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When Sunshine Hefferon answers the phone at work, she doesn’t know what the caller’s mood, motivation, or state of mind will be.
“I could have someone cry because they’re at their wit’s end. I could have someone who is angry, and I have to remember that it’s not about me.
“You have to meet each person where they are. I do my best to listen to them, to validate them.
Hefferon is a financial advisor at GreenPath Debt Solutionscall center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. When she takes a call, her first goal is to establish a relationship with the caller. This allows him to begin the sometimes difficult but always satisfying experience of helping consumers improve their finances and their lives.
“You can hear a smile on the phone,” Hefferon says. “I’m really happy when they say, ‘I’m so glad I spoke with you’. “
GreenPath is a non-profit credit counseling, financial education, and debt management organization with offices in 15 states. The company also serves consumers nationwide by phone and online.
Financial counseling was not part of Hefferon’s initial career plan.
“I had a degree in psychology and I was working on a master’s degree,” she says. “I started working in the call center, I became a bankruptcy counselor and then a housing counselor. I liked the environment and I love helping people. … Working here is definitely rewarding.
GreenPath offers advice on housing, student loans and bankruptcy, credit report reviews, debt repayment plans, and many other services. He is a member of National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the country’s largest nonprofit financial advisory organization. GreenPath has approximately 500 employees nationwide and assists nearly a quarter of a million consumers each year.
From the call center, Hefferon consults with customers exclusively by phone, never in person. But GreenPath has many offices where people can come and meet with a financial advisor.
Hefferon says communicating by phone isn’t a barrier at all. She always tries to be empathetic, without sounding like a piece of cake. Her job is to help clients understand, accept, and take responsibility for their financial issues, and then develop a corrective action plan to move forward.
“We put action in place every time we speak, and sometimes people just don’t follow through,” Hefferon says. “My job is not to be a babysitter. I tell them, ‘The action plan is about you.’ “Ultimately, the customer has to take full responsibility.
Some understand, some don’t
Hefferon says it can be frustrating when a customer is consistently overspending or running a monthly deficit of $ 1,000 or more, and the person just doesn’t want to change. But more often than not, she says, people facing huge bills or credit card debt want a lifestyle change. It was then that Hefferon found his job deeply rewarding.
“I was chatting with a 70-year-old single woman who was living on a fixed income and struggling financially,” Hefferon says. “When she was married, her husband handled all the finances.”
“When she first called me, she was literally crying on the phone. She said she went to a restaurant and struggled to pay the bill. That’s when it hit her.
“She started to track her expenses, she now keeps track of every dollar she spends. Before that, she didn’t even know her expenses, she didn’t even know the (monthly) deficit. She said, “Wow I can’t believe I was spending so much on XYZ.” “
A plan to free yourself from your debts
Hefferon’s client participated in GreenPath Debt management plan. As part of the plan, GreenPath acts as an intermediary between customers and their creditors. All parties agree to a repayment schedule which typically includes reduced interest rates and a consolidated monthly payment. The customer pays GreenPath, which then pays the money to the creditors.
GreenPath is a member of NerdWallet Ask an advisor Platform. Hefferon and other GreenPath advisors have answered over 160 consumer questions about AAA. Anyone can ask a question and get a free answer from a credit counselor at nerdwallet.com/ask.
As a non-profit organization, GreenPath relies on grants, funding from certain creditors who participate in its programs, and customer fees. Organizations like GreenPath are different from for-profit companies (sometimes called debt settlement companies) that also work with people looking for debt relief. For-profit companies typically charge more and sometimes engage in deceptive or illegal practices, according to federal regulators.
“When some people call us for the first time, they think we’re a debt settlement company,” Hefferon says. “We tell them we’re not here to convince them to do something. We’re here to provide support and to talk about the pros and cons of all options. My intention is to educate people and help them do better.
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Image courtesy of Sunshine Hefferon