If there's one lesson we've learned through the past couple of years of economic difficulties, it's that credit can have its fair share of pitfalls. Many people have found themselves in credit trouble, leading to a strong need for assistance to navigate the possible solutions and the methods for avoiding similar problems in the future. These needs have generated an increase not only in the demand for credit counseling professionals, but also in the public's awareness that these types of positions even exist.

Who, What and Why
By its strictest definition, a credit counselor advises clients on how to use credit properly. This job is generally a case management position where clients will either seek out the services of a credit counselor or be referred to one. Sometimes credit counselors help their clients to decide if a large purchase they are considering is a wise idea, or to determine just how much credit an individual or family can reasonably take on. Credit counselors also assist individuals who have found themselves in financial hardship, however, as they attempt to determine how best to repay their debts. Credit counselors also assist individuals in setting up budgets and in getting through unforeseen circumstances that may make funds tighter.

Many credit counselors are employed by lenders such as banks, credit unions, loan agencies and store credit departments, while other credit counselors work for agencies that do not offer lending services. Many of these non-credit granting agencies are non-profit groups that operate for the simple purpose of educating the public on how to effectively manage money. Jobs with such agencies may involve teaching classes or leading workshops on personal finance, debt management and budgeting.

Skills, Training and Education
Though some agencies may only require that their credit counselors hold a high school diploma, many individuals employed in this industry do have a post-secondary education. Post-secondary education could come in the form of accounting or finance, math or social work. Many credit counselors also elect to go through a formal credit counseling course that leads to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) certification. This certification may also be referred to as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) designation. These certifications are particularly appealing to employers, as they ensure that the counselors they employ meet a specific standard of competency, which in turn helps organizations to provide a consistent and reputable service.

Even though these designations exist, much of the actual credit counseling know-how comes in the form of on-the-job training. Regardless of whether you choose to seek post-secondary education as you pursue a career in credit counseling, people who work in this field need to be good at number crunching, accounting and other mathematical skills, and they absolutely must have good interpersonal skills. Each time an individual or family enlists the services of a credit counselor, they are forced to open up about their financial situations and share highly personal information - something that many people find awkward or challenging. For this reason, applicants who have prior work experience in customer or community service may be particularly appealing to potential employers.

The pay rates for credit counselors vary greatly. While some non-profit agencies may come with lower rates of pay and a no-frills work environment, there are also many credit counseling jobs that come with heftier paychecks. It really depends upon the organization you're employed by, your credentials and your length of service with the organization. Generally speaking, the median salary for a career counselor is about $34,000 annually. Along with this salary, workers generally enjoy regular work hours with occasional weekend or evening work.

Job Market
Credit counseling is one area where job growth is definitely on the rise. In fact, it is estimated that this field could experience job growth of up to 20% by the year 2020. Additionally, jobs in this field typically come with many opportunities for advancement. A credit counselor position could grow into a credit manager role within a financial institution or a director role within an agency advising on consumer credit.

The Bottom Line
If you are able to build strong relationships with clients, have good negotiating skills and want to help people with securing their financial independence, credit counseling might be a great job option for you. This job is certainly one that has become important in today's economic climate. Consumers are increasingly in need of experts who can walk them through their financial decisions, ensuring that they don't bite off a greater chunk of debt than they can easily swallow.

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