Struggling with student loans?

November 24th, 2015    Posted in Debt, Debt Counseling, Student Loan

Are you in repayment of your student loans? Are you behind or struggling to keep up? Help has arrived! You can have a free and confidential student loan repayment counseling session with one of our certified financial counselors.  This session will help you get a handle on your student loans. By meeting with LSS, you wYoung female graduate holding money at libraryill:

Organize and identify your loans by type in order to strategically pay them down

Learn about your repayment plan options

Explore consolidation options

Discover if your career path could lead to loan forgiveness

Create a budget plan to strategically pay your student loans and other debts standing in your way

Identify options to stop payments if you haven’t found that dream job yet

Don’t let your student loans stand in the way of your dreams; take control of them now. Call LSS at 1.888.577.2227. We will create a plan of action with you to pay off student loans and all your debts!

For more information on our other services, visit

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5 Ways to Save Money this Thanksgiving

November 23rd, 2015    Posted in Events

Turkey day is almost here! Time to relax with family, watch some football, and eat…and eat. I’m one of the lucky ones (in my opinion) because I don’t have to cook. But I do know that it can be expensive to host Thanksgiving, especially if you have a large circle of friends and family. So here are 5 easy ways to save money this year if you’re hosting.

  1. Make a classic dinner. 

    Closeup of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.You might want to try making a fancy trifle for dessert, for example, but pumpkin pie is much cheaper and many, many people look forward to having it every year. If you do want something fancy, search online for recipes that add new flavors to your usual dishes, instead of expensive ingredients.

  2. Host a B.Y.O.D. Thanksgiving.

    Talk to your family and friends about each of them bringing a dish to share. This spreads the wealth quite a bit and will save you as the host a lot of time and money.

  3. Plan for leftovers.

    There are a lot of different leftover recipes, but one that goes the farthest is making soup stock from the turkey carcass. (Yep, it’s a gross word, but it makes delicious soup.) There is always the usual turkey sandwiches, but this year the Thanksgiving burrito is all the rage. Grab a tortilla shell and throw in all of the ingredients of your choice. I can’t wait to try it!

  4. Keep the decor simple.

    See if any children in the family want to make a centerpiece KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAor just use gourds and/or branches for a natural look. A great idea for name place cards is putting a piece of paper with each person’s name in a pine cone. It’s cheap, simple, and looks great.

  5. Don’t be the bartender, too.

    While I’m sure people will drink complicated alcoholic beverages, keep it simple and cheaper with wine – either bottled or boxed. Or if you’re taking care of all of the food, suggest that guests bring a beverage of their choice. Truly no one will notice if you don’t serve something extravagant to drink.

This year, don’t break the bank just to cook a dinner for your friends and family. Take it from a person who attends multiple Thanksgiving dinners every year: potluck dinners are becoming the norm and guests appreciate whatever is provided. So keep it simple and make the most of the time you have with your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.

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Divorce: The Good, The Bad, The Debt

November 18th, 2015    Posted in Debt, Debt Management Plan, Divorce

The divorce – the ‘big D’ – is finally done…signed, stamped, and sealed by the judge.  The knots that once bound you together have unwoven and you are on your own, but wait….the debts. What happens with those?

You are keeping this, they are paying for those.  Everyone is in agreement.  It’s written into the divorce decree.  That’s all fine and dandy.  Life is moving onward…until you try to apply for credit.  You find out that debt that they were supposed to be paying on is 4 months behind on payments.  Your jaw drops.  “I’m not responsible for that debt; the divorce decree says they are now obligated to pay that debt.”

Even if the debt was taken out jointly, it does not matter to your creditors/lenders what the divorce decree says. 

That means you are both on the hook for that debt.  You both signed a contract agreeing to pay back that debt and nowhere in the contract is there a clause that says “in the case of a divorce we will only collect on the person the divorce decree says is responsible.” As nice as that would be, it’s just not life loading concept on blackboard

The only way one person can be removed from the debt is if the other person refinances that debt into their own name.  Sometimes this works with no problem.  More often than not though, it took both of your incomes to qualify for that debt. Therefore, the creditor may not be able (or willing) to refinance the debt.

While there may be legal action you can take because the other person was supposed to pay that debt and has not, legal action could be very expensive.  It could take months and months of litigation, time off of work, and maybe even feuding between the two of you.  In the end, that person still cannot afford to pay the debt…plus not much may be accomplished from that time, money, and energy spent.

LSS can help. We can help you create a balanced budget, review your credit reports, and likely make the debts more manageable with a Debt Management Plan. By making your payments on a DMP, creditors usually decrease interest rates and in some cases even decrease monthly payments. A DMP could be the best way to avoid the time, effort, and struggle of a legal battle…and maybe even decrease or eliminate arguments. Not to mention, your unsecured debts would be paid off in 5 years or less, saving you a lot of money in interest charges.

Contact us today at 888.577.2227 to see how we can work together to conquer your debts once and for all. Or instead of calling, you can GET STARTED ONLINE right now. Take action today for a better financial future.

Author Katie Eastman is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Katie ECounseling and she specializes in Budget and Debt Counseling.

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Reduce Holiday Stress and Create Enduring Memories

November 13th, 2015    Posted in Holiday Shopping, Kids, Relationships

Despite what marketing executives would have us believe, the Holiday Season is not a warm, carefree, or cozy time for many of us, if not most of us. The season is packed with stress—emotional stress, time stress, expectations stress, financial stress… the list goes on. I will bet money that financial stress is in thZemanta Related Posts Thumbnaile top three, for sure.

As a Financial Counselor, I hear common refrains in my office from the people I serve when talking about how to reduce expenses by trimming gift-giving: ‘The other grandparents go all out for Christmas.’ ‘My siblings make more money than I do, and don’t want to change what we do as a family.’ ‘My ex buys everything the kids ask for.’ I understand the anxiety. We are social creatures and need acceptance and love. But, what really creates that acceptance and love?

I read an article last year about how spending money on experiences brings longer lasting happiness than spending money on material goods. (It is an interesting article.) I recently looked it up again and it made me stop and think about my childhood memories.

I don’t remember the toys I got at Christmas. I do remember the flannel nightgown from Sears I got each year—not the color or pattern, but the comfy softness of the new flannel and how wonderful it felt to fall asleep in it.

There is one toy I do remember and still have more than 50 years later—an octopus made of yarn from my grandmother. She gave it to me with a name: Priscilla Lavae. It was made from scrap yarn and the head filled with old nylon stockings. We made it together. The scene is still vivid in my mind and evokes warm feelings. With 22 grandchildren, the opportunity to have my own time with Gram was indeed very special. Today when I look down at the countless brown age spots on my hands, I don’t say “Ugh.” Instead I am reminded of Gram and her spotted hands guiding mine while we made Priscilla Lavae.

And, I think of my beloved Uncle Joe… I don’t recall the things he gave me, I remember driving around the mines on the Iron Range, with a special tour of downtown Buhl. (If you are ever on the Range in Northern Minnesota take a side trip to drive through Buhl and you’ll understand the thrill it was for a young city kid.) He tolCREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100d me stories and was clearly happy to be spending time with his niece. He made me feel loved.

With minimal expense these two adults cemented my adoration of them for my lifetime. It was all about spending time, not money. So, this Christmas, focus on the memory-building experiences. If you are a grandparent, use the gift of your time. Take a drive with your grandchild. Talk with them—tell stories about their early childhood, or their parent’s, or your own.

Make something with them and teach them a lasting skill. If you are “competing” with your ex for love, you can be sure the children will remember the competition and not the love. Just show the love with time and attention, make it about them and not the ex. And, bowing to the pressure to spend more than you want will only create resentment. No happy memories there. If your grandmother taught you to crochet, make something even as simple as a dishcloth. Every time that person uses it, they will think of you.

Thank you for indulging me in my trip down memory lane. I enjoyed it, shed some tears and feel happy. Give the gift of happy memories to your loved ones!

Cutting back on expenses is just one piece of the financial puzzle. If you’re feeling like you’ll never complete that puzzle, give LSS Financial Counseling a call today at 888.577.2227 or GET STARTED ONLINE. We will work with you to create tangible action steps to conquer your debt…with the ultimate goal of financial freedom.

Author Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS and she specializes in Debt and Budget Counseling and Financial Education.

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Showing financial respect for veterans’ service

November 11th, 2015    Posted in Debt Counseling, LSS Financial Counseling, Veterans

While courageous members of the military have faced conflicts on front lines around the world, a new survey suggests that many are confronting financial battles at home, too. Thankfully, there is a growing awareness of the needs our returning veterans face with medical, employment, and family reintegration issues. However, service members and their families need help for financial stresses.

A study of service member families by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found they have fewer tangible assets and a higher level of debt than the average American family. Unsecured debt balances for members of the military averaged 7.1% higher, and tangible assets were 16.2% lower. In addition, thboy and soldier in a military uniform say goodbye beforee very nature of military deployment creates changes in financial realities, and exposure to predatory lending, targeted marketing and consumer fraud.

Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Counseling, observed that “Department of Defense studies have shown a concentration of payday lending stores right near military bases. While there are some legal protections available under the Military Lending Act, many service members remain unaware of those rights, and end up in a debt trap of loan after loan. We can do better for our veterans.” He added that in Minnesota, the average payday loan borrower takes 10 loans each year.

LSS Financial Counseling recognizes that debt, credit, and money management are matters of common concern among civilians as well. But special challenges for military families include frequent relocation, deployment, transition to civilian life and employment for military spouses.

LSS Financial Counseling offers free financial counseling for veterans and their families. Becky Pakarinen, Financial Counseling Director at LSS, noted that veterans often wonder who to trust and appreciate nonprofit, local resources to help them with the challenges of reintegration, including financial issues.  “We just worked with a veteran who was going through a divorce and the financial counselor helped him sort which debts he’d still be responsible for, and make a realistic budget based on just his income,” she said. “Like many we serve, that task had seemed overwhelming and it was a huge relief to have someone non-judgmental to help him find solutions. We help people make action plans and conquer their credit card debt and student loan repayment every day.”

There is help. As we remember and give gratitude for our veterans, let’s recognize the financial challenges that many veterans and their families experience and make sure they know about local, free, and trustworthy resources.

Lutheran Social Service provides financial counseling in-person at 10 offices in Minnesota and also by phone or online. Veterans and their families can access financial guidance and debt management by calling 1.888.577.2227 or they can get started online right now.

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Debt: The Struggle is Real

November 9th, 2015    Posted in Credit, Debt, Debt Counseling, Debt Management Plan

Whether it’s a couple who have been in control of their finances from day one or an individual who has struggled their entire life with finances, their struggle is REAL.  To them, their struggle is overwhelming, humiliating, and can be dire.  Sometimes it was brought on by no fault of their own; sometimes it was brought on by mad manself-admitted “stupid mistakes.”

Regardless, people come to see me for one reason…help.

Wow, what an amazing position I have found myself in. (Seriously!) I’m a Financial Counselor…who would have guessed? In the cases of so many of the people I get to serve, I can completely relate. I’ve been there; I’ve walked in their shoes. I have overcome those obstacles and I can empower others to do the same.

The most significant, constant, glaring issue I see is the battle and worry of keeping your credit report clear of any blemishes, despite the fact that there is not enough income to cover all monthly expenses.  It’s been instilled in us: ‘You have to have a perfect credit score’ and ‘Everything is based on your credit score.’

People will go to great lengths to make sure that they are not late on that credit card bill – even if it means taking a cash advance on a different credit card just to pay the first credit card.  I totally get it because like I said, I’ve been there and I’ve done that.  You keep thinking, “If I can just get through this month things will be better”. But then the next statements come and the minimum payments are higher because you have increased the balances to cover your needs.  In the blink of an eye all your credit cards are maxed out.  You have no access to more credit.  CRAP!  Now what?!

For most people the best answer is a Debt Management Plan (DMP) through my organization, LSS.  By making your payments on a DMP, creditors usually decrease interest rates and in some cases even decrease monthly payments.

This is the saving grace many people that I see really need…a chance to make their payments manageable again. A chance to pay their cards in full and save their credit score from the not-so-good alternative options like bankruptcy.

The people that come and see me never cease to amaze me.  They are heroes.  Financial stress is overwhelming and admitting that you let your finances take control of your life can be hard just because of our own egos. That’s why it can take a lot of courage to seek help. So many people I see are embarrassed…but they don’t need to be. Life happens! I’m lucky because I get to look people in the eyes and say “It’s ok.  I know how horrible this seems to you right now, but you can do this. Let’s work TOGETHER to regain control and conquer these debts once and for all.”

Call us today at 888.577.2227 to make an appointment with one of our experienced and non-judgmental counselors like Katie. Or, get started online right now. Don’t worry about how you got to where you are; what’s important is taking action now. Why not make today your first step toward becoming debt-free?

Katie EAuthor Katie Eastman is a Certified Financial Counselor and specializes and Budget and Debt Counseling with LSS Financial Counseling.

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5 reasons you might be broke all the time

November 5th, 2015    Posted in Budgeting, Debt, Entertainment

1. You have credit card debt. That means you have an extra monthly payment. And if that monthly payment was not in your budget before, it can turn into even more charges, higher monthly payments, and paying quite a bit of money in interest.

2. You have a large family/group of friends. Are you always buying your niece, brother, cousin, uncle, kids, partner/spouse a birthday, communion, bridal shower, orZemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Christmas present? If you have a large circle of friends &/or family, chances are you spend a lot of cash on events and presents.

3. You buy cups of coffee at the coffee shop. It might be convenient because you don’t have to make it yourself, but it adds up. Compare what you spend at the coffee shop to what you’d spend if you make it at home. Some people can spend upwards of $100/month versus probably half of that or less if you bring it from home on a regular basis.

4. You travel a lot. You either have a long commute or a combination of that and you don’t plan your trips out very well. When you live in town, it can be easy to not plan trips because everything is only 5 minutes away. However, that can end up costing you money for gas and contributes to wear and tear on your vehicle when you are running all over town multiple days a week.

5. You dine out or go out a lot. Movies are expensive. Buying meals out or having cocktails out is more expensive than grocery shopping and eating meals or making your own drink at home. Again, these are expenses that can add up quickly and cause you to spend a lot of money.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to make a plan and take action.

Pay down your debt faster to get rid of extra monthly payments.

Instead of buying gifts, DO more things with family and friends. Make memories. Help others. How good would it feel to volunteer as a group at a homeless shelter over the holidays instead of spending money on things that no one really needs?

Buy beverages and food from the store and bring it from home whenever possible. Also, don’t go out every weekend. Stay in and have a game night, rent a chMixed race father and son playing in the back gardeneap movie, or catch up on a little TV. Or, try some cheaper alternatives to the usual going out activities.

Carpool, bike to work, walk to work, or take the bus. Then, plan your trips around town instead of just running out whenever you need a couple things.

Remember: don’t completely cut the fun out of your life; just be smarter about it…because it’s no fun to be broke!

Need help with your credit card debt or setting up a realistic budget? Call us at 888.577.2227 or start online financial counseling. It’s free and confidential.

Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.

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Credit Scores: What you need to know

November 3rd, 2015    Posted in Credit, Credit Report

Your credit score is used in decisions regarding eligibility for loans, the cost of insurance premiums, and even employment and rental applications. A credit score is based on factors from your credit report at the time the score is requested. Generally better credit terms, such as interest rates, are offered to people with higher credit scores. The higher the score, the better the terms. So what’s in a score and what can you do to improve your credit score? We’ve got answers and tips for you:

What’s in a credit score?

The FICO score was created by Fair Isaac Corporation and it’s the most common credit scoring system. FICO scores range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better.  An ideal score is at least 700. A lower score may result in paying more for the cost of credit and services, like insurance or loan interest rates.  So it’s important to know what your credit score is, what factors affect it, and ways to improve your score/maintain a good score. Here’s the break down on credit scores:

(35%)    Historcr pie chart 2y: whether or not you make minimum payments on time

(30%)    Debt Balances: combined total debt owed, outstanding balance compared to credit limit

(15%)    Length of Time: when an account was opened and when it was last used

(10%)     New Credit: number of inquiries, time since credit inquiry, new credit opened

(10%)    Credit Type: mix of credit, such as installment/revolving debt, consumer finance accounts


How to improve or maintain your credit score

– Pay bills on time and/or before the due dates with at least minimum payments. Pay more when you can to decrease balances faster.

– Keep your debt balances below 30% of the credit limits. For example, if you have a $1000 credit limit then keep the amount owed at $300 or less.

– Apply for and open new credit accounts and services only as needed. Note: if you open or close a bunch of accounts in a short period of time, this can negatively affect your credit score.

– Know what is being reported and request your credit reports annually from Experian, Equifax, and Transunion through or call (877) 322-8228. Credit reports are free once a year, but expect to pay a small fee for each score requested. If you don’t need your score, make sure you choose the right option to get your report only.Credit_Report small

– Check your credit report for errors and make corrections. Also, make sure you remove outdated, negative information. If you have collection debt, read this post about how to pay collection debt to clean up your credit report.

Improving your credit score is not instant; it takes time, but it CAN be done.

If you would like a free credit report review, call LSS Financial Counseling at 888.577.2227. We’re here to help!

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What to do if you miss a student loan payment

October 27th, 2015    Posted in Debt Counseling, LSS Financial Counseling, Student Loan

Life happens and can sometimes result in a financial crisis. When you have a limited amount of income that can mean making tough choices on what to pay for first. Hopefully you can avoid something like this from happening to you in the future, but in the meantime here’s what to do if you’ve already missed a student loan payment or two.Female college student carrying a piece of puzzle on her back

1. Don’t ignore the problem. Open all your mail and stay informed. Then do what you can to minimize the negative effects and create a crisis budget, prioritizing all your expenses and focusing on necessities.

2. Contact your servicer right away. Call or apply online for either a temporary forbearance or economic hardship deferment, depending on your situation. Try to avoid falling further behind and make sure the terms are realistic for you before agreeing to anything.

3. Consolidate eligible loans. If you haven’t done so, this can usually help reduce your monthly payments and unless you’re in default, it will bring your payments current if you’ve fallen behind. To help decide if it’s right for you, check out this post about consolidating student loans.

4. Check into payment options. For federal loans, there are payments based on income (Income Based Repayment / Income Contingent Repayment) and there are even graduated payments where the payments start out smaller and are increased over time. Just like any loan, be aware of the potential consequences like negative amortization (balances increasing because payments don’t cover interest).

5. Beware of scams. Last but not least, never pay anyone to help you navigate your student loans. If you need more assistance than the tips above, call LSS at 888.577.2227 to schedule a free student loan appointment. Our counselors are here to help you explore and understand your options and potential solutions.

Also, there are other reputable and free resources available, including Student Loan Borrower Assistance, provided by the National Consumer Law Center and the Department of Education. If you’re already in default, visit

If your student loans are in good standing and you just have some credit cards you’d like to pay off faster, we can help. Call us or get started online from the comfort of your own home. Remember, our services are free and confidential. We’re here to help you conquer your debt!

Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.

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