(KCBS) – Credit, credit cards, debt and dealing with your mortgage. Those are just some of the issues facing consumers across the Bay Area and in the United States.

Joe Ridout with Consumer Action, a nonprofit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971, said consumers are especially struggling with different aspects of credit.

An Interview With Consumer Action’s Joe Ridout :

“That’s probably the number one issue facing consumers right now. Getting access to credit, managing the credit, like credit cards that you already have,” said Ridout. “Getting out of debt and staying out of debt. It’s harder than ever to do in a bad economy. But that’s what consumers are struggling with today.”

Ridout said they suggest counselors to people who come in for help. “If you are in over your head and can’t pay your bill, one option is to go to a credit counselor. They have numerous offices. What they can do is organize all those debts under one roof and reduce the interest rate in some cases,” he said. “What consumers should not fall for are these promises made by so-called debt settlement or debt relief companies. We have heard from so many people who have simply been ripped off by these companies that promise to settle your debt for half of the amount and then just simply walk away with thousands of dollars that consumers pay them.” Ridout said bankruptcy is another option, although one that many are hesitant to make.

He said many homeowners are facing problems of their own, struggling to pay their mortgage. But he warns that consumers have to know who is on the up-and-up. “When you have so many homeowners under water, owing a lot more than their home is worth, there has been a lot of enterprising scammers who have designed companies that promise to reduce what you owe or guarantee a principal reduction in exchange for upfront fees,” said Ridout.

Overall, the organization is seeing a number of privacy issues cropping up, including hiring practices of businesses.

“About 60 percent of all employers check their applicants’ credit rating before they decide to offer someone a job. It’s something that has nothing to do with the other,” Ridout said. “They’ve done studies and have found no relationship between job performance and someone’s credit score. A lot of states have passed legislation banning this practice.” Ridout said California itself is in the process of passing legislation that would ban this practice altogether.

Ridout said that consumers have to do research and find out what is legitimate and what is a scam when it pertains to their credit and other privacy issues.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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