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How bad are your finances? Fill in the blanks

Nov. 15, 2011 at 3:02 PM ET

By Herb Weisbaum, The ConsumerMan

It’s logical to assume that if someone is in financial trouble, they’ll know it. But credit counselors say that’s not always the case.

“A lot of people are in situations where they think things are just fine because they are able to make the minimum payments on their debt and pay their monthly expenses,” explains Bruce McClary with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, a national nonprofit agency based in Richmond, Va. “What they don’t realize is that if they slip up just once, if they miss one payment, the whole house of cards could come tumbling down and they could find themselves in a really bad situation.”

Even if you realize things aren't good, you may not understand what's causing the problem.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has a new online tool called MyMoneyCheckUp that will help you evaluate your personal situation.

"We have found that people who think they have their financial act together walk away from this tool with their eyes wide open,” says the foundation’s Gail Cunningham.

MyMoneyCheckup asks you a series of questions about four areas of your financial life: budgeting and credit management, savings and investing, retirement planning and managing home equity.

At the end of the process you’ll get a customized assessment of your financial health in each of the four areas, using a color-coded grading system. Green means keep doing what you’re doing. Yellow indicates you should proceed with caution. Red, of course, means you need to stop and make changed.

“It will define which areas you need some help in and give you some tips on what to do next," Cunningham explains.

I asked John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, to test drive MyMoneyCheckup. He created an account and went through the entire process. Ulzheimer tells me he found it to be “very well done, easy to understand and singularly focused on helping people better understand their finances.”  

Ulzheimer likes the traffic light (red, yellow and green) grading system, which he says “makes it very clear to the user just where they stand.” The advice, he says, “is well written in easy to understand language.”

In order for MyMoneyCheckup to evaluate your finances, you’ll need to enter your age and specific dollar amounts for certain things: such as your income, monthly mortgage payment and credit card debt. But you are never asked for account numbers, name, address or phone number. (If you are concerned about using your email address, you can always create a disposable one just for this purpose.)

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