DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been paying the minimums on a pile of credit cards for years. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I barely keep my creditors at bay. I have never had a high-paying job, and I have needed credit in order to make ends meet. I will not be able to work forever. I am worried that I will be paying these bills for the rest of my life. Do you think it is wise to go to one of those credit consolidators for help? I don’t know what to do. -- Drowning in Debt
DEAR DROWNING IN DEBT: You are wise to be thinking about what you can do to consolidate your debt at this time. Do your research to figure out what is best for you. There are several things that consumers do when they get into financial trouble. My research shows three key options. 1) Debt settlement allows your debt to be negotiated to a lower interest rate or principal. 2) Debt relief is when you convince a debtor to forgive some or part of what you owe them. 3) Debt consolidation occurs when you take out a loan that pays for all of your debt and then you pay off that one bill.
You can call around to learn how each of these options works, but before you make a choice, get professional input. You can talk to a financial adviser at your bank -- for free. Figure out which option works best for you to help you become debt-free within a particular period of time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My teenage daughter has been having significant mood swings of late. One day she comes home with a pleasant attitude. The next day she is super snippy. We have always been close, but I worry that it is changing. I want to stay connected to her, but I can’t allow her to talk to me any way she pleases. To that end, she actually apologized to me yesterday and admitted that she had been in a terrible mood the day before. I thanked her for noticing and told her that it sometimes is hard for me when she is so snippy. Is there anything else I can do? -- Teenage Blues
DEAR TEENAGE BLUES: Medical experts say that mood swings are common among teenagers due to hormonal changes, lack of sleep, poor eating habits and social stressors. While you should not allow your teen to speak to you disrespectfully, experts suggest that it is smart for you to resist reacting immediately to mood swings. Instead, attempt to show compassion. Let your teen know that you understand that waves of emotion can sometimes make them behave in extreme ways. Continue to keep the lines of communication open so that you and your daughter talk as much as possible about everything. In this way, when touchy subjects come up, you have created space to discuss them comfortably.
One note for parents: If your teen’s moods seem too intense, look for warning signs of a bigger problem: prolonged irritability; extreme feelings of highs and lows; feelings of unworthiness; erratic behavior; failing grades; suspected substance abuse; refusal to participate in activities previously enjoyed; and talk of self-harm or suicide. For more support, go to aha-now.com/cope-with-teenage-mood-swings.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)