If we are to survive as a strong nation, a strong community, a strong neighborhood, and a strong family we will need to move beyond just focusing on what we had in the past, before this huge set of financial problems. Count your current blessings, stay in the present, and don’t waste your efforts on casting blame. Right now your goal is to survive and possibly thrive and that means looking ahead much more than behind you.

It is important to remember the necessity of maintaining your physical and mental health while going through crises as we are now. Otherwise, you make a bad situation much worse. Seeking positive interactions, seeing the best in circumstances, seeking help and psychological support from mental health professionals if that becomes necessary, and staying spiritually centered are all effective counters to an emotional depression that you do not need.

Some call this kind of positive thinking prosperity consciousness. Others say it is simply keeping the faith. I believe it is both and it is a safe path through tough times. Do yourself a favor and use a little of your scarce cash to buy a wonderful book by author and financial stress reducer, Chellie Campbell, called The Wealthy Spirit (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2002, www.sourcebooks.com). It is the best motivational guide and self help financial stress reduction book that I have ever read.

In fighting to maintain one’s physical and mental health during stress, it is not easy to escape the “beat down” that is an ever-present part of financial trouble. The relentless calls from debt collectors, the damning notices of intent to take possession, and the constant dread that comes from lack of cash are enough to bring fear to the strongest of souls. Unfortunately, even if you make payment plans on a debt, collection agencies can still instruct their collectors to continue to make calls that any reasonable person would see as harassment. Since harassment is illegal, remember to get the name, title, and identification or employee number of the individuals who are calling you. Also remember that if you can’t meet the obligations of whatever plan you have agreed to, say so and be prepared to offer an alternative arrangement.

There are no magic bullets for getting out of the financial mess we are in but there are some laws and regulations you need to be aware of and use when appropriate. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was enacted to stop abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by debt collectors Some of the more common violations include calling people before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., trying to intimidate them into debt payments, use of threatening or abusive language, and saying there is nothing that can be done to lower interest fees, reduce late penalties, or other fees. It is important for you to remember that you are entitled to request information on whether the amount of the debt that is being claimed is in fact correct. This will not only help you to determine if there are any illegitimate or incorrect charges on your account, but if the collectors cannot produce the original or a legitimate copy of the debt, this can help you in a legal proceeding.

A version of the financial beat down that often seems to be an offer of legitimate help is the negotiated settlement. Sometimes a debt collector will offer to negotiate a “settlement” of the debt. These are cases in which the total amount owed is reduced. This usually happens with older debt or debt that has been sold by the original debtor to a third party collector (and the collector cannot find the debt paper or account files). While such settlements are useful in reducing the total amount owed, there are associated pitfalls and dangers you need to be aware of to protect yourself.

The IRS counts the difference between the amount owed and the amount you pay in a debt settlement as income. For example, if you have a credit card debt over 90 days old, and the amount is significant, it is likely that the collector will offer a reduced amount for you to pay with certain conditions like a quick payment. This difference in the amount owed and the settlement amount is taxable. In a time when your financial resources are limited, you may have substituted a debt collector for the IRS. Needless to say, the IRS is more powerful than the cruelest private debt collector. So be careful and have a clear understanding of the implications of you actions.

One way to look at the financial beat down is to view it as a rite of passage. After surviving it, you are fully ready for the change process that is part of traveling through tough times. Debt collectors, attorneys, unscrupulous loan brokers, unfair credit practices and the like can come after you, but you must not allow any of them to take away your ability to plan for your greater good. Remember to maintain a wholeness of spirit and belief that something wonderful will happen to you if you only hold on and get through the rough waters.

So, what plans are you making for your new beginning?

Tough Times Tip: Every situation of adversity is also an opportunity for change and new direction. You must be a relentless advocate for yourself and demand respect and attention to your problem(s).

– Dr. B. J. Hawkins, President and CEO of OFSTM The Business Doctors, is a business growth and turnaround specialist. She can be reached by e-mail at bdoctors@aol.com.