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Are you in debt and feel like you can’t get out? Do you have a low credit score and need help figuring out how to bring it up? Or do you just need help managing your credit, debt, and spending? If so, there are resources out there to help you.

What will I get from a credit counseling agency?
Credit counseling agencies are a good place to seek professional help. Services you can expect from a credit counseling agency:
General budgeting and money management advice
Negotiation with your creditors to get them to eliminate late fees, extend the term of your loan, or lower your interest rate
For particularly burdensome debt, you may be eligible to participate in a debt repayment plan that allows you to pay a set amount to the agency each month that they then pay to your creditors

How do I choose a credit counseling agency?
Choosing a reputable credit counseling agency is extremely important. Consider asking for a referral from your financial aid office, accountant, or other trusted advisor. You can always check out an unfamiliar service with your state consumer protection office. It’s a good idea to check if the credit counseling agency is registered with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), a nation-wide non-profit credit counseling network that has set the national standard for quality in credit counseling and debt reduction services, or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCA), a national membership organization that promotes quality and consistent delivery of credit counseling services.

A few good questions to ask when talking to a consumer credit counseling agency:
What services do you provide?
Do you provide free educational materials? If so, how can I get them?
Are there fees for your services? What are they? Do I have to pay anything up front?
Are there monthly fees? If so, how are they calculated?
What training do your counselors have? Are they certified or accredited?
Who oversees or regulates your agency? Is your agency audited annually?

Are there any credit counseling agencies or services I should avoid?
There are many reputable credit counseling agencies not associated with the NFCC or AICCA. However, there are also many that charge hefty fees and do not effectively help you to get out of debt. For instance, one so called “non-profit” counseling agency actually pockets your first month’s check, which you assume is being applied to your debts, and calls it a “charitable contribution”. But, if you know how to choose a reputable agency and exercise a bit of caution, you can benefit from credit counseling services.

Some companies claim they can improve your credit report for fee. Often, these companies, commonly called credit clinics, do little consumers couldn’t do on their own for little or no cost. Be especially wary of any organization that offers to create a new identity and credit file for you, as these are fraudulent practices and often prosecuted by the FTC and state attorney generals. The FTC warns that you may be dealing with a credit clinic if the they,

guarantee to remove late payments, bankruptcies, or similar information from a credit report;

charge a lot of money to repair credit;

ask the consumer to write to the credit reporting company and repeatedly seek verification of the same credit account information in the file, month after month, even though the information has been determined to be correct; or

are reluctant to give out their address or push you to make a decision immediately.