Credit counseling programs are designed for people who are looking for financial freedom. If you live paycheck to paycheck, lose sleep worrying about the debt collectors who keep calling, or just can’t get on top of a budget, then credit counseling programs are for you. Follow these eight tips for finding the best credit counseling programs around:
- Look for credit counseling programs that are not-for-profit. If you find a quality not-for-profit, you probably won’t end up paying a ton of money to have someone help you straighten out your financial situation. After all, if you’re looking for help in the first place, you’re probably tight on money from the start. Credit counselors should understand this and be willing to work with you.
- Try to find a credit counseling program that will let you set up an in-person consultation. Be wary of any programs in your area that can’t do this. If the program is local, they should have an office building that you can walk into. It’s not advisable to trust any credit counseling program that will only communicate via phone or online. This is why you should go with a local company that you can visit in person as opposed to an online company that does not offer any personal contact.
- Find out what fees are charged ahead of time. Make sure to get any price quotes in writing. Some credit counseling companies end up charging high prices and many have hidden fees. Also, keep in mind that just because a company is not-for-profit, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be free. Many credit counseling companies will “suggest” that you make a donation. Keep in mind that these agencies are there to help you and they should be flexible when it comes to charging you for services. They don’t have to lower their fees, necessarily, but they should be willing to put you on a payment schedule.
- Request information! First, you need information about the company before settling on them to help you. Second, you’ll get a sense for how reputable the company is by the information they provide to you. Do they send you free information without hesitation? Or do they require you to sign up as a customer and pay a fee beforehand? Credit counseling programs should send you free information without requiring any personal information or commitment from you.
- Ask what services they offer. Some credit counselors won’t have everything that you need, even if they can help you sort out your current financial situation. If you look hard enough, you should be able to find a counselor who helps you manage your debt and budget your money. They may even offer free materials and workshops about money management.
- When you have come up with a list of credit counseling programs, check them out on your state’s Attorney General website or your local consumer protection agency. You’ll be told whether or not people have filed complaints against the company. Also check with the United States Trustee Program to see if the company is included on the list of agencies approved for pre-bankruptcy counseling.
- Any quality business will have you sign a contract before working with them. That’s not the end of it, however. You should be able to thoroughly look over the contract before signing. You may even want to have a lawyer look it over first. Don’t let any credit counseling business pressure you to sign before you’re ready. If you’re given the contract in person, don’t let one of the agents talk through the time you spend looking it over so that you can’t concentrate. If they don’t seem willing to let you make a decision before signing, consider it a red flag.
- Make sure that any credit counseling programs you examine can put you on a payment schedule you can afford. Many credit counselors will set you up on a payment schedule so that they can allocate your money to pay off your debt. However, if the monthly payment you have to make is too high, you’re not going to be much better off than when you started. Credit counseling agencies should be willing to work with you based on the realities of your financial situation.
Contact some of your local credit counseling programs today to get started.