Sunday, February 29, 2004

Susan C. Keating is using her 29 years of experience in commercial banking to combat consumer debt as the new head of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Inc.

The Silver Spring nonprofit organization provides free or low-cost credit counseling through its 130 member companies nationwide. The foundation gets most of its funding from membership dues, but also from corporate and government grants.

The organization refers clients to its member agencies that on average charge up to $50 for budget counseling and $100 for a debt reduction plan.

Mrs. Keating, 53, starts today as the foundation’s president and chief executive officer. She comes to the organization, which has a $5 million average annual budget and 20 employees, after spending the past year and a half as a financial consultant and public speaker.

Prior to that, Mrs. Keating was the president and chief executive officer of Allfirst Financial Inc., a Baltimore banking company that was acquired by M&T Bank Corp. in April.

She resigned six months after Allfirst announced a $691.2 million currency trading scandal that it blamed on trader John Rusnak.

Mrs. Keating said she joined the credit-counseling foundation because of the chance to merge her philanthropic passions with her banking experience.

“I have served companies that have done work with the organization by referring clients for debt reduction plans. I was always impressed by the member agencies’ dedication and services,” she said.

Mrs. Keating said her main priority will be reviewing the membership standards in place for the foundation-affiliated counseling companies that help debtors get affordable counseling, debt reduction plans and education on how to be financially secure.

Rising credit-card and consumer debt has made more people seek out credit counseling services this past year, Mrs. Keating noted. “It’s important that our agencies spend time talking with the families and help them develop a debt reduction plan that makes sense instead of a quick-fix plan,” she said.

The nation’s consumer debt reached $2 trillion last year, the Federal Reserve reported. About 1.6 million households filed for bankruptcy while average credit card debt rose to $8,500 per household.

W. Patrick Boisclair, chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees, said the organization picked Mrs. Keating because of her banking background. “In Susan Keating, we have acquired a seasoned executive who will lead our efforts to further define our future during this rapid and extreme season of change in the credit counseling service sector,” Mr. Boisclair said.

Ms. Keating is relocating from Baltimore County to the District with her husband, John.

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