Credit counseling agencies can serve as a valuable resource for consumers who are struggling with overwhelming debt. These services, which tend to be not-for-profit, work with consumers online, in-person, or over the phone in order to help find the underlying cause of most financial issues. At the end of the day, their goal is to help individuals, couples, and families define problematic spending patterns and pay down debt so they can begin planning a fruitful future.
Still, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns about the perils of working with a credit counseling agency that could make your problems worse. In fact, they state that "non-profit status doesn’t guarantee that services are free, affordable, or even legitimate."
The FTC also suggests steps you can take to confirm credit counseling agencies are reputable, legitimate, and fair. These include knowing the right questions to ask and checking with your state attorney general, among other tips.
Investopedia also conducted our own analysis of top credit counseling services to find the best options for you. Keep reading to learn which companies we can recommend, why we believe they stand out from the crowd, and how to get started.
Best Credit Counseling Services of 2021
Best Overall : Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp.
We chose Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. as our best overall due to their excellent user ratings and the variety of counseling services they offer.
High user satisfaction ratings with Trustpilot and Consumer Affairs
Offers credit counseling, debt consolidation, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, and debt management plans
Transparent about fees
Online client portal
Physical offices are only located in Massachusetts and New York
Established in 1996, Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit agency that provides an array of services for debt-strapped consumers. This company was chosen as best for our ranking due to their exceptional user reviews as well as their accreditation. Not only is Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. a HUD-approved housing counselor, but they are also accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Financial Counseling Association of America, the two major trade associations within the credit counseling industry.
This provider provides a free consultation to help gauge your needs and your next best steps. They also offer an array of services including credit counseling, bankruptcy counseling, student loan counseling, housing counseling, and debt management plans.
Cambridge Credit Counseling is upfront and honest about their fees. Credit counseling is always free. If you move forward with a debt management plan, their initial fee amount is just $40, and their average monthly fee is $30.
Best for Disaster Recovery Counseling : Money Management International
We chose Money Management International as the best option for disaster recovery due to their unique counseling options in this realm. Disaster recovery counseling can be helpful for people who have endured a natural disaster and experienced financial ramifications as a result.
Excellent user reviews online
Offers credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, disaster recovery counseling, and more
Has 36 physical locations in 25 states
Does not disclose fees for debt management plans
Founded in 1997, Money Management International was formed when six different credit counseling agencies joined together. Since then, the company has grown to the point where they boast physical branches in 25 different states, although they also offer their counseling services over the phone. This agency is also a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and they boast excellent user reviews from actual customers online.
Money Management International offers consumers help with disaster recovery, including the impacts of recovering financially after a natural disaster. They also offer assistance via credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, and bankruptcy counseling. Their counseling services are free, although they do charge undisclosed fees if you enroll in one of their debt management plans. Money Management International says their typical credit counseling session lasts 45 to 60 minutes, and that counselors are available 24/7 to answer questions.
Best Mobile Option : InCharge Debt Solutions
We chose inCharge Debt Solutions due to their mobile app and online client portal, both of which help their clients manage their debts and credit online or on the go.
Mobile app and client portal available
Offers credit counseling, housing counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management plans, and more
Transparent about fees
Credit counseling is free
Not available 24/7
Only one physical location in Orlando, Florida
InCharge Debt Solutions is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been helping clients get out of debt and improve their credit since 1997. They have helped more than one million people pay off more than $3.4 billion in debt since their inception, mostly through credit counseling and their debt management plans. We chose InCharge Debt Solutions for this ranking based on their robust online features, including an online client portal and a unique mobile app. InCharge Debt Solutions is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA).
Credit counseling through InCharge Debt Solutions is always free, yet fees are required if you ultimately move forward with a debt management plan. Fortunately, InCharge is upfront about charging an upfront enrollment fee of $75 and an average monthly fee of $33.
InCharge Debt Solutions manages their business online, over the phone, and through their mobile app. The company only has one brick-and-mortar location in Florida, so they're not a good option for in-person debt relief help.
Best National Coverage : GreenPath Financial Wellness
We chose GreenPath Financial Wellness as best for national coverage due to the fact they offer more physical locations than most reputable credit counseling agencies we profiled. While you can get online assistance from GreenPath in all 50 states, they boast 35 different branches around the country.
35 branches nationwide
Get help over the phone in all 50 states
Offers debt counseling, debt management, bankruptcy support, student loan counseling, housing counseling, debt management plans and more
Online client portal available
Not available 24/7
GreenPath Financial Wellness was founded in 1961, so this credit counseling agency has a longer history than some others that made our ranking. This company is also a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), and they have excellent user reviews online. Ultimately, we chose them for our ranking based on their broad national coverage, including the 35 branches they offer around the country.
GreenPath Financial Wellness offers free credit counseling services as well as bankruptcy support, student loan counseling, housing counseling, debt management plans and more. They also offer housing counseling and support, including foreclosure prevention and reverse mortgage counseling. If you're unsure about getting started, they also offer a three-minute financial assessment that can help you find out the kind of help you need before calling.
This company's online client portal lets you track your progress online 24/7. While credit counseling is free, they charge a one-time setup fee of $0 to $75 for their debt management plans, as well as a monthly fee of $0 to $75.
Best Online Resources : Apprisen
We chose another reputable credit counseling company, Apprisen, as best for online resources due to their unique and helpful tools. This agency offers IRIS, a specialty tool that lets you enter information and receive an analysis from a financial specialist.
IRIS tool lets you receive a financial analysis from a trained specialist
Offers credit health education, student loan education, bankruptcy counseling
Transparent about fees and services online
Locations only in Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee
Originally founded in 1955, Apprisen has a long history of helping clients get out of debt. This company is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA). We chose them due to their focus on technology and their online tools, including IRIS. This tool allows consumers to enter some basic financial information and receive a financial action plan, including any debt relief solutions worth considering.
In addition to credit counseling, Apprisen offers credit health education, student loan education, bankruptcy counseling, and financial coaching. They also offer bankruptcy counseling to help you decide if you are prepared for bankruptcy, or if you should consider the alternatives. Consumers who need third-party help negotiating and repaying their debts can also use Apprisen for a debt management plan, provided they pay an upfront fee of $45 and a monthly fee of $45 throughout the program.
If you live in Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, or Tennessee, you may be able to see this agency on an in-person basis. Otherwise, you will complete your debt relief plans online and over the phone.
Best for Credit Coaching : DebtWave
We chose DebtWave due to their selection of credit education and coaching options, which are all aimed at helping you build excellent credit for the long term.
Financial education seminars and events available
Online calculators and tools available
Offers credit counseling and debt management
Online client portal
Not a member of the NFCC
Founded in 2001, DebtWave is a reputable credit counseling agency that offers free credit counseling services, debt management plans, and credit coaching meant to help you improve your credit score. They also offer more financial education resources and tools than most, as well as online calculators to help you assess your financial situation. An online client portal also lets you track your program progress online and at any time of the day or night.
Credit counseling from DebtWave is always free, and you can get advice on budgeting, debt management, and how to prioritize your bills. If you decide to enroll in one of their debt management plans, DebtWave charges an upfront set-up fee of no more than $75, as well as a monthly plan fee of up to $49.
While DebtWave is a reputable credit counseling agency, they do not have a membership with the NFCC. They also have only one location in San Diego, California, so you'll likely conduct your debt relief plan with DebtWave over the phone.
As you compare credit counseling agencies, there are plenty of questions you should ask yourself. For example, what do you hope to accomplish? And do you need one-time credit counseling assistance or a long-term debt relief plan?
The FTC also recommends making sure you ask the right questions of agencies you're considering, including inquiring about the services they offer and any fees they charge. Ultimately, we believe that Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. is the best option for most consumers who need credit counseling services, but other companies can be worth considering depending on your needs. For example, Money Management International may be a better choice if you need counseling to help recover from a disaster, whereas InCharge Debt Solutions could be ideal if you prefer to manage your progress on the go and with the help of a mobile app.
At the end of the day, some upfront research should help you settle on a credit counseling agency that can provide the help you need for a price you can afford, as well as free counseling to get you started.
Compare the Best Credit Counseling Services
|Company||Accreditation and Memberships||Available Services||Appointment Format||Fees for Credit Counseling and Debt Management Plans|
|Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp Best Overall||HUD-approved housing counseling agency Member of the NFCC Financial Counseling Association of America||Credit counseling, debt consolidation, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, and debt management plans||In-person or over the phone||Free credit counseling Initial fee: $40 Monthly fee: Average of $30|
|Money Management International Best for Disaster Recovery Counseling||Member of the NFCC and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA)||Credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, disaster recovery counseling, and more||In-person or over the phone||Free credit counseling Initial fee: Varies by state Monthly fee: Varies by state|
|InCharge Debt Solutions Best Mobile Option||Member of the NFCC Accredited by the COA||Credit counseling, housing counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management plans, and more||Online and over the phone||Free credit counseling Initial fee: $75 (varies by state) Monthly fee: Average of $33|
|GreenPath Financial Wellness Best National Coverage||Member of the NFCC Consumer Affairs Accredited||Debt counseling, debt management, bankruptcy support, student loan counseling, housing counseling, debt management plans, and more||In-person, online, and over the phone||Free credit counseling Initial fee: $0 to $75 Monthly fee: $0 to $75|
|Apprisen Best Online Resources||Member of the NFCC Accredited by the COA||Credit health education, student loan education, bankruptcy counseling, and debt management plans||In-person, online, or over the phone||Initial fee: $45 Monthly fee: $45|
|DebtWave Best for Credit Coaching||International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Accreditation BBB Accreditation||Credit coaching, credit counseling, and debt management||Online and over the phone||Initial fee: Maximum of $75 Monthly fee: Maximum of $49|
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Credit Counseling Work?
Credit counseling is a service that can help debt-strapped individuals in a number of ways. Credit counseling agencies tend to offer free credit counseling services, but they also offer help with budgeting, money management workshops, and basic financial education. Credit counseling usually takes place in-person or over the phone, and consumers who use this assistance receive a personalized plan intended to help them get financially on track.
Will Credit Counseling Ruin My Credit?
Credit counseling will not hurt your credit, and in fact, may help your credit score in both the short and long term. Since credit counselors advise you to keep up with monthly bills, reduce spending, and pay off debt, it is generally considered good for your credit health.
By contrast, another debt relief strategy known as debt settlement has the potential to hurt your credit score. This is due to the fact that debt settlement requires plan members to stop making payments on their debts so they can be settled for a lesser amount.
How Do I Choose a Credit Counseling Agency?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends researching credit counseling services in terms of their reviews and accreditation, then checking individual firms with your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. Also make sure to ask firms you're considering about the services they offer, how their services work, and the fees they charge. Meanwhile, you should also find out how the company makes money, whether they are licensed in your state, and whether you'll have a formal contract with them.
How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?
Credit counseling is a free service offered by credit counseling agencies. Many credit counseling services also offer free housing counseling, free bankruptcy counseling, and other free services. With that being said, many credit counseling firms do charge fees for services like debt management plans. Most debt management plans come with an upfront fee of less than $75, as well as a monthly plan fee between $30 and $50.
Investopedia compared the top credit counseling services to find the best options for consumers. We looked for accreditation with third-party agencies like the NFCC as well as excellent user reviews with platforms like Trustpilot and Consumer Affairs. Ultimately, we gave preference to companies that offer free credit counseling services along with plenty of online resources and tools. We also gave high marks to companies with online portals or a mobile app, as well as those that are transparent about any fees they charge for services.