Choosing a tactic that can erase credit-card debt

Q: I am a widow and have accumulated credit-card debt of more than $25,000. I am using only two of my eight cards, and trying to pay off the remaining balances. I have investigated several offers to consolidate these cards. Most require a second mortgage. But my home is very small and inexpensive and does not seem to qualify. My only income is Social Security.
Name and location withheld

A: Call the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 800-388-2227, for an office near you, says David Bendix, of Bendix Financial Group, in Garden City, N.Y. It provides free or low-cost counseling. "Negotiate a payment plan with all your creditors, if possible," Mr. Bendix says. Also, contact your state government to see if it has counseling services for senior citizens.

Q: I graduated from college about a year and a half ago and work for a nonprofit organization. I have paid off my student loans, and am still working on paying off my credit card. I would like to start saving money. I have been advised against investing. Should I be looking into money-market accounts or mutual funds?
L.A., via e-mail

A: Bendix recommends that you join your company's 403(b) contributory retirement plan. Set aside what you can afford. You may receive a company match. He also suggests that you put some money into a money-market fund or stock mutual funds. If you don't yet have enough for a money-market fund, build up your bank savings account, and then transfer the money.

Q: My wife and I have modest investments and a family. We keep wondering if we should sit down with a financial adviser. How do I find a good one? What will be the cost?
O.T., Watertown, Mass.

A: "Virtually anyone can benefit from a good financial adviser, especially if you have assets and a family," says Gary Schatsky, chairman emeritus of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (800-366-2732). A planner will help reduce your debt and taxes; consider estate planning; maximize income; and check out your insurance requirements. Fees range from $500 to $2,000 or more depending on your circumstances. To find names of planners, call NAPFA, or go to www.pueblo.gsa.gov, click on "money" and go to "10 questions to ask."

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