outreach and education targeted at student loan borrowers could drastically change the landscape of student debt, allowing borrowers to seek the assistance that can change their financial lives and bring their finances in focus.

Arguing that the federal government allocates funding for homeownership, foreclosure and bankruptcy counseling, the NFCC and CCCS Buffalo advocate that the government respond accordingly to the student loan crisis by funding student loan counseling programs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Do you need help with your student loans? Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo is planning a "sale" on our Student Loan Counseling Program. Call us at 712-2060 for more information.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day Is Almost Here: Here's What Moms Say They Want

Mother's Day Gifts
Mother's Day is on May 12. Don't screw it up.

Last week, Groupon conducted a survey of moms for Mother's Day. Among other findings, the survey reports that, "Upon receiving a bad gift, the vast majority of moms (84 percent) say they reluctantly accept it with quiet disappointment."

That's right: disappointment. Remember how awful it felt when your mom would say, "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed in you"? Do you really want to experience that again?

We didn't think so. Fortunately, both Groupon and coupon site RetailMeNot asked moms what they really want for Mother's Day, so if you're completely out of ideas specific to your own mother, you can at least get some sense of what would please the average American mom.

According to Groupon, the most popular gifts among moms are "something they can do with family," a relaxation treatment or spa treatment, or "something they normally wouldn't get for themselves."

RetailMeNot was a bit more specific. It found that 18 percent of moms most want to receive flowers, and another 18 percent would prefer to get a spa treatment. Gift certificates and jewelry were also popular choices.

Unfortunately, sons and daughters don't always come through with the preferred gifts. While many gift-givers say they will indeed be getting flowers for mom, only 7 percent told RetailMeNot that they'll be giving jewelry. And while both surveys found spa days to be wildly popular among mothers, just 2 percent of respondents told RetailMeNot that they'd be getting their mothers a spa package.
That's a lot of "quiet disappointment."

As always, our best gift-giving advice is just to put some thought into it. Moms told Groupon that getting a thoughtless gift is even worse than getting no gift at all, so the last thing you want to do is just grab something at the last minute with no regard for what she actually wants.

If all else fails, though, get her some flowers.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.