There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.
Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy
Dear Sandy: You’re not wrong at all; in fact credit counseling could be the way out of your financial straightjacket. I am a big fan of credit counseling, but it is not for everyone. Nor are all credit counselors trustworthy. There are lots of sleazy groups out there masquerading as charitable “non-profit” counselors. Make sure you are working with a reputable organization you can trust.
You want to speak with one certified by the National Foundation of Credit Counseling (nfcc.org), like Consumer Credit Counseling Services. When you get to the NFCC website (or call 800.388.2227), you’ll be connected with a certified credit counselor near you.
Expect an initial interview to determine if you are likely to be successful in their program (typically that means you are unable to meet your current minimum payments, are several months behind, employed and, if married, your spouse agrees to enter the program). The counselor will work with your creditors to come up with a payment plan you can handle, which could include lowered interest, fees waived and payments re-structured. The tricky part is that instead of paying your creditors every month, you will write one check to the organization and they will make the payments. The last thing you want is to give your money to a company that has not proven itself and you have not checked out.
Even reputable credit counseling does not come without side effects. While your creditors may agree to a scaled down payment plan, they will likely report you as a deadbeat to the credit bureaus. That could blemish your credit report for at least seven years, the price you may have to pay to get yourself back on a good financial track. On the other hand, many people report that credit counseling had a positive effect on their credit history.
Credit counseling is not going to be a walk in the park. It’s hard work to get out of debt. But doing the right thing by repaying your debts will make you a better person and give you a hope and a future. And it won’t cost you a cent to find out if it can help you.
Dear Mary: I wear contact lenses, so I am diligent to discard mascara after three months of use. What is the shelf life for other cosmetics and skin care products? I want to make sure I don’t throw away products unnecessarily. Reese
Dear Reese: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that liquid foundation can be used for up to two years, or until it begins to separate. Toss face powder and eye shadow after three years; lipstick is okay for three years but discard it if oil beads up on the sides of the product. Replace mascara and liquid eyeliners every three months, because they are prime targets for bacteria, whether you wear contact lenses or not.
As for sealed cosmetics, they have a shelf life of three to four years, so take advantage when you see a great sale. But no matter how great the bargain, don’t buy beyond your ability to use within a reasonable period of time.