In January one of the Puget Sound region's oldest nonprofit credit-counseling agencies will become part of a large nonprofit agency in Ohio. The merger is the latest fallout from the nation's economic crisis.

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Consumer Counseling Northwest, one of the region’s oldest nonprofit counseling agencies, is merging with a larger nonprofit organization based in Ohio, said agency officials this week, citing the nation’s economic crisis as the reason.

But the planned merger also means the agency will be able to hire more financial counselors and that those in need of foreclosure-prevention counseling will have shorter waits, said Charlie Helms, chief executive of Consumer Counseling Northwest (CCNW).

Founded in 1970, the Puget Sound agency employs about 10 counselors and has offices in King, Pierce, Thurston, Cowlitz and Clark counties. As a nonprofit, it charges low or no fees for services. It hasn’t been able to replace the grants it relied on from giant banks, such as Bank of America and Citigroup, and dipped deeply into its reserves to meet expenses in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

For the past six months, the agency has been overwhelmed with calls for foreclosure-prevention counseling, forcing some families to wait up to three weeks for an appointment.

“It got to be an untenable situation,” Helms said. Citigroup supported about one-quarter of the agency’s $1.1 million budget last year, and with Citigroup itself in turmoil, Helms said his options were limited: layoffs or a merger.

The agency will merge in January with Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Midwest (CCCS).

CCCS, the nation’s oldest consumer credit-counseling agency, has more than 100 counselors in eight states, including some who speak Spanish. Helms said the Ohio agency’s linguistically diverse staff will allow his organization to save money on translators, but he also expects to hire more counselors here in Western Washington.

Families that can’t wait for a face-to-face counseling session in one of the local offices will be served online by a counselor in one of the CCCS offices, Helms said.

After the merger, Consumer Counseling Northwest will keep its name and continue to seek grants and donations for its financial-literacy programs. In June it received a $10,000 grant from the Seattle Foundation and a $12,500 grant from the U.S. Bank Foundation. The Russell Family Foundation is giving CCNW a $20,000 grant, Helms said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com