CESI: Consumer Education Services Inc. Review 2020

CESI offers common credit counseling services, including debt management plans and student loan counseling.

Amrita JayakumarAugust 28, 2020
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CESI logo
Consumer Education Services Inc. offers many common credit counseling services by phone or online, including debt management plans, student loan counseling and housing counseling.

CESI is headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, and offers services in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

CESI may be a good fit if you:

  • Prefer an online experience. CESI offers clients a mobile app to manage their plans and chat with counselors.

  • Want free online financial education resources.

CESI’s services and fees

CESI provides services available at most credit counseling agencies. Agencies differ based on fees and accessibility. CESI’s services include:

General budgeting and advice. A counselor will run through your budget and analyze your overall finances in a free session; CESI also offers free online educational resources.

Debt management plans. A counselor creates a plan to consolidate your consumer debts and lower the interest rate on your credit cards, setting up one monthly payment to erase the debt over three to five years. Consumer debts include credit cards, loans and medical bills but generally not mortgage or student loan debt.

Bankruptcy counseling. CESI offers the two court-mandated sessions for those seeking bankruptcy, one before you file and one before your debts are discharged.

Student loan counseling. People with student loans can talk through their options with a counselor on the phone for free or they can pay $39 to use CESI’s DIY tool to find out what programs they may qualify for.

Housing counseling. CESI offers help for home buyers, homeowners considering a reverse mortgage and people struggling with mortgage or rent payments.

Service

Fee

General budgeting and advice

  • Free.

Debt management plan

  • Startup and monthly fees vary by state.

  • Average startup fee is $24; average monthly fee is $28; each is capped at $75.

Bankruptcy counseling

  • Pre-file: $24.99 online, $34.99 by phone.

  • Pre-discharge: $21.99 online, $34.99 by phone.

Student loans

  • DIY tool fee is $39; phone counseling is free.

Housing counseling

  • Free to $150, depending on the service.

How CESI compares

In general, credit counseling agencies offer the same services. The difference lies in where and how they offer those services. Here's how CESI stacks up:

Accreditation: Accredited through the Council on Accreditation, an outside body that ensures standards of practice among counselors and oversight of the agency.

Online support: Counseling services and educational resources are available on the website.

Completion rate: The percentage of clients who completed a debt management plan after enrolling was 82.69% in 2019, and 70.44% over the past five years.

Availability: The agency operates in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

It’s worth noting that CESI cites a higher success rate for debt management plans than other credit counseling agencies that NerdWallet has reviewed.

That might be in part because of the way it defines successful completion. It wraps in consumers “whose financial situations improve to the point where they can pay off early, make direct arrangements with their creditors after time on our program or manage their debts on their own,” Tracy East, director of communication and outreach at CESI, said in an email. “We deem the debt management program a success when it improved financial lives.”

CESI's debt management plan

Debt management plans help consumers pay off unsecured debt like credit cards faster and cheaper than they can on their own. A DMP works by rolling multiple debts into one monthly payment and lowering credit card interest rates. The interest rate cut you receive is standardized across credit counseling agencies, based on your creditors' guidelines and your budget.

In exchange for the interest rate cut, you agree to a monthly payment plan that fits your budget. DMPs usually take three to five years to complete.

If you miss three payments, your debt management plan will be inactivated, East says, but missing even one payment may result in losing benefits from your creditors.

About 35% of consumers who had a free initial counseling session enrolled in a DMP in the past two years, according to CESI.

Here’s a breakdown of how an average DMP at CESI compares with paying off debt on your own. These calculations use figures provided by CESI for its customers' average debt amount, interest rate and monthly payment.

Under the DIY approach, all of the $276 monthly payment goes to debt, but the higher interest rate means it takes longer to pay off and costs more. With the DMP approach, not all of the monthly payment goes to debt — the average program fee takes $28 a month — but the debt is paid sooner and at less overall cost because of the lowered interest rate:

Debt management plan

DIY debt paydown

$9,900 debt

$9,900 debt

7.5% interest rate

22% interest rate

$276 monthly payment

($248 goes to debt, $28 to monthly program fee)

$276 monthly payment

47 months to pay off

59 months to pay off

$1,524 paid in interest

$1,340* paid in fees

$6,384 paid in interest

*Calculations used the average $28 monthly fee and average $24 startup fee.

WHEN TO CONSIDER A DMP:

  • If you're struggling to make monthly payments on debt.

  • If your consumer debt is 15% to 40% of your annual income.

  • If you think you can pay the debt off within five years.

  • If you don’t qualify for a debt consolidation loan.

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