In recession, test asks: 'Are you financially fit?'

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - Many Americans go to the gym religiously. They have put in the hours of work and months of dedication required to be physically fit. But what about fiscal fitness? Are people devoting the same time and attention to matters of the wallet?

"When you boil down to it, it's not one of those things we really want to talk about," said Will Kuenzel, a West Ashley resident.

Members of the St. Andrews Family Fitness Center were handed a financial fitness center and asked to complete it. The test, compiled by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, is designed to get to the heart of a person's spending habits.

Everyone starts with a 100 and subtract points based on their responses to the questions. For instance, if you're behind on your mortgage or facing foreclosure, subtract 33 points. That is followed by if you're on the brink of having your car repossessed, subtract 12.

Scores for the gym members were not recorded, but they all said they scored well.

"I'm in a different position that some other people," said Madalyn Turner. "I'm a lot younger, graduated two years ago, so I don't have a mortgage yet. But coming out of school, I wasn't going to acquire that because I know that wasn't the right decision."

Many respondents said the test indicated they should pay more attention to where their money goes. "I probably need to be a little more conscious about how I spend my money," said Renee Richardson.

Toby Smith is a credit counselor at Family Services. He says taking a test like the one released by the CCCS is a good way to monitor your financial status. A low score is nothing to be ashamed of, she said, don't be too proud to seek professional help.

"If the situation has gotten this bad on your own, what makes you think you're going to see it through on your own? This is time to seek help," she said. "What we do is help reshape the conversation. We're going to show you that it's not as bad as you think and we're going to help you figure out how to get back on track."

"You've got to stay on top of it or you'll fall behind," said Steve Smith at the fitness center.

If your credit card debt is between $2,000 and $5,000, subtract five points. Between $5,000 and $10,000; subtract 10 points. Up to $15,000, take away 15 points.

Smith says people that are carrying tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt have to adjust their thinking before it creates a problem. "What we find when people are carrying that much credit card debt, they are highly accomplished professionals who are used to having disposable income. It never occurs to them that the money is going to go away," she said.

Smith says that's a very dangerous habit because the next step is usually bankruptcy.

If you don't make regular contributions to your 401(k), subtract 5.

Smith says the American dream of being a multi-billionaire cannot cloud one's judgment when it comes to planning for the future, which is why putting away money for the years leading up to and after retirement is important.

If you don't follow a written monthly budget, subtract 2.

"It's just too easy to spend willy nilly and I know what the excuse is: 'I've got it all in my head.' No, you don't. 60,000 thoughts go through our head a day," she said. "Most people don't remember what they have for lunch last week."

Take the test and tally the score. How did you do?

If you scored 90 or above, your finances are extremely stable. Scores between 70-89, you're in fairly good shape but need to review your financial plan. Scores between 50-69, you likely need to do a complete review of your finances and meet with a specialist. If you scored below 50 points, you need to meet with a credit counselor.

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