It's a brand new year -- the year you resolve to get out of debt, or at least take control of it. The big question is: How do I do it?
Fortunately, there are credit counseling agencies that can help you get your finances in order. They can help you figure out a budget and stick to it while managing your debt and avoiding future financial pitfalls.
However, not all credit counseling agencies are created equal. Some offer free or low-cost services while others charge high fees or might not be trustworthy. The following tips from USA.gov will help you choose the right credit counseling agency.
Look for agencies with a good reputation
Most reputable credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that offer free or low-cost services. However, the fact that an agency is a nonprofit does not guarantee that it is affordable or that it has a good reputation. Here are some tips for selecting a credit agency you can trust:
- Ask family members and friends if they can recommend an agency. It's best to pick one that has been around for several years and has a well-established reputation.
- Use credit agencies or credit counseling services referred by credit unions, banks, universities or military bases.
- Choose a credit agency that's been approved by the Federal Government.
- You can also check out state and local consumer agencies to find out if a credit agency has complaints.
Compare services and costs
Once you have a list of agencies you can trust, the next step is to take a closer look at the services and costs they offer so that you can choose the one that best serves your needs. Be careful with credit agencies that charge high fees for services that you can get for free somewhere else.
Some of the most common services offered by credit agencies include:
- Professional, person-to-person assistance with managing your money and debt.
- Help putting together a family budget and sticking to it.
- Free workshops and educational material.
Ask lots of questions
Before finally choosing a credit agency, it's worth writing down a list of questions you might have so that you can avoid surprises such as hidden fees or limited services. Here are some questions to help you pick the right credit agency:
- Are there different fees for different services? Some agencies might charge for initial consultations or a monthly fee. Be careful with agencies that pay their employees more depending on the services you sign up for.
- Will you be signing a contract before getting counseling? If so, be sure to read the contract before signing it.
- Does the agency have the right certifications to provide credit counseling? It's best to use agencies that have been certified by independent organizations.