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Is there a one-stop shop for credit help?

Erica Sandberg

December 31, 2013

QDear Erica,

I regularly have financial related questions and don't know who to go to for different issues. I want to avoid people who might give me an answer that benefits them, rather than the answer that's really best for me. I need help with bank accounts, shopping for better credit card rates, doing balance transfers from higher interest cards and financing a vehicle. I'm 66, work for the government, can be vested to retire in 8 years, or can work longer if I need too. But I have debt, including mortgages. I have a decent income but need a master plan for the future. What direction can you give me? I live in the state of Alabama. — Mike

AHi Mike,

I wish there was one place, company or individual we could turn to for all of our financial needs. There isn't really, though. It's kind of like going to a doctor when you're sick. A general practitioner can give you a fairly good rundown on many illnesses, but will quickly refer you to a specialist when necessary.

So to get the guidance you seek, you may have to go to a few different sources. I totally agree with you about wanting objective advice. It's important to deal only with those who have your best interest in mind — not their bottom line.Ask Erica

Here are my top picks for what you're looking for.

Credit card help: Because you've come to me by way of this website, you know CreditCardGuide.com publishes articles and columns that can educate you on everything concerning plastic. That includes the steps involved in getting the right credit card, how to keep it in good standing and what to do if things go awry. I'm proud to say that we abide by a powerful and ethical principle: Get and give accurate information, always.

Debt help: If you're having problems with credit and need more personalized assistance with budgeting and debt relief, a nonprofit credit counseling organization associated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) is best. Most of their services are free (the rest are low cost). They receive funding from a variety of sources, including major credit card issuers. However, they have to pass strict accreditation standards, one of which is a commitment to providing objective advice — even if it's counterproductive to the companies that keep them in business.

Mortgage help: Many credit counseling organizations are Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-certified to conduct housing education, so if you're there, ask about it. Their housing counselors can give recommendations on everything from refinancing to reverse mortgages.

Banking and car financing help: Don't be afraid to turn to the financial institution where you have your checking, savings and other accounts. Sure they have a vested interest in their own institution, but they also want to make you a longstanding, loyal customer. To do that, they have to give you quality information.

Financial planning help: Who can step in to prepare your finances for the future? Contact the Financial Planning Association, and get in touch with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). Some are connected with specific insurance or investment firms, so to get the most unbiased direction, focus on a CFP who charges an hourly fee rather than working on commission. That person will be able to set you up with a comprehensive plan that covers the seven essential areas:

  1. Financial statement preparation and analysis
  2. Insurance planning and risk management
  3. Employee benefits
  4. Investments
  5. Income taxes
  6. Retirement
  7. Estate planning

Now, even if you're going to pay someone to create a strategy, I strongly recommend that you understand at least the basics of these topics. So do your research before you sit down with an expert.

Good luck and have fun! Personal finances should not be drudgery. It's your money, and you ought to enjoy the process of protecting and growing it.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.