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No Holiday For Debt Stress

Chris Potter
flickr Creative Commons/File

December is normally a slow month for debt counselors at the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service(CCCS) offices in Wichita and Salina. But that’s not the case this year.

"We've stayed steady busy, which is a little worrisome," says executive director Jeff Witherspoon. "January is usually our busy month because that’s when holiday shopping bills start arriving."

The agency offers one-on-one counseling to help people manage debt obligations. Witherspoon says financial stress can escalate during the holidays.

"The economy is better, but we are definitely still seeing people struggle," he says. "Having done this for 22 years, there are new problems that I’m seeing that I didn’t use to see. Medical debt is a huge problem and student loan debt unfortunately is becoming a big issue."

CCCS serves about 100 people a week. Witherspoon says a lot of time, people don't know the agency exists. Or, people consider financial problems to be personal and private and they don't want to talk about them.

But he says getting help early can prevent bankruptcy.

"Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help," Withserspoon says. "There are people like myself who are willing to give you advice and options with no hooks. We just want to help you."

When it comes to holiday shopping, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service says if you stick to a shopping list and pay with cash, you’re more likely to avoid holiday overspending.

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW
Jeff Witherspoon is the executive director for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Witherspoon says planning ahead can also prevent deep debt and financial stress.

"The day after Christmas, write down everybody that you want to buy for next year, and give them a dollar amount, divide it by 12, and then put that way every month," he says. "Then next year, you don’t have to over-borrow or overspend because you already have the money sitting in an account."

Another tip: Consider gifts that have a personal touch, such as homemade gifts like cookies, candies or other prepared foods.

The CCCS has been offering free financial counseling services since in 1985. It also offers low-cost educational programs geared toward the prevention of financial difficulties and is a HUD-certified housing counseling agency.

Funding for services come from a combination of public and private grants, donations, client fees, and creditor contributions.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.