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VENTURA COUNTY REVIEW

Firm Marks 30 Years of Helping Clients Get Back in the Black

August 27, 1996|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Priscilla McDaniel is trying to sell a product that many people need. Problem is, few people admit they need it.

McDaniel is director of education and marketing for Consumer Credit Counseling Service Ventura Inc., a consumer consulting and educational firm that marks its 30th anniversary in Ventura this month.

The business has been around since the 1960s, but McDaniel said with corporate downsizing and other economic woes the service is needed now more than ever.

"There are people who lived high in the '80s and can't pay their credit card bills, people who have not really been educated on the use of credit," said McDaniel, who has been with the company 2 1/2 years. "We find many people with these problems who have never had any education in money management."

Consumer Credit Counseling Service has 250 offices nationwide, all overseen by the National Foundation for Consumer Credit.

Based in Silver Spring, Md., the foundation was formed nearly 50 years ago by a group of bankers who needed an organization to handle debt collection. There are about 1,100 branch offices throughout the country.

The Ventura office--which serves nine satellite offices in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties--is funded predominantly by contributions from area creditors.

The company opened an Oxnard office last month whose staffers are proficient in Spanish. A Simi Valley office was added in April.

The credit service offers free initial counseling sessions to the public and a Debt Management Program, for a fee, to people in severe debt. The company has about 2,600 clients in the management program, which works to restructure debt and pay off creditors.

When McDaniel joined the Ventura operation, she said the company was only promoting itself on a small scale. The majority of advertising was on a national level, from the home office in Maryland.

As credit counseling needs have grown, McDaniel said, she has helped expand the company's presence through free public education programs.

Toward that goal, the credit service provides credit counseling and consumer information tips at businesses that are closing or downsizing.

The company has developed a Rapid Response Team in association with a county jobs program that provides job placement and training for low-income and displaced workers.

McDaniel said that over the last several years the Rapid Response Team has gone to businesses such as First Interstate Bank, the Bank of A. Levy and Abex Aerospace. She said the company averages three such visits a month.

The counseling service also has a partnership with Economics America, formerly the California Council on Economic Education. Through the partnership, established in 1995, the business makes about 10 presentations a month at area high schools, junior highs and elementary schools, teaching consumer education.

"We've increased this considerably over the last two years," McDaniel said. "Credit debt is going to continue to be a big factor until the teens we are teaching in school now come up with wise money spending habits. It could be several generations."

McDaniel writes the educational material for the in-school programs. She and four other employees also teach an adult program called "Money, Health and Wisdom," a 12-hour course that covers good spending habits by delving into the reasons people overspend.

As Consumer Credit Counseling Services enters its fourth decade in Ventura, McDaniel said she anticipates the company expanding its services.

"We are getting more and more into telephone counseling and counseling by mail. We do electronic transfers," she said. "We are keeping up with technology."

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