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by Abigail Van Buren

Let the Buyer Beware When Choosing Credit Counseling

DEAR ABBY: I read your sound advice to "Addicted to Spending," the woman who racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. She said she couldn't sleep at night for fear her husband would divorce her when he found out. You were right that a credit counseling agency can provide valuable assistance, but she needs to be careful which one she selects.

The Internal Revenue Service oversees many credit counseling agencies because they are tax-exempt. We have received an increasing number of complaints that some of these agencies charge high fees, offer poor repayment plans, and provide little in the way of education and counseling.

We have stepped up our audits of credit counseling agencies and, where warranted, will revoke their tax exemption.

In addition, we have issued a consumer alert with the Federal Trade Commission and state regulators, warning consumers to check carefully before signing up with a particular program. A few tips:

(1) Beware of high fees or "voluntary" contributions.

(2) Carefully read any written statements before you sign, and make sure your creditors will work with the agency you want.

(3) Watch carefully the claims made in TV ads. -- MARK W. EVERSON, COMMISSIONER OF THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

DEAR COMMISSIONER EVERSON: I know my tax dollars are being well spent when the highest collection officer in the land reaches out to help people with money troubles. Everyone has heard the phrase, "Let the buyer beware." ("Caveat emptor.") However, it is especially discouraging to think that people who are vulnerable and trying to move their lives in a positive direction would be victimized by predators.

No doubt many readers will thank you for the warning. (Readers, you can find the IRS commissioner's alert by visiting the Web site: www.irs.gov/newsroom.)

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for more than 20 years. My wife and I have been friends with a certain couple, "Claude and Maude," for 15 years. On New Year's Eve we all went out to dinner and a few drinks. I was the designated driver, so I did not drink. When we returned home, all three, my wife, Claude and Maude, proceeded to get trashed to the max.

Maude got sick and passed out; my wife went to bed. Claude and I sat up and watched the ball drop and a couple of other programs. I fell asleep about 1:30 a.m. and assumed that Claude would, too. Around 2:00 a.m., I got out of my chair and walked to my bedroom. Claude was sitting on the bed next to my wife, putting his pants on. My wife was passed out, so I don't know what happened. It has bothered me so much since then that I can't sleep and don't know what to do. If ever there was a reason for me to become violent, that was it, but I kept my cool.

The next morning, my wife could remember nothing at all. What do you think I should do? -- OUTRAGED IN HOLLYWOOD, MD

DEAR OUTRAGED: In view of the fact that a 15-year friendship is at stake, talk to Claude. It's possible that he was so loaded that he didn't know where he was, and nothing happened.

The best advice I can offer now is that Claude, Maude and your wife should all do something about their drinking. Let this serve as a wake-up call.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600