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Cambridge Credit Counseling: 2018 Review

Budgeting, Paying Off Debt, Personal Finance
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FeatureDescriptionCambridge
Accreditation An outside body ensures standards of practice among counselors and oversight of the agency.Accredited through the Financial Counseling Association of America
Online support
Counseling services and educational resources are available on the website.
Yes
Completion rate of debt management plans
Percentage of clients who complete the program after enrolling
59%
AvailabilityStates in which the agency operates
All but Minnesota, Wisconsin and Virginia

 

Cambridge-logo-inlineCambridge Credit Counseling Corp. is based in Massachusetts but serves clients over the phone and online in 47 states (only Minnesota, Wisconsin and Virginia don’t make the cut).

The nonprofit agency is more forthcoming than others about its debt management plan completion rates. Cambridge has gone so far as to create a Transparency Project to give consumers insight into the financial situations, habits and outcomes of its debt management plan clients.

“Data collection in our business is key, because it helps us identify any parts of our service that can be improved to help clients succeed,” says Martin Lynch, director of education at Cambridge. By collecting data on DMP completion rate, customer satisfaction and use of educational materials, Cambridge can fine-tune its services to the needs of its clients.

Cambridge is a member of the Financial Counseling Association of America, which ensures standards of practice among counselors and requires accreditation by an independent body. As a result, the counseling and advice from FCAA member agencies will be similar; price, accessibility and customer experience are the main differences. You might use cost and access to pick an agency to try, then use the free initial consultation to make sure it is a good fit before committing.

Note that many agencies similar to Cambridge are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the largest organization of nonprofit credit counseling agencies. The two groups have their own methods but share the same goal: ensuring quality and consistency among counselors to give consumers reliable financial assistance.

In this review

Cambridge’s services and fees

Cambridge’s access and resources

Cambridge’s debt management plan

Cambridge’s services and fees

Nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer services and resources to help consumers manage their finances. From a one-time budgeting session to a yearslong debt management plan, these organizations have services for a variety of circumstances.

In the initial session you can expect roughly an hourlong assessment of your finances. You’ll discuss everything from your income, expenses and debt to your financial goals. Then you and the counselor will assess whether any Cambridge services might help you.

Worth noting: Cambridge’s student loan counseling is particularly affordable. An overview of debts and repayment options is free; other agencies generally charge a fee. More in-depth counseling, including contacting issuers on your behalf, can cost upward of $250 at other agencies. Cambridge clients on average pay less than $49 monthly for this service.

Counseling services available at Cambridge:

ServiceFee, time commitment
Access
General budgeting and advice
  • Free
  • Generally one hour
  • Over the phone
  • In person (only at the one physical location, in Massachusetts)
Debt management plan: A counselor creates a plan to consolidate your consumer debts and lower the interest rate, setting up one monthly payment to erase the debt over three to five years.
  • Startup and monthly fees vary by state. Average startup fee is $42; average monthly fee is $30.
  • An average of 43 months to complete at Cambridge.
  • Over the phone
  • In person (only at the one physical location, in Massachusetts)
Bankruptcy counseling: A counselor walks you through two court-mandated sessions: one before you file and one before your debts are discharged.
  • Pre-filing: $39
  • Pre-discharge: $39
  • Pre-filing session takes about one hour; pre-discharge session takes a minimum of two hours
  • Online
  • In person (only at the one physical location, in Massachusetts)
Student loans: A counselor outlines your repayment options and may contact your issuer on your behalf for an additional fee.
  • Free overview of student loans and repayment options. More advanced assistance varies based on financial situation, but generally $49 or less per month with a maximum of $249.
  • An hour or more, depending on your situation
  • Over the phone
  • In person (only at the one physical location, in Massachusetts)
Housing counseling: Help for home buyers; people struggling with mortgage or rent payments; and homeowners considering a reverse mortgage.
  • Free to $125, depending on the service
  • Time varies by service, from a one-hour workshop to longer courses.
  • Over the phone
  • Online
  • In person (only at the one physical location, in Massachusetts)

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Cambridge’s access and resources

Access is limited to people in the 47 states Cambridge serves and those who feel comfortable receiving services over the phone or online. It has only one physical location, near Springfield, Massachusetts. If you’re looking for in-person counseling services, consider another counseling agency.

Though Cambridge’s accessibility is limited compared to larger agencies, it offers educational materials to help consumers navigate various stages of their financial lives.

“Our free community seminars also fall into that category,” Lynch says, “as we spread the fundamentals of financial literacy to people who care enough about it to come out and participate.”

Cambridge also offers a variety of educational materials on its financial literacy portal, which is available for free to anyone.
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Cambridge’s debt management plan

If your debt is mostly from credit cards, a debt management plan can help you get a handle on what you owe.

Under a DMP, your various debts are consolidated into one monthly payment and your interest rate is cut. In return, you agree to a set payment plan, usually for three to five years. You likely won’t be able to use credit cards or open new lines of credit in this time. Also, missing even one payment can derail your plan, revert your rate cut and leave you to handle the remaining debt on your own.

DMPs aren’t for everyone. Mortgages, car loans, most medical bills and student loans are generally not covered in such a plan.

Depending on the year, between 12% and 20% of Cambridge clients use DMPs.

When to consider a DMP:

  • You are struggling to make monthly payments on debt.
  • Your consumer debt is between 15% and 50% of your annual income.
  • You think you can pay it off within five years.
  • You don’t qualify for a debt consolidation loan.

Before you choose this path, think through your other debt relief options. Bankruptcy, for example, may be better if your debt is more than 50% of your annual income and you see no way to pay it off within five years. A debt consolidation loan, if you have good enough credit to qualify, can also gather several debts into one at a lower interest rate. It gives you more control over the length of loan and payment size, and preserves your ability to get new lines of credit or use a credit card in an emergency.

Cambridge DMP clients on average have around $16,000 in debt. They pay an average startup fee of up to $42 to begin the DMP, plus an average monthly program fee of $30 while they’re following the plan. Both fees vary depending on the client’s level of debt and state of residence.

On average, a Cambridge DMP client’s APR is cut from 22% down to 11%. Cambridge DMP clients generally take 43 months to complete their program, and the company says 59% of those who enroll complete the program.

A debt management plan can save you time and money over paying off the debt on your own. Here’s an example based on an average Cambridge client:

 Debt management plan
DIY debt paydown
Amount of debt
$16,000
$16,000
Interest rate
11%22%
Monthly payment
$480 ($450 to debt, $30 to monthly program fee) $480
Time to pay off
43 months
52 months
CostInterest: $3,450.81
Fees: $1,332*
Interest: $8,953.71

*Figured at the average $30 monthly fee.

 

This is just an example; if you choose debt management, the monthly payment and plan length will be adjusted to your circumstances.

Sean Pyles is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spyles@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SeanLoranPyles

This article was updated Jan. 2, 2018.