Janesville54.3°

Counseling helps woman keep dream home

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
July 13, 2008
— After losing her job and being out of work for three months, Zoey Yahara was at risk of losing her house.

“I got three (months) behind in mortgage payments and had a situation where some of my creditors weren’t working with me so I needed to do something,” said the 40-something Janesville area woman.


That’s when she contacted the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Beloit/Janesville and began working with certified consumer credit counselor Cathy Gregory.


After gathering information about Yahara’s monthly earnings and expenses, Gregory had a better picture of Yahara’s finances. Then Yahara’s credit card debt and other bills were consolidated into one payment after Gregory negotiated for lower interest rates and got creditors to void late fees.


When Yahara, not her real name to protect her identity, got behind in her mortgage payments she contacted Gregory, again, for help. That’s when Gregory stepped in, on Yahara’s behalf, and spoke to her creditor to try and move things along. Although the mortgage company was willing to work with Yahara, the terms they offered were still unmanageable. So Gregory suggested Yahara seek legal advice regarding a payment of arrears that enabled her to keep her 2-year-old dream home and take care of her debt at the same time.


“The only step left was a Chapter 13 bankruptcy where they take the back part of what she owes and that’s what she continues to make payments on,” Gregory said.


Gregory is one of six certified credit counselors who work for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service that began offering mortgage foreclosure counseling in May after getting an $11,000 grant from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program.


“We were seeing the need out there and had some data that the Janesville and Rock County area could use this service,” said Rod Benstead, director.


To date, about a dozen clients have tapped into the new service that can help people take preventative steps when facing difficulty paying their mortgage.


“A certified credit counselor will provide a financial analysis, review the viability for homeownership and, if necessary, act as an intermediary between the mortgage holder and homeowner,” Benstead said.


“Our service is unbiased, confidential and an honest analysis,’’ he said.


“We have nothing to sell, just advice to give,” said Christina Jensen, certified consumer credit counselor.


“Our approach is always in their best interest. It’s not a Band-Aid solution. We’re looking for a permanent solution that can require difficult choices and changes in their (budgeting) behavior. We educate by writing down recommendations and giving them options. They are in control,” Jensen said.


And for that, Yahara is grateful, because without this service, she said she would have been deeper in debt and very depressed.


“Cathy helped me substantially, was there for me and went over and above to help. She made me feel better when I thought the world was crashing down,” she said.


With the current rate of inflation, the recession, housing crisis, and record-high fuel oil prices, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service expects to serve more clients, Benstead said.


Rock County court records substantiate that. So far this year, 471 foreclosures have been filed through the Rock County Circuit Court system. That compares with 801 foreclosures for all of 2007, 689 for 2006, 561 for 2005 and 590 for 2004. And of those filed through the first half of 2008, 75 Janesville homes have been foreclosed on completely.


FOR HELP

Call the Consumer Credit Counseling Service at (608) 752-5813 in Janesville or (608) 365-1244 in Beloit. To access its Web site, visit cccsbeloit.org.


The local nonprofit, which uses the slogan “We can Help: Financial Solutions for Life,’’ has been supported by United Way since 1996 and offers budget preparation, planning and review; confidential, personal financial assessments; a credit report review and debt repayment plans.



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