If you are considering working with a credit counselor for the first time, asking questions like these can help you find the best counselor for you.
1. What services do you offer?
Look for an organization that offers a range of services, including budget counseling, savings and debt management classes, and counselors who are trained and certified in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors should discuss your entire financial situation with you, and help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems now and avoid others in the future. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions. Avoid organizations that push a debt management plan as your only option before they spend a significant amount of time analyzing your financial situation. Debt management plans (DMPs) are not for everyone. You should sign up for a DMP only after a certified credit counselor has spent time thoroughly reviewing your financial situation, and has offered you customized advice on managing your money.
If you were on a DMP with an organization that closed down, ask any credit counselor that you are considering what they can do to help you retain the benefits of your DMP.
2. Are you licensed to offer your services in my state?
Many states require that an organization register or obtain a license before offering credit counseling, debt management plans, and similar services. Do not hire an organization that has not fulfilled the requirements for your state.
3. Do you offer free information?
Avoid organizations that charge for information about the nature of their services.
4. Will I have a formal written agreement or contract with you?
Don’t commit to participate in a DMP over the telephone. Get all verbal promises in writing. Read all documents carefully before you sign them. If you are told you need to act immediately, consider finding another organization.
5. What are the qualifications of your counselors? Are they accredited or certified by an outside organization? If so, which one? If not, how are they trained?
Try to use an organization whose counselors are trained by an outside organization that is not affiliated with creditors.
6. Have other consumers been satisfied with the service that they received?
Once you’ve identified credit counseling organizations that suit your needs, check them out with your state Attorney General, local consumer protection agency, and Better Business Bureau. These organizations can tell you if consumers have filed complaints about them. The absence of complaints doesn’t guarantee legitimacy, but complaints from other consumers may alert you to problems.
7. What are your fees? Are there set-up and/or monthly fees?
Get a detailed price quote in writing, and specifically ask whether all the fees are covered in the quote. If you’re concerned that you cannot afford to pay your fees, ask if the organization waives or reduces fees when providing counseling to consumers in your circumstances. If an organization won’t help you because you can’t afford to pay, look elsewhere for help.
8. How are your employees paid? Are the employees or the organization paid more if I sign up for certain services, pay a fee, or make a contribution to your organization?
Employees who are counseling you to purchase certain services may receive a commission if you choose to sign up for those services. Many credit counseling organizations receive additional compensation from creditors if you enroll in a DMP. If the organization will not disclose what compensation it receives from creditors, or how employees are compensated, go elsewhere for help.
9. What do you do to keep personal information about your clients (for example, name, address, phone number, and financial information) confidential and secure?
Credit counseling organizations handle your most sensitive financial information. The organization should have safeguards in place to protect the privacy of this information and prevent misuse.
Source: Federal Trade Commission