How Credit Counseling Works (and When You Should Pursue It) | Lifehacker


If you’re struggling with overwhelming debts and bills, it can be difficult to get your finances back on track on your own. That’s where debt counseling services and credit counselors can provide invaluable assistance and advice.

Credit counseling organizations are typically non-profit groups that provide a range of money management services and educational resources to consumers. Their counselors are certified professionals who can give you expert, unbiased guidance on how to handle your specific financial situation. All the money you pay goes directly toward your debts, but there may be costs to use such a program. There’s often a setup fee of up to $75 and an ongoing monthly fee of between $25 and $75. Here are some of the main services that credit counseling agencies offer.

Working with a credit counselor

Credit counselors can review your income, expenses, debts, and overall financial picture to help you create a personalized budget and spending plan. This can make managing your money much easier and get you on the path to financial stability. By law, anyone considering bankruptcy must receive credit counseling from an approved agency first. The counselor will go over your options and provide an unbiased perspective on whether bankruptcy could be the best solution for your situation.

If you have multiple debts with high interest rates, a credit counselor may recommend enrolling in a debt management plan (DMP). With a DMP, you make a single monthly payment to the agency, which then distributes funds to each of your creditors. The agency also negotiates to get your interest rates reduced. DMPs allow you to pay off your debt more quickly at a lower cost.

Another avenue to consider is credit counseling groups, which offer a wealth of free personal finance workshops, guidebooks, online tools, and other educational resources to help consumers build better money skills.

When credit counseling is right for you

So when exactly should you reach out to a credit counseling agency? Here are some signs that you could benefit from their services:

  • You’re constantly late paying bills or missing payments entirely

  • You’re only making minimum payments and your debt levels aren’t going down

  • You’re getting calls and letters from debt collectors

  • You’re using credit cards to pay for basic necessities like food and utilities

  • You’re unable to save any money for emergencies

  • You’re considering bankruptcy but want to explore alternatives

The biggest advantage of working with a credit counseling agency is that you’ll receive free or low-cost expert advice from an objective third party. The counselors aren’t trying to sell you anything—their role is simply to educate you and help you regain control over your finances.

The bottom line

Don’t let debt become an overwhelming burden. If you’re struggling to keep up with what you owe, consider reaching out to a qualified (crucially, non-profit) credit counseling agency. They can put you on a debt management plan where they negotiate with your creditors for lower interest rates and fees.

Most credit counseling agencies have a legal obligation to provide consumers with truly independent guidance. However, it’s still wise to do some research on any organization before enlisting their services. Look into qualified non-profit credit counseling agencies here.