Consumer Credit Counseling Service

Marlena Clay-Boone poses with a jug of cut-up credit cards in the Catonsville office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service. The nonprofit has its clients cut up their credit cards as part of its program to help them get out of debt. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / February 5, 2012)

In 2009, Marlena Clay-Boone had $68,000 in debt and seemingly nowhere to turn.

Then 57 years old, Clay-Boone had just gone through a divorce and had to use her credit cards to pay for several home repairs that came one after the other.

Clay-Boone learned about Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware (CCCS) from a supervisor and contacted the nonprofit on Frederick Road in Catonsville about digging her way out.

That 20-minute phone call changed her life, she said.

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"I was very emotional that day and the (CCCS representative) spoke to me and told me about the program and how it worked," said Clay-Boone, an Arbutus resident for 24 years. "I never dreamed that I had that much debt."

A single mother for much of the time while she raised her son, Shelton, now 40, Clay-Boone knew how to stretch a dollar. She was willing to work overtime at her job at Verizon when those dollars couldn't be stretched far enough.

But in 2009, she was in over her head.

"They put me on a different financial pace," Clay-Boone said of CCCS. "I feel a lot better. What they allowed me to do was to put my bills together on one monthly bill which helps me see what I have left."

"It helps me to manage a lot better," she said.

Not yet halfway through the five-year program, Clay-Boone has paid off nearly $30,000 of her debt as CCCS helped her get her interest rates lowered through a debt management plan.

Clay-Boone is one of the tens of thousands of clients that CCCS helps each year.

Funding for CCCS, according to its website, comes from voluntary contributions from creditors, businesses, civic organizations and the community.

In 2010, the most recent year with complete data, CCCS had 32,400 new clients, 65 percent of which came from outside of Maryland and Delaware, said Deanna Booker, a community outreach manager with the company.

The amount of debt ranged from $1,000 to $400,000, according to a release from the company.

Those debt problems cross socio-economic lines, Booker said, whether people are unemployed or making six figures.

On average, those seeking help have an annual income of $42,108 and owe $59,642 to 13 creditors, according to a release from the company.

The 13 creditors come in many forms but often are credit card companies, said Booker, a Catonsville resident.

"I've seen people go from just totally, totally rock bottom from a financial point view and watched them come up the ladder," Booker said.

The debt management plan allows people to pay back credit card debt, unsecured and secured loans and medical bills, according to the CCCS website.

If a person visits CCCS at its Frederick Road office and chooses to enter the program, Booker said CCCS requires the person to cut up all their credit cards before leaving at the end of their first visit.