Counselors offer advice to consumers in debt

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- If you have trouble paying off your debts on time, you're not alone. A new study from the Urban Institute shows more than one out of three Americans has outstanding debt that's been turned over to a collection agency.

Non-profit credit counseling services have been busy helping people get control over their bills.

If your bills have been turned over to a debt collector, that usually means they haven't been paid for six months and have damaged your credit score. The study analyzed the credit files of seven million Americans.

At Apprisen in Overland Park, certified financial credit counselors offer a free consultation for those in over their heads.

Counselors say the biggest mistake consumers often make is avoiding their bills, and purposely allowing them to go to debt collectors, thinking that will stop finance charges from continuing.

"We always tell them the first month you get behind, call the creditors, call the medical," said Iran Amani, an Apprisen counseling supervisor. "If it's a medical bill, call the hospital to see what they can offer you. This is something you want to do most of the time. They do have a short term solution that they can offer you. Reduced interest rate, reduce monthly payment, so just please pick up the phone and contact them."

Americans with debt in collections owe an average of $5,200 each. These bills include credit cards, child support, utility bills and medical bills. The average household debt in Kansas is more than $45,000. In Missouri, it's more than $47,000.

More than 35 percent of Missourians have debt in collections. In Kansas, less than 31 percent of consumers are being pursued by debt collectors.

The number of people with debt in collections hasn't changed all that much in the last 10 years. Standard and Poors says total consumer debt in the nation actually has gone down since 2007, with the delinquency rate also dropping to a more normal level.

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