Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Surviving the Credit Crunch and Mortgage Mess

The people have spoken! Whether you're excited or dismayed by the election results, there's little question that the next administration and Congress, as well as our state leaders, will have a plateful to handle. Whatever changes lie ahead, they won't happen overnight. People in the know say that the country's current financial woes will be painful and longlasting.

In a previous post, I wrote about ways you can get full value for the tax dollars you invest in library services. You can read our books, watch our movies, listen to our music, use our computers, attend our programs, and save money you might otherwise spend out-of-pocket for these activities. If this approach helps your family budget, then we're doing our job.

But what about the bigger issues of credit card debt and home forclosures? Well, I'd be misleading you if I said that the library could solve those problems, but one of our other "products" is information. Information is power, so let's see if we can give you a little power to solve these problems yourself.

First, credit cards. The Federal Reserve has a helpful website on credit cards: how to choose one, how to watch your credit report, and what you need to know about credit card law. If debt collectors are contacting you, remember that there are very specific laws governing when and how they can approach you. Visit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a non-profit site that explains your rights under federal law and offers tips for handling persistant collectors. Yes, you do have financial responsibilities, but you also have rights. Check out this site to find out what they are.

On to mortgages. If you're facing foreclosure or even struggling to make the monthly mortgage payment, a HUD-approved housing agency can help. Free services include credit counseling, budgeting, and assistance negotiating with lenders to rewrite mortgage terms and/or avoid foreclosure. It's best to make this contact earlier than later because you have more options if you take early action.

If your personal situation becomes such that you are considering bankruptcy, the Department of Justice has a site that explains the process and the types of bankruptcy protection available. It pays to educate yourself before making this important decision. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Regardless of your personal financial condition, it's always a good idea to take advantage of free credit reports. Besides being a financial fitness monitor, these reports can alert you to errors and to any fraudulent use of your identity or credit.

This is just a sample of some of the resources on the web. The library also has books on these subjects, and the Reference Librarians can direct you to other resources, both in print and online. Remember, too, that information from the library should be used in addition to, not in place of, advice from a qualified legal or financial professional.

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