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Best Credit Counselors for Debt Management

Profile picture of Barbara Friedberg
by Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance Contributing Editor

Credit counselors help people with high levels of debt or financial burden make sense of their financial situation and come up with a plan to regain control of their finances. A debt counselor will assess your finances, including your income, debts and opportunities. They will then propose a debt management plan (DMP) designed help you get out of debt within a certain period of time, generally three to five years.

Credit counseling agencies certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) offer free debt counseling, but not every non-profit credit counseling service provides free services, so be sure to look for certified agents when looking for debt help.

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Best Credit Counselor(844) 342-2783 Visit website
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Runner-UpRead Reviews
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When comparing credit counseling agencies, there are a few things we recommend looking at. Start with accreditations and certifications, which will help give you confidence that the agency is required to follow certain ethical best practices. Then dive into the expertise, certifications and experience of the individual counselors. If you’re needing mortgage counseling or student loan counseling, look for an agency with counselors certified in those areas.

When choosing our top picks, we looked at accreditations, certifications, special expertise and customer satisfaction to determine our top three picks for credit counseling and debt management.

Best for housing counseling
Cambridge Credit Counseling

 
Company nameContact
Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. 
LogoSummary
DEBT MANAGEMENT PLAN
  • Minimum required debt: No minimum
  • Program time frame: Generally 3–5 years
  • Set up fees: $40 on average
  • Monthly fees: $40 on average

Cambridge Credit Counseling offers free credit counseling, debt management programs, debt consolidation and housing counseling. On average, they work with clients to reduce their monthly debt payments by around 25 percent.

What we like: Cambridge Credit Counseling is accredited by The Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA), which imposes certain ethical standards on credit counseling agencies. In addition to this accreditation, the agency is a member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), and also has special expertise in housing counseling as a HUD-approved housing counseling agency. It hosts a special first-time homebuyer course.

Many of their credit counselors are also individually certified with one (or more) of the following: NCHEC certified housing counselor, NCHEC certified foreclosure counselor, HUD-approved HECM counselor, NCHEC certified pre-purchase counselor. Most of those who don’t have special housing counselor certifications are registered as PFE certified debt management professionals. The continuing education required to maintain these certifications gives us extra peace of mind about the services provided by Cambridge Credit Counseling.

In addition to housing counseling and general financial/debt counseling, Cambridge Credit Counseling also offers student loan counseling and bankruptcy counseling.

What to consider: Fees vary by location. While the $25 average monthly payment is much lower than other companies we’ve seen, it’s important to note that you could end up paying as much as $50/month for their debt management program, so it’s important to ask for this information upfront.

Who's it best for: With all their certifications and accreditations, we think Cambridge Credit Counseling could be a good “peace of mind” fit for most debt-sufferers. However, with all their extra certifications in housing related financial planning and debt management, we can’t help but give them the edge for housing counseling — both before and after purchase.

Best for military families
Consolidated Credit Solutions

 
Company nameContact
Consolidated Credit Solutions 
LogoSummary
DEBT MANAGEMENT PLAN
  • Minimum required debt: Varies by plan
  • Program time frame: Generally 3–5 years
  • Set up fees: $40 on average
  • Monthly fees: $40 on average

Consolidated Credit offers free credit counseling services as well as debt consolidation and debt management programs. Through their debt management program, they help clients reduce credit card payments by up to 30–50 percent. Their counselors and staff are nationally certified in consumer credit counseling and financial education.

What we like: Consolidated Credit has special expertise in housing counseling, including homebuyer education and counseling, foreclosure prevention and reverse mortgage counseling. They also have a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help military members and their families navigate their personal finances through financial literacy education and counseling. Their website offers a free resource center, which includes webinars, videos, eBooks, and courses on financial literacy, budgeting and more.

What to consider: Fees are regulated by your state of residence. Fees are capped at $79/month, and, while Consolidated Credit reports customers pay an average of $40/month for their paid services, you could end up paying more.

Who's it best for: Consolidated Credit offers services to a wide population, but their special focus on mortgage and military counseling makes it a solid choice for those individuals. The company also offers a corporate financial wellness program.

Best for bankruptcy counseling
Greenpath Financial Wellness

 
Company nameContact
Greenpath Financial Wellness 
LogoSummary
DEBT MANAGEMENT PLAN
  • Minimum required debt: No minimum
  • Program time frame: Generally 3–5 years
  • Set up fees: $0–$50
  • Monthly fees: $0–$75

Greenpath Financial Wellness specializes in credit counseling, debt management programs and bankruptcy support. They offer free counseling and financial education, and their debt management program averages a monthly fee of $36, with most debts paid off within three to five years.

What we like: Greenpath Financial hosts many financial education courses online, many of which are available at no cost. Their website also hosts a variety of financial calculators, worksheets and guides to help users start to make sense of their finances.

What to consider: We found that most customers pay an average monthly fee of $36, however, their monthly fee can go as high as $75 and there is an initial set-up fee of up to $50. This is common among most credit counselors, but it’s worth asking up front to get the most up-to-date costs for your area.

Who's it best for: If you’re considering bankruptcy, GreenPath specializes in both pre- and post-bankruptcy counseling and financial education. They can help you decide which choice is best for you and support you through whichever decision you make.

Top 13 Credit Counseling Agencies

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Consolidated Credit Solutions
Read 1267 Reviews

Reduce credit card payments by up to 30-50%. Offers free online financial education webinars and three debt solutions, including debt consolidation. Specialized credit counseling available for military families.

toll freenumber (844) 342-2783 Visit Website
Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp.
Read 2203 Reviews

Average interest rates reduced from 22% to 8% with monthly payments reduced by 25%. $10,000 minimum debt required. Offers Credit Counseling services. Not a settlement or debt consolidation loan provider.

GreenPath Financial Wellness
Read 465 Reviews

Minimum required debt is $10,000. Free counseling and financial education provided. Average monthly fee is about $36, and no fee is charged until debts are settled. Debts are usually paid off in 3-5 years.

Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada
Read 68 Reviews

Reduce credit card payments by up to 30%-50%. One-time set-up fee and nominal monthly fee. Most clients are debt free within 3-5 years making 36-60 monthly payments through a debt management plan.

CareOne Credit Counseling
Read 61 Reviews

Connects customers with at least $2,500 in unsecured debt to providers of debt consolidation and management. Program duration depends on the amount of debt. Also offers customer counseling for debt reduction and relief.

Family Credit Management
Read 306 Reviews

Debts are typically paid off within 5 years of program start date. Fees are based on a sliding scale with no hidden charges. Choose a due date with your credit counselor. Receive monthly statements and 24/7 online account access.

Meredian Financial Corp.
Read 28 Reviews

Debt counselors can help you create a debt management plan. Fill out a form to get connected to a credit counselor and find out if you qualify.

Homesavers USA
Read 18 Reviews

Helps homeowners avoid foreclosure by helping with refinancing and managing mortgages. Works with banks and other lenders to create payment plans. Also provides access to legal professionals. Licensed in Texas.

American Consumer Credit Counseling
Read 8 Reviews

Offers management of debt through 4-5 year program. Includes credit lines, personal loans and credit cards. Is a non-profit agency and charges a $39 enrollment fee plus a $5-$50 monthly fee. Also provides debt counseling.

ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions
Read Reviews

Offers 3-5 year debt management programs for those whose debt is 15-50% of their annual income. Fees are assessed based on state laws, but do not exceed $75 per month. Also offers credit and debt counseling.

InCharge Debt Solutions
Read Reviews

Nonprofit company. Offers consolidation programs for unsecured debt with monthly fees of $25-$50. Programs last about 4-5 years with no minimum debt amount. Also offers debt management plans and credit counseling.

What is credit counseling?

Credit counseling is a good first step to help you decide which debt relief program is best for you. Most credit counseling plans are designed to teach consumers basic principles of debt reduction and how to avoid future debt and credit problems. Credit counselors are also trained to conduct an in-depth analysis of your financial situation, re-organize your finances, evaluate debt relief options and suggest solutions. Credit counselors can even help consumers create a plan to pay off credit card debt.

How does credit counseling work?

Most credit counseling companies are non-profit. They will pair you with a credit counselor who will examine your finances and recommend next steps for you. Some services are free, while others are fee-based. Get all charges in writing in advance, and read all documents before signing. As part of a proposed debt management plan, your counselor may recommend debt settlement or a debt consolidation loan, though you are not required to do either as a part of credit counseling.

What is a debt management plan?

A debt management plan (DMP) is a repayment schedule developed by a credit counselor in an attempt to serve both the individual with debt and the creditor. With a DMP, you deposit monthly payments to the credit counseling agency administering the plan. The company will then submit payments to your various accounts on your behalf. If creditors call, you can direct them to the credit counseling agency. Sometimes, a DMP can help you avoid certain fees associated with your normal payment method. A DMP is a potential outcome of free credit counseling, but is generally done at an additional charge or service fee (typically a set-up fee as well as a monthly fee).

How does credit counseling affect your credit score?

Enrolling in a credit counseling program does not directly affect credit scores as long as you continue paying your current obligations. While a comment on your participation in a credit counseling program or debt management plan may be included in your credit report, and this will be visible to lenders, that comment itself does not affect your credit score. The key is to keep your payments current before, during and after counseling.

A mitigating event while you’re participating in credit counseling can, however, hurt your score. Most creditors close the credit card accounts of consumers who participate in credit counseling or debt management programs, which can lower your score since it decreases the amount of credit available to you.

What qualifications should a debt counselor have?

Debt counselors who work for debt consolidation companies should be qualified to practice in your state. It is a good idea to review not only the accreditation of a company but also an individual counselor’s qualifications to make sure you’re getting the best debt management plan for you.

  • Certification: Your debt counselor should be certified by a reputable organization and the appropriate authorities like the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
  • Education background: It’s fairly common to inquire about your counselor’s education background. Some companies also require that their counselors continue their education with seminars or in-house training.
  • Employee compensation: Sometimes, counselors earn more money by selling additional services. This compensation model can lead some counselors to push services on clients that they may not need. Salaried employees will be more likely to have the consumer’s best interests in mind.

Is credit counseling a good idea?

If you have enough regular income, can stick to the debt relief program and choose a trusted credit counseling company, credit counseling may be a good idea. Credit counselors can help you negotiate lower interest rates. Your payment period can also be stretched out to three to five years, reducing your monthly payments. If you stick to the program, you can eliminate your debt payments over time. You’ll also learn better money habits from a credit counselor.

Pros

  • Low-cost fees
  • Professionals help get you back on your feet
  • Can help set up a debt management plan

Cons

  • Not all debts are covered
  • Can be a challenge to stick to the plan
  • Fees can add up

 

Types of credit counseling services

General budgeting

Aside from one-on-one consultation, credit counseling agencies may offer classes and seminars about building credit. General budgeting classes are often available to help consumers make an actionable budget plan, whether they’re saving to buy a house, get out of debt or just take control of their finances.

Debt management plan

Credit counseling can help set you up for a brighter, more financially stable future, but having a good debt repayment plan is often necessary to get you there. Look for a credit counseling service that also helps avoid future debt problems by helping you come up with a financial plan.

Housing counseling

Housing counselors help with mortgage debt and can also advise renters, people interested in buying a new home and seniors who want to take advantage of reverse mortgages. Housing counseling coupled with debt consolidation or debt settlement can help people avoid foreclosure on their homes or people who want to take advantage of different government programs.

Bankruptcy counseling

Federal law stipulates that anyone considering filing for bankruptcy must seek counseling before filing. They are also required to complete an education course before filing. Sometimes, debt consolidation can help clients avoid bankruptcy.

Student loan counseling

Student loans are difficult to repay. Some debt consolidation offer counseling services that help with student loan debt in particular. Counselors can help graduates evaluate and understand their repayment and assistance options to decide which type of debt relief option is best.

Not sure how to choose?

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Profile picture of Barbara Friedberg
Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance Contributing Editor

Barbara Friedberg, MBA, MS is a former investment portfolio manager with decades of financial experience. Friedberg taught Finance and Investments at several universities. Her work has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, Investopedia, Yahoo!Finance and many more publications.

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