What is Credit Counseling
Credit counseling provides guidance and support on consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. The objective of most credit counseling is to help a debtor avoid bankruptcy and to provide primary financial education on managing money. Borrowers with an understanding of money management are assets for lenders as well. Many counseling services also negotiate with creditors on behalf of the borrower to reduce interest rates and late fees.
BREAKING DOWN Credit Counseling
Reputable credit counseling organizations have staff counselors who are certified and trained. These counselors can discuss client financial situations to help them develop a personalized plan for their economic issues. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions. A reputable credit counseling agency should offer free information about itself and the services it provides without requiring potential clients to release any details about their situation.
Credit Counseling Services
Also, there are many not for profit credit counseling organizations who offer services at local offices, online, and on the phone. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Local financial institutions and consumer protection agencies may also be good sources of information and referrals.
However, non-profit credit counseling status does not guarantee that the services are free, affordable, or legitimate. Some credit counseling organizations charge high fees, which they made hide. Others may urge their clients to make voluntary contributions to their charitable organization which could cause additional debt.
Help Finding a Credit Counselor
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies lists affiliated legitimate credit counseling services across the United States. Also, consumers can check with their state's attorney general’s office and the local consumer protection agency to determine if consumers have filed complaints about a credit counseling organization. As another resource, the United States Trustee Program keeps a list of credit counseling agencies approved to provide pre-bankruptcy counseling. Bankruptcy law mandates that anyone filing for bankruptcy must first undergo credit counseling.
If a consumer’s financial problems resulted from too much debt or inability to repay their debts, a credit counseling agency might recommend enrollment in a debt management plan (DMP). A certified credit counselor will review a consumer's overall financial situation and offer customized money management advice. This advice may include a DMP designed for the client's unique circumstances.
Under a DMP plan, the consumer deposits money each month into an account within the credit counseling organization. The organization then uses the funds to pay the unsecured debt, such as credit card bills, student loans, and medical bills. Paying off of debt follows a payment schedule the counselor and consumer develops. Often creditors will need to agree to the scheduled repayment plan. Creditors may decide to lower interest rates or waive fees. A successful DMP requires regular, timely payments. It may take 48 months or more to complete a debt management plan.