In a personal financial crisis during COVID and beyond, the first line of defense may be a little-known financial management and debt counseling agency in Manchester – GreenPath.

GreenPath, a nationwide non-profit that provides financial counseling to people of all incomes, found that COVID put consumers through a ringer of money challenges, first with housing and mortgage payments, as consumers waited for unemployment and stimulus checks, while their incomes shrank because of layoffs or reduced hours, an agency spokesman said.

Although many credit card companies temporarily suspended late fees during the pandemic, typically at a consumer’s request, unpaid bills remain an issue for many Granite Staters, and show no signs of ebbing soon, according to legal and financial experts.

At the pandemic’s outset, nationwide and in New Hampshire, GreenPath’s hotline experienced a 50 percent increase in calls from people struggling to make rent or mortgage payments, said Brian Brown, a financial wellness counselor at the Manchester office.  

Callers were relying on CARES Act assistance, seeking help from state and local resources, and asking for help fending off creditors, said Brown – and 22 percent gave COVID as the reason. Another 55 percent cited job loss, and 42.5 percent said their income decreased because of COVID, said Brown.

At this point, “they may have used any savings they had and are increasingly relying on credit,” Brown said in an emailed statement.

A single mother in southern New Hampshire whose hours had been cut during the pandemic reported that her income dropped by roughly $1,000 a month. She had more than $37,000 in unsecured debts from credit cards, personal loans, and debts in collection, and enrolled in a debt management plan to pay it off in 41 months, Brown said.

Brown recommends some key steps to recover from a catastrophe of money owed:

First, take care of your household essentials, such as housing, medicine, food/water and electric bills.

Eliminate expenses you can live without.

Reach out for federal, state and local assistance at 211.org.

As soon as possible, ask lenders, creditors and landlords for hardship assistance, such a payment deferral or payment plan.

Build up emergency savings, including from money saved by working at home, such as childcare or transportation expenses.

For more information, call GreenPath at 603-626-4530, or go to GreenPath.org.

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