If you have high debt, are worried about your bills or debt collectors, and have trouble controlling your debt alone you may want to use the services of a credit counselor.
What is a credit counselor?
A credit counselor is a person who works at a credit counseling agency and helps you build a plan to get a hold of your debt. They may help you develop a budget, negotiate with some of your lenders or help you to get on a debt management plan.
A good credit counselor should:
Be certified and trained in consumer credit, debt management, and budgeting Help you develop a budget or debt management plan Offer free educational materials and workshops. Spend at least an one hour working with you and then set up a follow up meeting. Talk to you about all of your money issues not just part of them’.
Choosing a Credit counselor or Counseling Agency.
There are many credit counseling organizations or agencies. You should be aware not all of them are good ones. You should be vary careful and do plenty of research before choosing a credit counselor or credit counseling organization. Make sure you look at three to five different credit counseling agencies before deciding on one.
Many credit counseling agencies are nonprofits and work with you to solve your financial problems. Just because a credit counseling agency says it is nonprofit doesn’t guarantee that its services are free, affordable, or that it is legitimate. The fact is many nonprofit credit counseling agencies charge high fees (which can be hidden) or urge you to make “voluntary” contributions that can put you deeper in debt.
A credit counselor can offer services in a variety of ways. They can be over the phone, the Internet or in person. It is always best to find a credit counselor who is willing to sit down with you in person. Many public organizations offer credit counseling. You may want to try your local university, military base, housing authority or a local credit union.
An honest credit counselor or agency will send you free information about the company and what it has to offer with out asking you for any personal information. If the credit counselor pushes for personal information up front , take this as a bad sign and find another agency.
To find a good credit counselor you should make a list of all the credit counseling agencies you might want to work with. Once you have this list you should go to your state Attorney General, a consumer protection agency, or the Better Business Bureau and research each one. You should be able to do this on line or give them a call and they will help you out. These agencies can tell you if they have received any complaints about the credit counseling agencies you are looking at. Remember that just because there are no complaints does not mean that they are a good agency.
Now that you have checked the background of each company you should have a short list of possible agencies. It’s now time to contact each agency and interview them to make sure they are a good match.
Here are some questions you should ask to find out if the agency is right for you.
What services do you offer?
You should find an agency or credit councilor that offers a variety of service. These services should included budget counseling, counseling on saving money and debt management classes. You should stay away from agencies that want to place you on a debt management plan (DMP) as your only option before they spend a good amount of time talking to you about you financial situation.
Do you have free information and educational materials? Avoid organizations that charge for information. Will you help me plan for the future so I won’t have this problem again? You should avoid companies that won’t help you plan for the future. What are your fees? Are there set-up and/or monthly fees? Get a specific price quote in writing.
What if I can’t afford to pay your fees or make contributions? If a credit counseling agency or credit counselor is unwilling to give you some help or information just because you can’t pay all or part of their fees the find another agency to work with.
Are you willing to put every thing in writing?
Don’t sign anything without reading it first. Make sure you have everything in writing before you start working with them.
Do you have license to operate in my state? What are the qualifications of your credit counselors? Are they accredited or certified by an outside organization? If so, by whom? If not, how are they trained? Try to use an organization whose counselors are trained by a non-affiliated party.
What assurance do I have that information about me (including my address, phone number, and financial information) will be kept confidential and secure?
How are your employees compensated?
Are they paid more if I sign up for certain services, if I pay a fee, or if I make a contribution to your organization? If the answer is yes, consider it a red flag and go elsewhere for help.
All of these questions should be considered before using a credit counselor. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of any organization or things seem too good to be true it most likely in your best interest to go somewhere else.
Remember the most important person in getting your financial life on track is you.