How to choose a credit counseling agency: ten tips

If you find yourself unable to pay your debts, it might be time to look into a credit counseling agency. However, it pays to do your homework before deciding to go with a particular company. Here are ten tips to help you get started down the right path.

1. Ignore what’s on TV

If you watch TV for an hour during the day or late at night, you’ll probably see at least three commercials for some form of debt counseling, management or relief agency. Ignore them all—these are usually for-profit companies concerned only with their own interests; whether or not you get back on your feet doesn’t even matter to them. Many are outright scams; nobody at the cable company is really investigating the commercials they run. As long as somebody pays, they’ll run the ads.

2. Nonprofit only

Make sure any credit counseling agency you use is a nonprofit. There is no reason to go with a for-profit credit counselor. To be safest, stick with those with at least 10 years in business.

3. Check the BBB

Check out any agency with the Better Business Bureau before you contact them. Stick to those with A or A+ ratings; there are plenty of these, leaving no reason to go with a B, C or D-rated company.

4. Make sure they are accredited

Check out any agency with either the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) before working with them. These associations have strict guidelines for membership.

5. Find out about fees

Depending on what your needs are, many agencies do charge some form of fee. However, these should be in the $50 – $100 range at most. Anyone asking for thousands of dollars is running a racket.

6. Ask lots of questions

You need information, sure, but you also need to get a sense of who you’re dealing with. Even if you already know some of the answers, ask lots of questions anyway. If they’re evasive or give brush-off answers without explaining things, that’s a red flag. Move on.

7. Ignore offers to erase, reduce or repair

There is no legal way to remove accurate negative information from your credit history. If you go into credit counseling, your rating is going to take a hit for a while. That’s just part of the deal. But anyone offering to reduce your debts or erase your credit history is probably running a scam.

8. Don’t give them your information first

An agency that is unwilling to give you free information about their services without you first revealing personal details is to be avoided.

9. Talk to others

You probably know someone who’s already been through this. Talk to them. Find out if they had good or bad experiences with an agency.

10. Take your time

Don’t rush into making any decisions on credit counseling, and avoid agencies that pressure you. These are important decisions, and while it’s going to be great to eventually get out from under your debts, things can be less than ideal in the short term; you want to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Falling into a scam or getting ripped off will only make things worse. Proceed with courage, but proceed with caution!