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Looking for a Credit Counseling Agency? Keep an Eye Out for These Things

When you are facing a lot of debt, you want to do whatever it takes to make that debt go away. Unfortunately, a lot of unscrupulous people know that and try to take advantage of others who are struggling financially. Some create organizations that claim to provide debt assistance, but in reality take your money and run. In some cases, scam credit counselors can make your debt problems worse. A reputable credit counseling agency can be hard to find, but it is usually well worth the effort. When you’re looking for a credit counselor to help you end the cycle of debt, keep an eye out for the following.

Accreditation and Certification

A solid credit counseling agency should be a nonprofit, meaning that its goal isn’t to make money off of you. Many reputable credit counseling agencies will have a mission or goal to help people become financially or economically secure. But not every credit counselor has that goal, and it’s possible for an agency to describe itself as nonprofit when it isn’t. To make sure the agency you’re considering working with really does have your best interests at heart and isn’t trying to make money off your pain, look for accreditation from an organization such as the Better Business Bureau, International Organization for Standardization, or the Council on Accreditation

Along with being an accredited nonprofit, the counseling agency you work with should employ counselors who are properly trained and certified. Certification from an outside organization, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, means that the counselor has passed an exam covering a range of financial topics, including bankruptcy and budgeting.

Fees

Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean that a credit counseling agency won’t charge you for its services. But it should make certain things available for free, such as basic information about credit and debt and your options. The Federal Trade Commission recommends getting a quote for fees from the company in writing before you decide to go ahead in working with them. The FTC notes that an agency shouldn’t refuse to work with you because you’re unable to pay. Many reputable agencies do offer free counseling or counseling on a sliding scale. If the agency does charge, it shouldn’t be up front, before anything is done, and the amount shouldn’t be very high.

What Options the Agency Provides

Ideally, the agency you work with will have a lot to offer. While an in-person meeting is often preferred, some agencies also offer phone consultations or consultations via email. You also want an agency that gives you a lot of options for services, such as help creating a budget, a full analysis of your current financial situation, and recommendations for getting out of debt. Some agencies can also help you enroll in a debt management plan or can point you in the direction of a financial service that will provide you with the greatest benefit.

The FTC warns against working with agencies that only offer debt management plans. While the plans work for some, they aren’t the best solution for others. The agency you work with should be willing to dive into your financial story and work together to come up with a solution that best fits you.

Honesty and openness, as a well as a variety of services, are just a few things to look for in a credit counselor. Take any red flags seriously when interviewing counselors—you want someone who is committed to really helping you.

Image source: Flickr

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