Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL

What is financial counseling? Consumer financial counseling is a service offered primarily by nonprofit agencies to help consumers resolve issues related to credit, debt, budgeting, foreclosure, homeownership and other finances.

How does counseling work? It often takes the form of a client (a couple or an individual) sitting in privacy in our office with a trained, certified counselor. The counselor reviews the client’s financial situation in a non-judgmental manner, helps them understand all options and assists in problem solving.

What if it is hard or impossible to come into the office? We offer both telephone and some virtual (internet, email, and online) counseling.

Is it okay to call just to ask one question? Yes. If all our counselors are in sessions, we will call back as soon as possible

Who are the counselors? Counselors are professionals, trained and certified by the appropriate certifying body to meet a high standard of quality and ethics in financial counseling. They receive ongoing recertification and training during their time working at Financial Pathways.

What is Financial Pathways? Financial Pathways (previously known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Forsyth County) is a local nonprofit agency that has provided professional consumer education and comprehensive financial and housing guidance in the Winston Salem area for forty years. As an agency it meets the high standards required to be certified by the Council on Accreditation (COA), is approved as an adopter of the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling, is a HUD-approved housing counseling agency, a United Way Agency, and a member in good standing of the Better Business Bureau.

Is counseling confidential? Absolutely confidential. Our certified counselors do not discuss a client’s financial situation. Client paper and electronic records are securely maintained.

Does Financial Pathways give legal advice about financial problems? No. Financial Pathways can explain options, but not give legal advice or recommend a course of action. Only attorneys may give legal opinions. When clients receive foreclosure papers, are in credit trouble, or are considering bankruptcy, they may wish to contact an attorney. We can offer a list of attorneys. Free legal services may be available through Legal Aid of North Carolina.

What is financial education? This refers to any learning activity (self-paced, classroom, workshops, or one on one teaching and coaching) aimed at increasing a person’s ability to understand and navigate the most common elements of modern financial life.

What happens when a person contacts Financial Pathways? The staff member who initially answers will listen carefully to help determine what is needed, and the caller will be offered an appointment, a workshop, or other option. Clients may be asked to gather certain financial documents and other relevant information and come in for counseling, or we may be able to help by phone or online.

What does Financial Pathways charge for its services? The majority of services are provided at low or no cost to clients. We may waive some fees in cases of hardship.

How Is Financial Pathways funded? We are a mission-based, service organization supported by a variety of sources including voluntary contributions from creditors and lenders, local grants from private sources and foundations, individual and corporate contributions, and modest fees from those clients who can pay.

Since it is a nonprofit, shouldn’t Financial Pathways services be free? We request counseling fees to help cover what it cost us to provide this customer service, not to make a profit. Fees make it possible for us to remain in operation.

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Foreclosure Prevention

Can Financial Pathways help save a person’s home? Very often we can. We are a HUD approved housing counseling center and we have HUD Certified Housing Counselors. We know what options are available whether under a conventional loan, FHA loan, USDA or VA loan.

What is foreclosure? Foreclosure is the legal process lenders follow to take possession of a home when agreed-upon mortgage payments have not been made. Most lenders begin foreclosure when payments are three months or more late, but the process can begin sooner.

Should a person wait until a mortgage is three months late? NO. Reach out for help early. Waiting will worsen the situation. If payments have not been made according to the loan terms, or the borrower has had a job loss or financial hardship that may impact their ability to pay in the future, it is important to seek foreclosure-prevention assistance early from a servicer, housing counselor, or attorney.

What if someone claims they can stop foreclosure if they are named as the homeowner’s representative? NEVER sign any document without reading and understanding it in full. Learn as much as possible about the representative and the company before signing anything. Most important, seek the advice of an attorney or housing counselor.

What if a company claims they can help avoid foreclosure in exchange for money? This is probably a scam. It is illegal in North Carolina for any company to charge upfront fees for foreclosure prevention services. To report suspicious claims, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

Isn’t it necessary to have an attorney? When clients receive foreclosure papers, they may wish to contact an attorney. Free legal services may be available through Legal Aid of NC. Financial Pathways can explain options, but not give legal advice or recommend a course of action.

What does it mean to receive a “foreclosure help” letter from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency? This letter is a signal that a person’s mortgage loan may be nearing foreclosure. The next step is to contact a HUD-approved housing counseling agency, such as Financial Pathways, and have a certified counselor explain all the options.

How can Financial Pathways help if someone simply can no longer pay the mortgage? As a HUD-approved agency, we can help North Carolina residents understand the eligibility requirements and apply for NC Foreclosure Prevention Funds. For eligible homeowners, up to $36,000 may be available over 36 months, or a one-time payment up to $30,000 for a second mortgage. This money is provided on a first-come, first-served basis as long as funds are available.

How much does it cost to get Financial Pathways’ help with foreclosure? We are a nonprofit, mission-based, service organization. Because we are supported by grants, gifts, and other contributions, we can offer our services either free or a very low cost. We also can waive fees in cases of hardship.

What if a person is not eligible for this help? There are other programs that may help. Call and talk to a counselor.

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Credit and Budget

Where can one get a copy of their credit report? How much does it cost? Anyone can get a copy of their credit report by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies. To get a free copy of your credit report, got to www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

Can Financial Pathways explain a person’s credit report? Yes. Our certified counselors can offer a credit report review that looks at everything listed on a credit report, then offer guidance on how to improve a credit report and credit score.

Can Financial Pathways fix or clean up a person’s credit report? No. If negative comments on a credit report are correct, they can remain for seven years or longer. If there are errors in a credit report, the consumer must notify the credit bureau in writing. The bureau will follow up the creditor may agree to change a credit report.

What is a “charge off?” When an account is considered uncollectable, a creditor will write it off as a bad debt or “charge off.” Depending on a creditor’s policy, a “charge off” can occur 90 to 180 days after an account becomes delinquent. However, a creditor can still pursue collection of the debt after a “charge off” and it will also be reported to the credit bureaus.

How can certified counselors help with financial goals? They can help clients establish goals and develop methods and reasonable timelines to achieve them, including addressing credit issues and creating a livable budget.

What kind of financial goals are typical? Examples are: to pay off debt, buy a house, return to school, save a certain amount of money, or plan for retirement. Many people have a mixture of short and long term financial goals.

Wouldn’t it be best to avoid credit and credit cards? Credit plays an important role in today’s economy. Without it many people could never afford a house, a car, or a college education. However, it is not wise to use credit to make ends meet or, or to amass balances on credit cards and then make only minimal payments. These habits can lead to financial stress, even catastrophe.

Does living on a budget mean scrimping? No, a budget is a system to help meet fixed monthly costs and, if at all possible, include some extras. The important thing is to live within one’s income, save for goals, and use credit responsibly.

Can Financial Pathways help set up a budget? We can guide the process of setting up and reviewing a personal budget. We can make suggestions regarding possible ways to increase net income and decrease expenses.

What can this agency do for someone who has never had credit? We can offer guidance in getting credit, the proper use of credit, pitfalls to avoid, and how to build a good credit score.

How does someone establish credit? The first step is to establish a steady work record and continued residence at the same address. It helps to open a checking account, and to avoid bounced checks. Then, apply for credit at a department store or credit union. One option may be a secured credit card, which requires a deposit of money as security against charges made.

Does Financial Pathways issue credit cards? No, we are a nonprofit, mission-based service organization, not a lender.

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Student Loan Borrowing

Does Financial Pathways make student loans? No, we do not make loans of any kind. We counsel those who have already borrowed and may be struggling with repayment.

Can Financial Pathways help borrowers understand their student loans? Yes. Counselors can assist determining the type of loans a person holds and provide information on student loan repayment options that may be available. Financial Pathways now offers in-depth and specific student loan counseling.

What’s the difference between a federal or private loan? Federal funds, whether borrowed through a bank/private lender or the Department of Education, are tightly regulated by the government. Private loans are not subsidized by the government, and are not as closely regulated. We can help determine the loan type and educate clients on how the distinct differences apply to their individual situations.

What happens when borrowers can’t meet loan payments? Sometimes if a borrower can afford to pay something each month, even if it is not the full amount, a more affordable repayment plan is possible. We can assist borrowers in developing a budget and can provide information to investigate flexible repayment options that may be available.

What happens if a person just stops paying a student loan? The government has broad power to collect student loans. They can seize tax refunds, deny new student loans and grants, garnish wages without a court order, take a portion of Social Security benefits, and charge large collection fees. For borrowers not yet in default, we have information that may help to defer payments or request forbearance.

What is forbearance? Under certain circumstances, a borrower can receive a deferment or forbearance that allows a temporary postponement or reduction in federal student loan payments. This can help avoid default while solutions are explored.

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Homeownership

Can someone with poor credit hope to buy a home? Credit problems are the biggest barrier to home ownership. Through our credit rebuilding program, Financial Pathways helps buyers overcome credit problems and become better able to successfully apply for a mortgage.

How do people figure out if they can afford to buy a home? Going through a “pre-purchase analysis” with a broker or housing counselor helps prospective home buyers determine their ability to afford a mortgage. Our staff is skilled at matching home buyers with the right type of loans, down payment assistance programs, and lending products for their situation.

Why buy instead of rent? Many people find it satisfying to know that they don’t have to request a landlord’s permission to decorate, landscape, or change their home, and they can’t be made to move out for no reason. A home is also a significant investment. It is the most valuable asset most Americans have. Building equity in a home can be like putting money in the bank; it can build wealth for future generations. A rent check is money gone forever.

Won’t most mortgage payments be higher than rent for the same property? Not necessarily. Also, there are significant tax savings that come with homeownership. A certified counselor can break down these costs for an aspiring homebuyer.

What are “HUD homes”? When someone with a HUD-insured mortgage goes through foreclosure, HUD pays the lender what was owed. The home is then resold as quickly as possible. These can be good deals for some perspective homebuyers. We maintain a list of available HUD home, as well as homes for sale by other federal agencies.

Does buying a home require a real estate broker? A good real estate professional can guide a buyer through the entire process and make the experience much easier. A broker will be well-acquainted with the characteristics of different neighborhoods and the availability of houses in a buyer’s price range. Broker fees are paid by the seller, not the buyer. When Financial Pathways’ certified counselors have helped prepare a client for homeownership, they can offer a list of qualified brokers.

How much down payment is required? That depends on the cost of the house, the type of mortgage, a person’s credit history, and other factors. There are also upfront deposits (“earnest money”) and closing costs related to the paperwork that must be processed to finalize the sale. The larger the down payment, the lower mortgage payments will be.

What if a buyer has very little toward a down payment? Federal mortgage programs exist to help some homebuyers over this hurdle.

How do people figure out whether they can get a home loan? A real estate broker or housing counselor can help evaluate a buyer’s loan potential. It may be possible to get pre-qualified for a loan. That means applying for a mortgage before shopping for a home. That way, the family knows how much house they can afford. Our certified counselors can prepare clients for prequalification.

Who lends money for homes? Home loans come from banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, private mortgage companies, or various government lenders. Different lenders offer a variety of interest rates and loan fees. Talking to an expert helps people find the right loan for their situation. Taking time to look around for the best deal can save money.

What about getting a HUD loan? HUD does not make loans directly. Borrowers must use a HUD-approved lender for an FHA loan.

What is included in a mortgage payment and what isn’t? Property taxes normally are rolled into a mortgage payment. Other bills to pay each month will include utilities (electric, water) and possibly homeowner or condo association dues. It is important to estimate these items for the home being purchased to make sure they are affordable on top of the mortgage.

What information is required when applying for a mortgage? Regardless of income, good financial records are needed for getting a loan. This can be a barrier for some aspiring buyers. A counselor at Financial Pathways can guide homebuyers through the complete list of personal financial information lenders want to see. Call us for guidance on what is necessary.

Are Financial Pathways’ services expensive? We are a nonprofit, supported by grants, gifts, and other contributions, so we can offer our services either free or a very low cost. We can waive fees based on need.

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Reverse Mortgage

What is a reverse mortgage? A reverse mortgage is a special type of federally insured loan (also called a home equity conversion mortgage). It allows older Americans who meet certain criteria to use the equity in their homes to continue to live independently.

Does Financial Pathways offer reverse mortgages? No. We are not a lender.

Who should get a reverse mortgage? For some seniors who own homes, a reverse mortgage may be a good solution to meet financial needs in retirement. Financial Pathways’ certified counselors can help clients understand the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage and identify other options that may meet a homeowner’s needs.

How can Financial Pathways help with reverse mortgages? Our certified counselors are qualified to provide face-to-face counseling to interested homeowners to help them understand the way a reverse mortgage works and look for other alternatives. We review the costs and benefits, possible tax consequences, financial implications, effect on the borrower’s heirs, as well as other options that may be available to meet the homeowner’s needs.

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Senior Money Management

What is bill pay and account reconciliation? Financial Pathways’ Senior Financial Care® counselors can partner with seniors to accomplish the tasks of writing checks for monthly bills, reconciling bank statements, and developing a personal budget. We can also provide a system of organization to keep up with necessary paperwork.

What is insurance counseling? Our counselors are certified to provide up-to-date counseling in Medicare, Medicaid, and supplemental insurance. They can also assist with sorting out claims for coverage and payments, and provide follow-ups with providers.

How can credit and debt counseling help seniors? Credit card debt and medical expense debt can accumulate quickly for seniors trying to make ends meet on a limited income. Counselors can negotiate with creditors to reduce required payments or establish a debt management plan.

What is Consumer Fraud Education? Seniors are favorite targets of financial schemes and scams. We maintain up-to-date information on the latest scams and can counsel seniors on how to identify and avoid becoming victims of fraud.

Why does Financial Pathways’ offer this help? We are a nonprofit, mission-based organization. We believe all people deserve a chance for financial well being.

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Bankruptcy

What is bankruptcy? Bankruptcy is a legal process undertaken by a person (or business) who cannot repay debts. Sometimes declaring bankruptcy may be the best course, but the process is complex. Our trained counselors consult with clients who want to explore bankruptcy and explain the multiple factors involved in considering this path. We do not provide legal advice but can share a list of attorneys

What happens when bankruptcy is filed? There are two types of bankruptcy available to most people. Under Chapter 13, some assets can be kept but all debts must be paid in three to five years. Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires the filer to surrender all assets that are not exempt in their state.

How long does a bankruptcy stay on a credit report and how does it affect credit? Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting law, a bankruptcy can remain on a credit report for up to 10 years.

Is an attorney required to file for bankruptcy? Not legally required, but the advice of an attorney is generally helpful in understanding the rights and consequences of bankruptcy case. Financial Pathways can offer a list of attorneys.

What if a person needs legal advice but can’t afford an attorney? Contact the local bar association, legal aid services, or a university law school with a legal assistance program for a referral to an attorney.

Can a person be fired for declaring bankruptcy? The Bankruptcy Code generally prohibits termination of employment or discrimination with respect to employment solely because an individual (1) has filed a bankruptcy case, (2) has been insolvent before the case was filed, or (3) has not paid a discharged debt.

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Debt Management Plans

What is a Debt Management Plan (DMP)? This is a program where our counselors contact each of a client’s creditors to determine the lowest possible acceptable payment and interest rate allowed. The goal is to agree on a reduced monthly payment that is acceptable to the creditor and manageable by the individual.

How do debts get paid off under a DMP? Once the agreement is reached a client voluntarily deposits funds with Financial Pathways each month and we send those funds directly to creditors. If collectors call clients, they can be referred to us.

How does a DMP program differ from Chapter 13 bankruptcy? The DMP is voluntary for both the client and the creditors. However, when debts are fully repaid, we may be able to assist a client in reestablishing credit. Part of the goal of a DMP is to improve a person’s financial and credit standing without the burdens imposed by bankruptcy. It can be a chance to start anew without the constraints of bankruptcy.

Will being enrolled in a DMP stop interest from being charged on credit accounts? A counselor will be able to determine if creditors will consider stopping interest charges. The majority of creditors do not stop interest, but many will lower interest.

Can a person include only their most troublesome bills a DMP? No. For the most effective and equitable treatment of debts we need to include all non-secured debts in the DMP.

Does a person have to be in financial crisis to qualify? No. The DMP is open to anyone as long as he or she has a budget that meets the creditors’ requirements. That is, given documented income and expenses, the person has the ability to repay the debt over time.

Is it like debt consolidation? The process is different. Each credit account remains separate, but the client makes one monthly payment to our agency to cover the combined payments of the accounts. Then we forward the agreed amounts to each creditor until the debt is paid.

How long does it take to pay off? The average length of time is 55-60 months.

What is the average payment? The average monthly pavement is around 2.5% of the balance. This means about $250 a month on a debt of $10,000; and about $1000 per month debt of $40,000. Interest rates average 10% or less. Rates may fluctuate, but usually the rates established at the beginning of the plan do not change.

Will the DMP save money? When we give clients their estimated DMP payment amount, we then compare it to the payments they are currently self-managing. Our counselors help DMP clients explore all options so they can make the best decision for their specific situations. Often we are able to get clients on a plan that saves them money.

How quickly can a person get started on a DMP? Once we receive the necessary information and first payment plus set-up fee ($25) from the client, it normally takes 2-4 weeks to get the plan in place. Times vary depending on who the creditors are and the form of payment a client chooses. Personal checks require a week for processing.

Are there other fees? Yes, Financial Pathways charges a monthly payment of 10% of a client’s payment amount up to a maximum of $35.

Must clients on a DMP stop using credit cards? That depends on the policies of the different creditors. Some creditors allow DMP clients to keep a card for emergencies, others do not. Keep in mind that the goal is to get out of debt, so incurring more debt can be self-defeating.

Does being on a DMP hurt a person’s credit score? That depends on each creditor’s policies. Some creditors report that a client is not paying as “originally agreed,” even though they have accepted the lower payment. Some creditors report that they are being paid through a “counseling agency;” others don’t. A counselor can answer questions about each client’s specific situation.

Can a person on a DMP get a new credit card? It may be difficult to get new credit while on a negotiated payment plan. An individual’s prior payment history also affects their ability to get future credit. Once a DMP is successfully completed, any notation regarding the plan should be removed by creditors.

Can a DMP address debts from a small business? It depends on how it was set up on the credit application and on the particular creditors. Some allow it, others do not. We will help assess this when a client comes in for counseling.

Does Financial Pathways offer debt settlement? No, and we not recommend debt settlement plans. Some businesses that offer debt settlement are commercial companies that reap considerable profits from the financial distress of their clients. These plans often charge high fees before starting any action and they ask clients to default on all accounts and let them go to collection agencies. Fees mount, and then the debt settlement company will try to settle the person’s debts for a percentage of the amount owed. Debt settlement will have a severe negative impact on a person’s credit report and credit score for as long as 7 years.

Will being on a DMP stop legal action and creditor phone calls? In most cases we are able to work with creditors to stop any legal action and can develop a solution that will satisfy everyone. If a DMP client keeps up payment arrangements with us, the majority of phone calls will stop.

Do most creditors contribute to the agency? Yes, most creditors support the agency services. However, if for some reason they do not, we will still work with them to reduce payments.

Why do creditors work with Financial Pathways instead of directly with the borrower? Our certified counselors will evaluate a client’s overall financial situation. We help clients come up with realistic options to solve particular financial problem, and the creditors know this. Therefore, they work with us as a trusted way to have their loans repaid.

Does seeking DMP counseling get reported on a person’s credit report? We do not report to the credit reporting agencies or creditors that a client has come for counseling.

Does Financial Pathways offer solutions other than a Debt Management Plan? Yes. It is not the appropriate solution for everyone. We give people options, examine each option, and help them make their best decision.

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