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Credit counseling agency celebrates 50 years of service

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo Inc.

While many people fret about personal finances, some studies have shown that 60% do not have household budgets.

Poor planning can cause sky-high debt, low credit ratings and barriers when it comes time to a buy a home or car.

A nonprofit group that has helped more than 135,000 people conquer personal finance problems is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo Inc. was honored at an anniversary luncheon Thursday. The event featured speeches by an international expert in credit counseling and a local resident who said the advice she received from the agency years ago was invaluable.

"After losing my job, I came across Consumer Credit Counseling," Samika Sullivan told WBFO. "It was probably one of the best things that ever happened."

Sullivan, a social worker, said experts worked with her to confront sobering financial realities.

"They helped me to kind of slay the dragon that was in the room. I had to actually open up those bills that were piled on the table and figure out what was what."

Counselors also helped Sullivan to spot serious errors in her credit reports that resulted in her being denied credit.

"Maybe I didn't understand it well enough to see that there were errors," she said.

Her advice to people who are struggling financially but are reluctant to seek help? Sullivan says people should "cross the threshold of fear" and reach out to experts.  People who meet with credit counselors should not feel stigmatized, said Sullivan, who is also a community activist and motivational speaker.

Delivering the keynote address at Thursday's luncheon was Jay Seaton, a credit counseling expert from the Cleveland area. He cited studies that have shown many people have anxiety about personal finances but fail to take corrective action.

"70% percent of the people surveyed felt as though they were spending a lot of time worrying about money, but 60% did not have a budget," he said.

Seaton offered two tips for improving household finances. He encouraged people to pay down credit cards that carry high interest rates. He also stressed the importance of creating an emergency fund.

"So that if the car goes bad and you need to repair it, and it's $700, you've got the $700 and won't have to go into debt."

Seaton conceded that some individuals may have to "start small" as they build the emergency fund. But he said over time, the fund will grow.

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