Tag Archives: take charge america


Take Charge America launches ‘Credit Look’ program

While many financial organizations offer free credit reports, most recipients don’t know how to interpret that report or the steps they should take to improve their scores. Now, Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency, is taking this offer even further, providing free credit reports along with a complimentary phone consultation to help people understand their score, how it affects their ability to secure loans and how to rebuild their credit.

The service, called Credit Look, includes a 15-minute phone call with a certified credit counselor who performs a soft credit pull, which has no effect on a credit score. From there, the counselor provides a line-by-line credit report review and gives expert advice on how to raise this score. If needed, credit counselors also recommend additional financial services, such as credit counseling or student loan counseling, to help people reach their financial goals.

“While it’s important to know what your credit score is, it’s even more important to understand how you can boost that score,” said Carol Lown, a corporate officer with Take Charge America. “Credit Look helps people understand how their credit score affects their personal finances and motivates them to make choices that will improve their financial wellbeing.”

Credit is a major factor in securing a mortgage, buying a new car or taking out a loan for other major purchases. It also affects loan interest rates, as lenders typically offer lower rates to borrowers with strong credit.

“Many people are worried that their credit is hurting their financial future, but they’re afraid to reach out for help,” added Lown. “Credit Look is an easy, free and confidential way to begin the process of improving your credit and your financial future.”


Take Charge America unveils Home Ready Counseling

Prospective homebuyers across the country now have access to a new service helping them receive approval for a mortgage. Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency headquartered in Phoenix, now offers Home Ready Counseling, a program specifically designed to address the top approval requirements for a home loan.

“With low mortgage interest rates and a recovering housing market, many consumers are taking steps to enter or re-enter the housing market, but lack the knowledge they need to get approved for a loan,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America. “What’s more, people who have been turned down in the past may not know how to rebuild their credit and improve their chances of approval the next time around.”

With Home Ready Counseling, Take Charge America’s certified counselors provide one-on-one counseling sessions addressing mortgage requirements including down payments and debt-to-income ratio. In addition, counselors analyze credit scores and develop personalized action plans to help potential homebuyers rebuild their credit and meet home buying goals. Plans include:

• Custom overview of positive and negative factors impacting their credit scores

• Potential opportunities to increase point values with each of the three credit bureaus

• Detailed instructions on how to proceed with creditor disputes or issues

• A task timeline aligned with the customer’s home buying goals

Consumers enrolled in Home Ready Counseling also receive access to monthly educational emails and Take Charge America’s online homebuyer education course, which teaches them the terms used in the home-buying process, how loans are obtained, documents needed to close a mortgage, and how to avoid predatory lenders.

Visit Home Ready Counseling or call (866) 260-6751 to learn more about the service.

Arizona School Choice Trust

Advice for Parents on Back-to-School Spending

Back-to-school spending can take its toll on the family budget, with parents paying considerable cash for clothes, backpacks and other must-haves. The National Retail Foundation expects consumers to spend about $74.9 billion this year to send their children and college students back to school, up 12 percent since 2013.

“Back-to-school spending is second only to the holidays, and the outlay is higher and higher each year,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “Retailers push hard in the summer months, and school budget cuts have shifted the cost of supplies to families, but savvy parents can save money without skimping on necessities.”

Sullivan offers eight tips for cutting costs on back-to-school shopping:

1. Take stock: Supply lists often call for scissors, rulers, pencils and other items people already have at home. Parents can save money by taking stock of what they have before buying new supplies.

2. Stick to the list: Teachers’ supply lists have become more extensive – and expensive – so parents are wise to stick to the list and avoid impulse purchases.

3. Comparison shop: Dollar stores, big-box retailers and office supply stores offer deep discounts on many school essentials. Parents can save money by seeking out the best prices and stocking up on items children use throughout the year.

4. Clip coupons: Many websites publish coupons on back-to-school clothing and supplies. Parents also can find their children’s favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter for special coupons available only to followers.

5. Wait to buy: Just like holiday shopping, retailers often discount prices after the rush. Parents can purchase some items after Labor Day to reap savings.

6. Shop or swap second-hand: Clothing swaps are a popular choice to exchange gently used clothing. Additionally, second-hand retail shops, Craigslist and eBay are good options for finding trendy and brand-name gear at a fraction of the cost.

7. Shop tax-free: Many states offer tax-free shopping days during back-to-school seasons. Find out if your state is participating, and buy your big-ticket items then.

8. Include kids in the process: Many parents give their kids a budget for clothing and necessities. Kids who have to choose between blowing the budget on pricey items or stretching their dollars with sensible purchases will learn a powerful lesson about the value of money.

For more financial tips, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


Take Charge America: 7 Fees You Should Avoid

It seems there’s a fee for everything. It can be hard to keep track of all of the bank account fees, credit card fees and convenience fees consumers are charged – and it’s even harder to know which fees can be avoided altogether.

“In many cases, people don’t realize how much they’re paying out, as the charges are automatically deducted from checking accounts or tacked onto credit card statements. It can seriously add up from month to month, year to year,” said Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency.

Sullivan outlines seven fees consumers should avoid:

1. Checking account fees: Consumers who pay a monthly or per-check fee should consider switching to a free account. Many online banks, credit unions and traditional banks offer truly free checking.

2. Low account balance fees: Many banks charge fees on accounts that fall below a required minimum balance. This fee is a waste, as there are plenty of institutions that don’t set a minimum.

3. Inactivity fees: Some banks charge clients for inactivity, automatically deducting funds from an account that hasn’t been used over a specified period of time. It’s better for consumers to switch banks or close their accounts rather than pay inactivity fees.

4. ATM fees: Consumers shouldn’t pay money to get money. They can avoid this fee by simply planning ahead and using ATMs at their own banks, or switching to a bank or credit union that reimburses fees.

5. Overdraft fees: Overdraft fees can add up quickly – with disastrous effects. Better record-keeping and cash flow management can help consumers avoid these fees and hold onto their hard-earned money.

6. Credit card fees: Many credit card companies charge an annual fee, usually to the tune of $50 or more. Consumers should consider transferring balances to low-interest, no-fee cards, and close the credit cards with annual fees. Moreover, consumers who are racking up over-limit or late fees may want to consider signing up for alerts warning them when they’re nearing their limit or due date.

7. Extended warranties: Warranties are usually offered on pricey items such as computers and televisions, but they’re not a good use of money. Many big-ticket products already include a manufacturer’s warranty, and consumers who use credit cards with purchase protection will have that safety net, too.

For more financial tips, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


Boost bottom line by helping workers with personal finances

Employee productivity can be directly correlated with the overall profitability and general health of an organization. An effective workforce, to no one’s surprise, produces an effective product or service. However, many employers are overlooking one of the top issues negatively affecting productivity – problems with personal finances.

According to the 2014 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 24 percent of American employees admit personal finances have been a struggle at work, while 60 percent of Gen Y employees report financial stress.

The burdens of financial stress permeate all facets of life, including the workplace. It can be difficult for employees to perform at their top levels if a large credit card bill is looming or if they’re wondering how they’ll fund their kids’ education or pay the mortgage.

To combat this productivity issue, employers are finding new ways to provide personal finance perks and assistance. Opportunities may include:

• Introduce Financial Workshops & Presentations – Arm employees with knowledge about common financial issues that can derail a budget, such as dealing with credit card or student loan debt, how to build an emergency fund or how to break negative spending habits. Enlist the assistance of financial experts in the community and host presentations in the office or via a webinar.
• Provide Access to Financial Resources & Experts – Employees who are struggling with finances may not know where to turn for help. Providing them with access to financial resources enables them to help themselves in scenarios they wish to keep confidential. Financial services, such as credit counseling, debt management, student loan counseling, housing counseling and financial planning, are available to companies for free or at discounted rates.
• Incorporate Financial Education into Existing Communications – Utilize existing employee communication channels, such as a company intranet or newsletter, to educate workers about timely financial tips. How can employees save money on summer bills? What should employees do to prepare for the next tax season? How can they save money on holiday gifts? Regular communication helps keep smart financial moves top of mind.
• Enhance Employee Benefit Packages – Productivity alone isn’t the only reason for empowering and educating employees about personal finances. Employers are enhancing their benefit and incentive packages to include customized financial assistance as a way to boost recruitment efforts, improve morale and job satisfaction, and reduce garnishments and advance requests. A recent Aon Hewitt survey of 400 companies found 76% of companies are somewhat or very likely to expand their focus on the financial wellbeing of their employees in 2014.

Aiding employees with their personal finances can have a positive impact at the workplace, ultimately boosting the bottom line as productivity and morale improve. Digital technologies combined with personalized expertise are making it feasible for companies of all sizes to easily and affordably support their staff’s financial needs and goals.

Michael Sullivan serves a Chief Education and Operations Officer for Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit financial education and counseling agency headquartered in Phoenix. He oversees the organization’s Financial Wellness program for employers, which provides opportunities for group and one-on-one financial education, as well as employee discounts on counseling services through Take Charge America.

college graduates

6 Tips for Managing Student Loans, College Expenses

It’s the time of year when high school seniors are finalizing plans for college. In addition to choosing a major and deciding where to live, it’s important for parents and students to discuss how to manage college expenses, especially since the Chronicle of Higher Education reports 60 percent of students borrow money to pay for school.

“For many students, college marks the beginning of financial independence, but this presents a real problem when it comes to student loans,” said Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, a national non-profit agency offering student loan counseling. “It’s critical to teach students how to stretch their loan dollars and avoid money mistakes that can have painful consequences for years or even decades to come.”

Sullivan offers six tips for managing student loans and college expenses:

1. Create a Budget: It’s the broken record of financial tips, but that’s because it works. Students and their parents should make a budget accounting for all incoming funds and outgoing expenses to determine how much money they need to borrow. It’s also important for students to revisit the budget regularly and modify as needed.

2. Spend Your Money Wisely: Many students use student loans for living expenses, but the money is best used to cover tuition, books and other necessities. Students who save up for college or seek employment to cover day-to-day expenses will amass significantly lower debt.

3. Understand Your Repayment: Students are more likely to stick to a budget when they understand what it will take to repay their loans. Direct students to online loan calculators that estimate monthly loan payments based on future salaries.

4. Use Government Loans: Students who must borrow money for college should use Federal Stafford loans, currently available at 3.86 percent interest for undergraduates, rather than pricier private loans.

5. Set a Debt Maximum: Students are advised never to borrow more than $8,000 for an associate’s degree or $20,000 for an undergraduate degree. With this debt ceiling in mind, students may want to consider state universities and community colleges rather than higher-priced private schools.

6. Don’t Rush into Debt Consolidation: While debt consolidation may seem like an attractive solution for repaying debt, seek out professional advice on whether this option is right for you. Another alternative may be better for your unique situation.

For more student loan tips, visit Take Charge America or StudentLoanCoach.org.


Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for You?

Seniors are living longer than ever before. Medical advances and a focus on healthy living have dramatically improved longevity, but living longer presents a complication: the potential to outlive savings.

Older adults often do not anticipate the high costs of health and long-term care, or the uncertainty of Social Security and Medicare. As a result, many are exploring reverse mortgage loans.

A reverse mortgage, also referred to as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), enables homeowners 62 years and older to convert part of their home equity into tax-free cash.

“The economy has been tumultuous in recent years, and seniors have been particularly affected,” said Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, a national non-profit credit and housing counseling agency. “For some, a reverse mortgage may prove a good solution for generating extra cash and living more comfortably in their golden years.”

To help seniors understand whether a reverse mortgage is appropriate for their financial situations, Sullivan offers five considerations:

  1. Loan fees: Borrowers are tasked with paying up-front mortgage insurance, origination fees and closing costs. It’s critical for seniors to read the fine print and understand the fees they’re paying.
  2. Taxes and insurance: With a reverse mortgage, seniors borrow money against the equity of their homes and are not required to make loan payments. However, they still must pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, or they risk foreclosure.
  3. Home maintenance: Seniors are responsible for home maintenance, but cannot take out a home equity loan or second mortgage to cover repairs.
  4. Home equity: The borrower’s home equity is reduced by the amount of the reverse mortgage. The estate will receive whatever equity hasn’t been borrowed.
  5. Loan repayment terms: The loan is due when the borrower sells the home, lives away from the home for 12 consecutive months, fails to pay property taxes or insurance, or passes away. The principal, interest and closing costs are repaid from the proceeds of the sale of the house. If the heirs elect not to sell, the money is paid from the estate.

To obtain a reverse mortgage, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires seniors to undergo reverse mortgage counseling from an approved third-party organization like Take Charge America. Certified HECM counselors guide seniors through the process, the loan terms, financial and tax implications, and alternatives. To learn more, call Take Charge America at 1-866-987-2008.

PrescottGateway, Cassidy Turley

Brown appointed to TCA Board of Directors

Take Charge America, Inc., a national non-profit credit counseling agency based in Phoenix, announced today Kerwin Brown has been appointed to its board of directors. Brown, who serves as president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce, joined the Take Charge America board on Jan. 1.

As a member of the board, Brown helps oversee strategy and business operations for Take Charge America. The organization provides financial education services including credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling and debt management. Since 1987, Take Charge America has helped more than 1.6 million consumers nationwide.

“Kerwin brings formidable knowledge, expertise and leadership to our board of directors,” said Take Charge America CEO David Richardson. “During his 20-year career in financial services, he has seen the ups and downs of the market, and has worked with people at all stages of the financial spectrum. He has embraced our organization’s mission and shares our passion for helping consumers improve their financial wellbeing.”

Brown has served as president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce for the last 18 months, leading the chamber’s efforts to support and bolster local businesses. Prior to assuming the leadership position, he was chairman of the board for the chamber. He also sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc., where he has served as treasurer and western regional director for nearly four years. In addition to his leadership background, Brown has held numerous management positions with insurance and financial services companies.

“I am thrilled to join the board of an organization that’s helping Americans get back on their feet and take control of their finances,” said Brown. “My goal as a board member is to aid Take Charge America in providing the resources and education consumers need to avoid debt pitfalls and enjoy financial peace of mind.”

To learn more about Take Charge America, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


TCA Assists 10K Arizona Homeowners with Counseling

Take Charge America, Inc., a non-profit credit counseling and housing counseling agency in Phoenix, marked a milestone this year. It has now assisted more than 10,000 Arizona homeowners with housing counseling. Most of this assistance was for foreclosure prevention, a free service that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure or mitigate losses caused by foreclosure.

As a response to economic conditions, Take Charge America introduced foreclosure prevention counseling in 2008. The organization is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assist distressed homeowners statewide with a variety of solutions that could potentially save their homes, such as accessing and sustaining loan modifications, refinancing and principal reduction.

To date, Take Charge America has helped more than 1,100 individuals and families save their homes, primarily through mortgage modifications. Specially trained counselors work directly with homeowners’ mortgage companies to achieve the best possible solution based on their circumstances.

“Headquartered in one of the hardest-hit states, we were compelled to help Arizona families navigate the housing crisis,” said David Richardson, chief executive officer of Take Charge America. “While we’ve made significant strides, there are still many homeowners who need our help. Foreclosures may be declining, but the threat is still far above normal levels.”

Foreclosure prevention counseling is a free service mainly funded by grants and government awards. Take Charge America was recently awarded $300,000 by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to expand one-on-one foreclosure prevention counseling, enabling the organization to expand its reach.

Homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure can call Take Charge America at (623) 266-6382 or (866) 987-2008 to speak with a counselor.

Take Charge America is also HUD-approved to provide reverse mortgage counseling to senior homeowners and pre-purchase counseling to new homebuyers.

For more information about Take Charge America’s services, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


TCA Awarded $300K for Foreclosure Counseling

Take Charge America, Inc., a non-profit credit counseling and housing counseling agency in Phoenix, was awarded $300,000 by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office over the next three years to provide free foreclosure intervention counseling to Arizona homeowners.

Take Charge America will use the funds to assist more homeowners with one-on-one counseling, primarily individuals and families with low-to-moderate income, and who are Spanish-speaking.

Housing counseling services at Take Charge America are approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Take Charge America’s counselors can help homeowners avoid foreclosure or mitigate losses caused by foreclosure with a variety of solutions, such as accessing and sustaining loan modifications, refinancing and principal reduction.

“Arizona families are among the hardest hit by the economic downturn, and many are still struggling to meet their mortgage payments,” said Take Charge America Chief Executive Officer David Richardson. “This award will enable us to assist even more residents in need, helping them navigate the complex mortgage loan industry and possibly save their home.”

Take Charge America is one of 16 organizations throughout Arizona selected by the Attorney General’s Office to receive a share of the $5 million in housing counseling assistance available through a national mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage loan servicers.  The funds help pay for the cost of the foreclosure intervention counseling that is provided free to Arizona homeowners.

Take Charge America introduced foreclosure prevention counseling in 2008 as a response to the mortgage crisis. It is HUD-approved to assist distressed homeowners statewide. To date, the non-profit has helped more than 10,000 homeowners with housing counseling.

Homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure can call Take Charge America at (623) 266-6382 or (866) 987-2008 to speak with a counselor.

For more information about Take Charge America’s services, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.

Dave Paddison

TCA Announces New Director of Finance

Take Charge America, Inc. announced that Dave Paddison now serves as director of finance for the national non-profit credit counseling and debt management agency. He provides comprehensive financial management services, overseeing all accounting, tax and financial reporting activities.

Prior to joining Phoenix-based Take Charge America, Paddison held numerous director-level and chief-level financial management positions in the Arizona non-profit sector, primarily in healthcare and community services.

“Dave has a strong track record of effective leadership in the local non-profit community. His skill sets in financial management, administration and operations will be crucial as we grow our services and seek new ways to assist consumers struggling with debt,” said David Richardson, chief executive officer of Take Charge America.

Paddison, a Scottsdale resident, is active in the community on professional and civic levels. He’s a member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association and the American College of Healthcare Executives. He also volunteers with Boy Scouts of America and St. Vincent DePaul, and previously served on community boards for the Social Services Contractors Indemnity Pool and the Diocese of Phoenix School Board.

Paddison earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian Studies and a Master’s in Business Administration in Finance & Accounting from Louisiana State University.

To learn more about Take Charge America operations and services, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


Take Charge America Announces new CEO

Take Charge America, Inc. is pleased to announce David Richardson has been promoted to chief executive officer of the national non-profit credit counseling and debt management agency.
Richardson joined the organization in 2008 as director of finance and was promoted to chief financial officer in 2009. He assumed the role of chief executive officer in late 2012.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Take Charge America offers financial education, credit counseling, debt management and housing counseling services. Since 1987 it has helped more than 1.6 million consumers nationwide manage their personal finances and debts.

“I’m honored to lead this company in my new role as CEO, and I’m eager to explore more innovative financial solutions that bring even greater value to consumers,” said Richardson.  “The credit counseling industry has changed a lot in recent years, and we are seeking new ways to adapt with the times while still providing the highest level of financial education.”

Richardson, a Certified Public Accountant, brings more than 30 years of experience to the helm of Take Charge America. He held numerous executive-level financial management positions in the health care and financial services industries prior to joining the company, acquiring a strong expertise in non-profit management. He has additional expertise in budgeting, financial audits, cash and investment management, financial reporting, systems conversions, and mergers and acquisitions.

Richardson earned a bachelor’s in Accounting & Finance from the University of Dayton and a master’s in Finance from Georgia State University. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Arizona Society of Certified Public Accountants (ASCPA). He currently serves as board treasurer for the Arizona Family Health Partnership, and previously served on the board of directors for ASCPA from 2010 to 2012.