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How to Choose a Certified Credit Counselor

Three steps to choosing a credit counselor

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by Emma Simon ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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If you’re struggling to manage debt or just want advice on handling your budget, working with a reputable credit counselor could be the right solution. Credit counselors help relieve financial stress by offering guidance on how to manage your debts or credit. We recommend following these three simple steps to find a credit counselor:

1. Know what you’re looking for in a credit counselor

The first step to choosing a qualified credit counselor is knowing what you’re looking for. Take a minute to assess your credit situation and what kind of services you want. Credit counselors offer basic budgeting advice and free educational resources, but they also help find specialized assistance if you have a specific financial problem or need, like bankruptcy credit counseling or a debt management program.

Here are some points to consider before settling on where to go for credit counseling:

Nonprofit credit counseling agency or for-profit credit counseling agency

Nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer basic, free credit counseling services and are accredited through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). For-profit credit counseling companies, however, may use shady tactics or try to pressure you into a debt settlement program by telling you to stop paying your bills.

In-person, over-the-phone or online credit counseling services

Choosing online credit counseling gives you flexibility and the freedom to work with national credit counseling companies with online services. You complete credit counseling courses from the comfort of your home instead of scheduling in-person appointments or phone calls.

If you’re more comfortable meeting with a credit counselor in person or talking with a credit specialist on the phone, make sure the credit counseling companies you’re looking into offer those services.

Credit counseling cost

Credit counseling costs vary depending on the services you need. Don’t forget to ask if a monthly program cost or setup fee is required.

Remember, don’t let a credit counseling representative pressure you into joining a program or making a large upfront payment. These red flags indicate that you’re not working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency that has your best interests in mind.

2. Research your credit counselor’s qualifications and accreditations

There are two major credit counseling accreditors: the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC). The National Foundation for Credit Counseling requires participating credit counseling organizations to meet national standards for the delivery of service and obtain third-party accreditation through the Council on Accreditation (COA). For a full list of accredited credit counseling agencies, visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website.

If you’re looking to work with a local credit counseling agency, the Department of Justice also keeps a database of approved credit counseling agencies by state and judicial district as well as approved credit counseling agencies that offer services in languages other than English. Visit its website for more information on credit counseling services near you.

3. Ask potential credit counselors questions

Give yourself time to feel comfortable with your decision and have a list of questions ready to ask potential credit counselors. We’ve listed below some common questions to consider asking.

Questions to ask credit counselors

  • On average, how long does your credit counseling program take?
  • How will completing your credit counseling program help me avoid financial problems in the future?
  • How much does your credit counseling course cost?
  • Are you certified through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC)?
  • Are you licensed to offer services in my state?

Bottom line

Choosing a certified credit counselor with relevant experience gives you access to educational resources, budgeting tools and programs to help you build a solid financial future. Don’t rush into a credit counseling plan — take your time deciding whose financial advice to trust. Ask plenty of questions before committing to a program.

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Profile picture of Emma Simon
by Emma Simon ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Emma Simon is dedicated to creating accurate and valuable content that helps consumers make difficult decisions.