“Poor money management” has become the number one reason for consumers to seek financial counseling, overtaking “reduced income” for the first time in five years.

Even as the economic climate improves, consumers’ temperaments are still uneasy, and many employers are offering their staff a litany of additional benefits, including financial consultations, as part of a broader band of retention benefits.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling released new data Thursday, painting a broad picture of the typical consumer seeking financial counseling in 2013, noting 1.5 million consumers sought advice with concerns focused on debt, housing, budgeting and bankruptcy.

NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham says that unemployment, excessive spending, medical or disability issues and domestic conflict round out the top six reasons consumers seek financial counseling.

The majority age of consumers was fairly evenly divided between 25-54, NFCC notes, with young adults, age 25-34, leading the way (24%), followed by the 35-44 range (23%), and the 45-54 group (21%). 

NFCC cautions that “financial problems can occur at any stage in a person’s adult life which, if left unaddressed, can begin a negative spiral from which it can be difficult to recover.”

See Also: Benefits education yields recruitment and retention benefits

The group found consumers most seeking counseling carried, on average, 5.7 credit cards. While the number of cards isn’t alarming, NFCC says poor management and maxing the lines of credit are what will hurt a consumer’s credit score.

In addition, NFCC says the average household take-home income was $35,081, with an average unsecured debt of $17,548. The resulting .50 debt-to-income ratio can make it harder to meet debt obligations.

“Delaying taking action allows the problem to escalate, often causing financial damage that could have been prevented,” Cunningham adds.

One example can be seen at Starr Conspiracy, a business-to-business marketing agency in Fort Worth, Texas. The company says it is taking a consultative and educational approach, which partner Steve Smith says is especially helpful in educating its employee base on their finances. 

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