Consumer advocates who have in the past argued with each other have come together to produce a brochure for consumers on how to overcome financial difficulties.

Visa and the Consumer Federation of America spearheaded the project. Six other organizations and federal agencies contributed to the brochure, called "Managing Your Debts: How to Regain Financial Health."

The San Francisco-based association provided the financial backing for the brochure, which is expected to reach 200,000 people this year.

The availability of another piece of educational material appears to be less significant than the fact that these groups were able to agree on how to advise consumers.

"The brochure has a much broader significance," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, based in Washington, D.C.

"We have achieved a consensus among a portion of the credit industry, low-income advocates, mainstream consumer organizations, consumer credit counselors, and key federal agencies about the most important messages to communicate to those in financial difficulties," he said.

The Consumer Federation was largely responsible for selecting the various groups that developed the brochure. The other participants were American Association of Retired Persons, Consumer Action, the National Consumer Law Center, the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, the U.S. Consumer Information Center, and the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs.

These are groups, Mr. Brobeck added, that have traditionally had conflicts and mistrusted one another.

For example, Mr. Brobeck's organization has never before worked with Visa, and he qualified the partnership with the others as "unprecedented."

The brochure discusses credit counseling, bankruptcy, possible problems in dealing with organizations that offer help, and tips on how to budget expenses.

Mr. Brobeck said that the most controversial topics for the group were the sections on bankruptcy and "possible pitfalls."

One concern that some of the organizations presented is that consumers who seek help from credit counselors are not getting enough information about filing for bankruptcy.

"There has been a belief that the National Foundation for Consumer credit is not giving advice on how to and whether to file for personal bankruptcy," said Visa spokeswoman Susan Murdy.

And indeed the foundation, which is an umbrella group for all Consumer Credit Counseling offices throughout the United States, describes its mission as providing "an alternative to bankruptcy."

"We can't make the determination whether bankruptcy is appropriate, because we are not bankruptcy attorneys," said Judith Cohart, director of education and training for the foundation, who added that counselors will often refer consumers to legal services.

Some consumer advocates, like Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action in San Francisco, were hopeful that the brochure represented a commitment on the part of the national credit counseling network to present bankruptcy as an option.

"Now they have an obligation to distribute this (brochure) through their offices."

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