What services do you offer? Look for an organization that offers a range of services, including budget counseling, and savings and debt management classes. Avoid organizations that push a debt management plan (DMP) as your only option before they spend a significant amount of time analyzing your financial situation. Do you offer information? Are educational materials available for free? Avoid organizations that charge for information.
In addition to helping me solve my immediate problem, will you help me develop a plan for avoiding problems in the future? What are your fees? Are there set-up and/or monthly fees? Get a specific price quote in writing. What if I can't afford to pay your fees or make contributions? If an organization won't help you because you can't afford to pay, look elsewhere for help. Will I have a formal written agreement or contract with you? Don't sign anything without reading it first. Make sure all verbal promises are in writing.
Are you licensed to offer your services in my state? If not, run. What are the qualifications of your counselors? Are they accredited or certified by an outside organization? If so, by whom? If not, how are they trained? Try to use an organization whose counselors are trained by a non-affiliated party. What assurance do I have that information about me (including my address, phone number, and financial information) will be kept confidential and secure? How are your employees compensated? Are they paid more if I sign up for certain services, if I pay a fee, or if I make a contribution to your organization? If the answer is yes, consider it a red flag and go elsewhere for help. Debt Management Plans (DMP) If your financial problems stem from too much debt or your inability to repay your debts, a credit counseling agency may recommend that you enroll in a debt management plan. A DMP alone is not credit counseling, and DMPs are not for everyone. Consider signing on for one of these plans only after a certified credit counselor has spent time thoroughly reviewing your financial situation, and has offered you customized advice on managing your money.
Even if a DMP is appropriate for you, a reputable credit counseling organization still will help you create a budget and teach you money management skills.
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