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What Is Credit Counseling?
Are you struggling financially and trying to dig out from a mountain of debt? Credit counseling could be just the solution you’re looking for.
Credit counselors work with consumers to educate them about money and debt, and help them develop household budgets a plan to eliminate debt. Credit counseling can offer financial guidance or negotiate with creditors to resolve unsustainable debt. However, counselors cannot offer legal advice. All meetings between a credit counselor and clients are considered confidential.
Credit Counseling agencies typically belong to an accreditation group, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. These groups develop standards, provide accountability for its member agencies and set suggest fee schedules. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests fees should be no more than $50 for a set-up and $25 monthly thereafter. Members of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies must agree to cap the initial charge at $75 and the monthly maintenance fees at $50.
The Credit Counseling Plan
When you meet with a credit counselor, having an honest discussion of your finances is paramount. You must be prepared to disclose all aspects of your financial life so the counselor will have a clear and complete financial picture of your income, household expenses, existing debt and spending habits. Copies of financial statements – including the debt accounts — will be needed.
The credit counselor helps develop a unique plan that might include a debt management plan, improved budgeting, bankruptcy, or a combination of these. Financial management and educational tools are provided, as well as materials to help clients develop savings and retirement plans.
Finding A Credit Counselor
Finding a credit counselor in your area has never been easier. Start by making a list of member agencies of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Next, contact either your state attorney general local consumer protection office to find out whether there have been any complaints filed. You can find information on your state’s regulations by visiting the state pages on our site.
Most agencies will offer an initial meeting at no charge. This meeting usually lasts about one hour, and gives you the opportunity to find out if the agency will be a good fit.
About Nonprofit Agencies
Many credit counseling agencies are nonprofit and typically derive their funding from fees paid by clients, grants from the credit/lending industry and a percentage of the payments made by debtors. Up to 15 percent of what is collected can be returned to the agency. Under IRS guidelines, a non-profit credit counseling agency can only collect up to 50 percent of its revenue from these payments.