When you’re struggling with debt or need help managing your finances, you have different resources to choose from. Many people turn to certified credit counselors, who can offer free or affordable financial education and counseling services through nonprofit agencies.
Counseling services include help with credit, debt, bankruptcy, student loans, housing and other issues. If you’re thinking about working with a credit counselor, you’ll want to be selective and do some research to find a good one.
“Not only do you need to choose a counselor who is right for you, but you need to choose the right organization that will best suit your needs,” says Jason Webb, a certified credit counselor at GreenPath Financial Wellness. GreenPath is a nonprofit credit counseling agency in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
NerdWallet asked several GreenPath credit counselors what you should keep in mind when selecting a credit counselor.
Why is it important to take your time when choosing a credit counselor?
Marcel Leahu: You want to make sure that you have a credit counselor who takes the time to fully understand your financial situation and can empathize and discuss all available options. You don’t want to choose a counselor just based on a postcard or a telemarketing call that you received. Ask your family and friends for recommendations or go to the NFCC website to find certified credit counselors and organizations near you.
Jason Webb: A good credit counselor takes a detailed look at your overall situation and will let you know about all your options. Avoid counselors who are commissioned and have a bias to push you toward a specific financial option. It’s important to look for someone who has your best interest and goals in mind.
Carly Facchini: Most times, there’s more than one way to achieve someone’s goals. By spending time reviewing your options with a credit counselor, you’ll have a better understanding of what direction you want to take to reach your goals. Working with someone who is certified will allow you to trust their expertise.
What should you look for when choosing a credit counselor?
Leahu: Start with the credit counseling agency first. Look for an agency that is a nonprofit and has a long history of helping clients. Nonprofit agencies are more likely to have reasonable rates for their services. Also, make sure the agency is licensed by the NFCC. This will ensure that it’s not a fly-by-night operation that just opened its doors a month ago.
Facchini: Make sure you’re working with someone who has your best interest at heart. A good tip is to see if the counselor is certified by the NFCC. You also want to make sure he or she works for a reputable company. You can look for reviews about the company through the Better Business Bureau.
How can you create a good working relationship with your credit counselor?
Leahu: Be frank and upfront about your situation. The more a counselor knows, the better he or she can help you. Also, it’s important to understand that you’ll have to be committed to applying the advice your counselor gives you.
Trent Graham: Communication is key to working well with your credit counselor, and that means bringing your questions or concerns to them. Second, understand that you must take personal responsibility on your own to be involved with your finances and to work with your credit counselor to accomplish your goals together.
Facchini: Be open and honest. The more we can understand about where you’re coming from and what you’re looking for, the better we’ll be able to assist you.
Webb: Remember: Knowledge is power. Ask all of your questions.
GreenPath Financial Wellness is a nationwide, nonprofit financial counseling and education organization.