Credit counseling service gets boost

KENNEWICK -- Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Tri-Cities has joined with other community services agencies to help keep the doors open to Tri-Citians who need budget help.

The local nonprofit became part of Apprisen Financial Advocates as of Aug. 1.

The merger will allow the nonprofits to share the increased cost of operating over the offices, which serve 48 states, said Laurie Tufford, the regional director of partnerships for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Tri-Cities.

Benefits for employees improved, and the nonprofit now has telephone and internet support from the corporate office to help its clients, Tufford said.

One of the best changes for clients is that the first counseling session is now offered free through Apprisen Financial Advocates of Ohio, she said.

The 400 families participating in the debt management program, where they pay creditors through the counseling office, will now have online access to their account and the ability to autopay or pay online, Tufford said.

And Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Tri-Cities, which started in 1969, has kept its name. The nonprofit is dedicated to helping people with their financial issues and problems, Tufford said.

The nonprofit, at 401 N. Morain St. in Kennewick, will continue to offer one-on-one counseling and classes, she said.

Counseling started again Aug. 15, and the education services have continued through the transition, Tufford said.

"For the most part, our clients are still being served," she said.

Tufford said she hopes to have the first-time homebuyer program back in October. The Saturday class usually is offered once a month.

The Tri-City office serves about 6,000 to 8,000 people a year, Tufford said.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Tri-Cities, which serves all of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon, already closed branch offices in Walla Walla, Pendleton and Hermiston this year. Tufford said they found most clients would use online or telephone services after an initial meeting, and few appointments were scheduled in those branch offices.

The nonprofit has lost two full-time and two part-time positions, but that was unrelated to the merger, Tufford said. The cut to five paid staff, including herself, was made necessary by the increased expense to operate a nonprofit.

The nonprofit will continue to partner with other agencies, including the Veterans Affairs in Walla Walla, the Blue Mountain Action Council and the Benton Franklin Community Action Committee to offer presentations, supportive services and counseling, Tufford said. It also provides a financial literacy program with United Way.

Up to 2,000 high school students in the area go through a financial education program run by the nonprofit, she said.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Tri-Cities can be reached at 737-1973, which will be answered by the Ohio call center. Tri-Citians should ask for the Kennewick office.

The office will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will try opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays to see if that will better fit community needs.