History does not record the first time a person got into debt. Maybe it was when a caveman needed a wheel and didn’t have enough animal pelts to pay for it.
History does clue us in on what triggered the avalanche of debt that has buried many Americans. In 1949, a businessman named Frank McNamara had a meal at Major’s Cabin Grill in New York City. He reached in his breast pocket and realized he’d forgotten his wallet. As visions of washing dishes danced in his head, McNamara’s wife paid the tab. A light bulb went off in McNamara’s head.
There had to be another way to pay.
A year later, he introduced history’s first credit card, the Diner’s Club card. A year after that, the first non-profit credit counseling agency was formed.
The total debt owed by U.S. consumers is $12.12 trillion. That’s not all due to credit cards, but those 2-inch-by-3 3/8-inch plastic rectangles McNamara came up with certainly empower consumers. Handling that power can be a problem. Since 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has done that for millions of people.
In the early years, dozens of individual credit counseling agencies sprang up. The NFCC organized the booming industry, setting standards that prevented already-beleaguered consumers from making bad situations worse.
Gaining an NFCC certification seal means a credit counseling organization adheres to the highest ethical practices and policies. Its counselors are financial professionals who’ve completed training programs that are trademarked. One thing they learn is how debtors think.
The NFCC annually conducts a Consumer Financial Literacy Survey to track the views of consumers. The most recent one found that 70% of Americans are worried about their finances, and 60% live without a budget.
More than 3 million consumers each year come to NFCC members looking for help. It is easy to find since there are offices in 50 states and Puerto Rico. If a consumer needs assistance, a counselor will analyze their finances and come up with a budget and repayment plan.
Student loans weren’t a big problem when McNamara was ordering hors devours, but now they account for $1.23 trillion in debt. NFCC counselors guide consumers through a myriad of repayment options.
Bankruptcies, mortgages, automobile loans – whatever the financial problem, counselors can tailor a solution. NFCC members are accredited by the Council on Accreditation, and counselors must be re-certified every two years.
Members also specialize in community-based social service programs. They spearhead initiatives like National Protect Your Identity Week. That annual campaign educates consumers on identity theft and how to recover if they are victimized. Consumers can even bring sensitive documents to NFCC members to be shredded.
In 2013, the NFCC started an initiative named Sharpen Your Financial Focus. It’s a three-step program consisting of an on-line financial self-assessment, a one-on-one financial review with a credit counselor and an educational program based on the consumer’s specific requirements.
More than 31,000 people signed up the first year. There were a lot of individual success stories, but the NFCC wanted hard data to judge the impact. A credit counseling study was commissioned.
It asked researchers at Ohio State University to investigate the Sharpen program. Their study helps to answer the question: does credit counseling work? It showed that compared to consumers without counseling, credit counseling clients reduced their revolving debt by $3,600 more than the comparison group during the 18 months following counseling.
Almost 70 percent of clients said Sharpen helped them manage their money better, improved their overall financial confidence and helped them pay debt more consistently.
“The Ohio State University research team has provided the most compelling evidence that nonprofit financial education is a catalyst for specific changes that improve financial capabilities,” NFCC President Susan Keating said.
When Frank McNamara went to dinner without his wallet, nobody foresaw how debt would become a way of life in America. But as long as consumers are getting into it, NFCC members will be there to help get them out of it.
Yes, InCharge is a proud NFCC member and all InCharge credit counselors have gone through NFCC training.
(Huffman, M.)(2016, April 12). How Financial Literacy Education Pays Off. Retrieved from
(McClary, B.)(2016, April 12). Researches From The Ohio State University Reveal The Impact of Credit Counseling. Retrieved from http://financialeducation.nfcc.org/2016/04/12/sharpen_impact_study/
(NA)(ND). The 2015 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey. Retrieved from
(El Issa, E.)(ND). 2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Survey. Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/