How to Pick a Credit Counseling Agency

A credit counseling agency provides you with the tools you need to take control of your finances. However, it might be challenging to know where to turn for guidance if you need assistance with debt management.

Before contacting a credit counseling agency, write a list of your financial issues and goals and prioritize them. There is no charge for basic budgeting counseling from a licensed credit counselor.

However, suppose you have a specific goal in mind, such as homebuyer education, debt management, bankruptcy counseling, or managing student loans. In that case, you may need someone with specialized training, and those services come at a cost.

 

DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS AND LOCATE A CREDIT COUNSELING AGENCY:

The two primary sources for locating credit counselors are:

  1. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is the largest nonprofit credit counseling organization in the United States. In addition, it has a localized search function to assist you in finding a nearby associated agency.

You can also phone 800-388-2227 to locate the nearest NFCC member agency.

2. The United States Department of Justice maintains a search engine to assist customers in locating credit counseling agencies. The federal government has vetted all of them.

Several credit counseling services are available over the phone, making it simple to obtain financial advice even if your area does not have a credit counseling organization.

 

VERIFY CREDENTIALS:

Counselors who are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America adhere to high certification standards designed to ensure consistency in quality.

Is it not affiliated with the NFCC or FCAA? Find out if it’s accredited by the Council on Accreditation, a nonprofit that certifies social service organizations’ commitment to serving customers.

Check the Better Business Bureau to discover whether customers have filed any complaints about a potential credit counseling agency you’ve found.

 

DON’T RUSH WHEN PICKING AN AGENCY:

Take the time to learn about the agency you’ll be contacting. Otherwise, you run the chance of being placed in the hands of someone who isn’t looking out for your best interests.

Choosing the first credit counselor you speak with is tempting, but don’t hurry into a long-term relationship. Instead, go over the following steps with each credit counseling agency you’re thinking about:

  • Contact the agency to arrange for an initial visit or phone contact with a counselor (there should be no charge for this).
  • Inquire about the counselor’s experience, qualifications, and approach to dealing with clients throughout the meeting. Then, ask the questions as you need to understand how they may assist you in achieving your financial objectives.
  • During the appointment, see if you feel at ease with the counselor or pressured to sign up for services you don’t want or comprehend entirely.
  • Make sure you’re aware of the charges before committing to any program.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Be aware of for-profit companies that promise quick credit and debt solutions. Agencies acting as “credit doctors” are a perfect illustration of this.

They’ll dispute every negative item on your credit report, but if the debts are verified, you’ll be back to square one, minus any money you have already paid.

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