A longtime nonprofit that helped thousands of Northwest Indiana residents with credit counseling and debt management for more than four decades abruptly shuttered recently after failing to pay its bills.
Merrillville-based Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwest Indiana had provided financial education, debt management services and personal credit, bankruptcy and foreclosure prevention counseling since it was founded in 1974. But the credit counselor fell behind on its own bills, and was evicted from its office at 800 E. 86th Ave., suite B, in Merrillville.
"They have been evicted due to their failure to pay their rental obligation," Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors CEO Peter Novak Jr. confirmed. GNIAR owns the building in which Consumer Credit Counseling had its office.
The nonprofit that helped people who fell behind on mortgage payments has had financial issues of its own for some time. The Times previously reported it posted a revenue shortfall of $31,000 in 2009.
Consumer Credit Counseling's board reached out to Far South Community Development Corp. in Chicago for help last year, but that arrangement fell through, board chairwoman Loretta Minor said.
"We reached out to them because they had acquired the Genesis Housing organization and wanted to expand service work within the Northwest Indiana market," she said. "We thought it was a great fit and would infuse capital."
The nonprofit, whose website is no longer up and phone is no longer answered, has not moved as a sign posted on its door says. That has caused confusion among clients.
"Consumer Credit Counseling Service didn't put that there," Minor said.
The agency is in fact "shutting down as it has existed" because of its financial condition, Minor said. It had employed three full-time employees and one part-time employee.
The nonprofit had been supported for 44 years through program dollars and grants.
"Some of it dried up. Some grants weren't applied for," she said. "A lot can't be explained. Right now the focus is on the clients. The focus is on making sure they're not negatively impacted."
A total of 156 people were signed up for Consumer Credit Counseling's debt management service, in which the agency negotiated with creditors and took consolidated monthly payments from its clients. Many clients were confused and reached out to her when their November payment was never debited from their bank account.
Minor said the board has been in talks with local and national nonprofits about taking over the debt management service, ideally before next month's bills come due.
She encourages clients to reach out to their creditors directly, if they are comfortable doing so, and make the November payments directly to them.
"Someone will be in touch," she said. "We've notified the regulatory agencies and are trying to find someone accredited to take over the client base. A lot is still up in the air and we're talking with groups about aligning the clients with another organization. The clients are all going to be accommodated."
Some clients dropped off their November payments at the office. Miner said the building is still secure, no checks have been cashed, and the successor organization will handle that issue.
"They should contact their creditors directly," she said. "No payments are late until after 30 days, and this will have no negative impact on their credit because it's through no fault of their own."
Client information will be turned over to another nonprofit as soon as possible.
"Rest easy that your data is secure and comfortable," she said. "Someone will be in contact."
Other nonprofits in Northwest Indiana offered all the other services that Consumer Credit Counseling did, save for the debt management, Miner said.
"Anytime you lose a program that affords a particular service, it leaves a void," she said.