As gas prices continue to climb and interest rates creep up, some people are feeling the squeeze. They may lack the extra money needed for transportation, to make their adjustable rate mortgage payment, or to meet other expenses. The BBB advises consumers who find they are sinking into debt to take proactive action by working with an experienced credit counseling organization.
A trained and certified credit counselor can analyze your income, expenses and debts; discuss your current situation; and make recommendations to address your financial problems. These suggestions may include participation in an educational class or enrolling in a debt-management/repayment plan.
If you decide to work with a credit counseling agency, spend some time researching your options and select a reputable agency. Your goal should be to find a credit counseling agency that has satisfied clients, offers personalized service from trained counselors, can educate you how to make appropriate financial choices and will provide you with tools to achieve financial security.
Before making a decision, check the agency out with your Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. Any reputable credit counseling agency should send you free information about its services without requiring you to provide any details about your situation. If not, consider that a red flag and go elsewhere for help.
You will also want to find out if the agency is licensed and accredited; if the counselors are certified and by whom; if its financial services will be personalized to your situation; the fees and what they are based upon; how the agency protects the privacy of clients’ information; and whether budget and educational opportunities are offered.
The BBB cautions consumers to also ask the agency for information about its funding source. The IRS recently revoked the tax status of several nonprofit credit counseling organizations that offered little to no counseling or education and appeared to be primarily motivated by profit. If the agency claims to be tax-exempt or not-for-profit, double-check with your state charity official (obtain contact information from the National Association of State Charity Officials at http://www.nasconet.org/). Remember, regardless of how the agency is funded, if you participate in a debt management plan, your creditors should always be credited with one hundred percent (100%) of the amount you pay through a credit counseling agency.