Choosing the right credit counseling services could be one of the most important decisions you ever make regarding your finances. It will help if you look for a company that puts your financial education and goals first. Moreover, even non-profit companies can be all about the money if you are not careful.
Not all services are created equal. So, here are some questions to ask that should help you find the right service.
What services do you offer?
Besides various kinds of credit counseling (that is, education about consumer credit, budgeting, and paying down debt), some services will also offer debt management or even debt settlement services.
Debt management will allow you to safely pay back your credit card debt at reduced interest rates. Meanwhile, debt settlement might involve taking out a lump sum loan to pay off all debt and then just pay back the loan, meaning to say, one payment each month. However, this can be a risk because they will usually want some guarantee of you being able to pay back the loan (collateral), such as your house. Thus, you should be clear about the exact services and terms being offered.
What do you charge for your credit counseling services?
Even though an agency is a “non-profit,” they do have to run a successful business and pay staff. That being the case, there will be small fees involved. So, make sure you are clear about what the extra fees will cover. Most states have regulated fees for these services.
Are you an accredited agency? By whom?
A reputable association should accredit the agency you choose. Most non-profit consumer credit counseling agencies will hold an ISO 9001:2008 registration, which illustrates the agency’s commitment to quality, customer satisfaction, and continual improvement of their services.
Do you adhere to an industry code of practice?
A reputable service will usually adhere to the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) code of practice. Also, check the services Better Business Bureau listing and rating.
How long has your agency been providing these services?
Experience counts when it comes to financial counseling. You can do background checking to see how long they have been in business.
Are your counselors licensed and certified?
Reputable consumer credit counseling agencies will ensure that their counselors obtain, and maintain, the appropriate certifications. Common certifications include the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), and the Partnership for Financial Education.
What are the qualifications of your counselors?
Counselors can have one or several certifications depending upon their area(s) of expertise. Many consumer credit counseling agencies provide various services and need to have appropriately certified counselors for each. To dig further, look for details at their site about their team or staff.
Can you provide references?
Most legitimate companies should be happy to provide testimonials and references. Check ConsumerAffairs.com, which provides consumer reviews of the agencies and other important details about them. Besides, you can also look up companies like GreenPath or Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. to get an idea of what the listings look like and how people find it working with these companies.
Is your bankruptcy counseling approved by the U.S. Department of Justice?
If the consumer credit counseling agency offers bankruptcy counseling services, be sure that they are in the list of those approved agencies by the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office of United States Trustees (EOUST).
Any agency claiming to be an approved agency should have this listed on their website and be listed on the DOJ site. Only legit agencies can legally provide bankruptcy counseling services, which are an essential part to file for bankruptcy. After filing, those who already declared bankruptcy will also have to take a debtor education course.
For example, GreenPath and Cambridge are both listed on the DOJ site: https://www.justice.gov/ust/list-credit-counseling-agencies-approved-pursuant-11-usc-111
Ask these questions to ensure that you get any credit counseling services that are legitimate and right for you.