How to Choose a Consumer Credit Counseling Service
When life throws you a curve ball, find the best agency to help you get out of debt.
: Be aware that some consumer credit counseling agencies may not be legitimate or honest.
Step 1: Make a list of possible credit counselors Draw up a list of possible credit counselors. Many colleges, credit unions, and military bases offer credit counseling programs. Find others through web searches or referrals from friends and family.
TIP: If you choose a nonprofit agency, make sure their fees are affordable.
Step 2: See if the agency is a member of a trade association Eliminate the agencies that aren't members of major trade associations by searching the websites of the AICCCA and the NFCC.
TIP: Find the AICCCA, or Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, at aiccca.org. The NFCC, or National Foundation for Credit Counseling, is at nfcc.org.
Step 3: Search for complaints filed against the agencies Contact your state Attorney General's office, your local consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau to see if any of the agencies have had complaints filed against them.
Step 4: Get information about each agency Contact each agency remaining on your list and ask for a basic information packet. They should provide this without asking for financial information or a fee.
Step 5: Review information about services offered Review the information about each agency's services. Look for counselors that offer a full range of options, including budget counseling and savings and debt management classes.
TIP: Avoid agencies that offer to enroll you in a Debt Management Plan, or DMP, without reviewing your financial situation.
Step 6: Ask about fees and qualifications Ask about fees, including set-up and monthly fees. Find out how the counselors are trained and compensated. Avoid services where counselors work on commission only.
Step 7: Get a formal, written agreement Select an agency that offers services that best meet your needs. Get a formal, written agreement that includes a price quote. Follow their advice and you'll be on your way to financial freedom.
FACT: At the end of 2008, the total amount of credit card debt in the U.S. topped $972 billion. On average, each American household carried about $8,000 in credit card debt.