Credit Counseling: Swimming Out of the Mess

I once read a news story about a horse that slipped into a manure pit.

Some people–much like the unfortunate horse–are up to their necks in a mess, paddling for all they’re worth, wondering how to get out and panicking about the apparent hopelessness of their situation.

The mess I’m referring to is–of course–debt.

Fortunately, there are some life preservers out there.

The simplest option is a debt snowball.   You just list all your debts in order from smallest balance to largest.  Then, focus all you energy on paying off the smallest, while making minimum payments on the rest.   When the smallest debt is paid off, throw that money at the next smallest balance.   Eventually, all of your debts go away.

What are your other options?

There are debt consolidation loans, debt consolidation programs, horrible debt settlement plans, and even bankruptcy.   There’s a whole shark-infested reef of options, some of which will make things much, much worse for you.  What to do?

Take a look at credit counseling.   Credit counseling is designed as a way to educate debtors on their options, and how to pursue those options.  A good counselor will look at your income, your debt, and your spending habits and help you understand what went wrong and how to avoid it.

The trick is to find a good counselor.

First, search for approved and licensed counseling organizations here.

Once you have a list of candidates, you can start trimming it using these steps:

  • Ask them for information.  Good agencies will send you information about itself and its services at no charge.  If the balk, run.
  • Are they nonprofit?  In many places, credit counselor must be nonprofit to operate legally.  Whether or not it’s a legal requirement, consider making it your requirement.
  • Ask about their fees and get it in writing.  Is there a setup fee?  Monthly fees?
  • Will there be a signed agreement?  If there is, be sure to read it, first.
  • How do they train their counselors?  What are their qualifications?
  • How are the employees compensated?  Do they get bonuses if you sign up for certain services?  If they do, go elsewhere.  Their first priority should be your needs, not getting a bonus.

Once you’ve found a company you’re comfortable with, schedule a counseling appointment.  At the appointment, you can expect to go over your finances in detail, including your income, expenses, debt, and financial goals.  You’ll review your options with the counselor and build an action plan.

From there, your job will be to stay on the plan and get yourself out of debt.

Have you ever met with a credit counselor?

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    1. I’m a big fan of the debt snowball. I did use CCCS long ago, but in retrospect I could have done the same thing myself if I had been more aware of my options.

    2. I took advantage of credit counselling a few years ago when I was in a rough situation. The company I used was really good and very helpful. Within a year I had my debts cleared which was a huge relief.

    3. Thankfully my parents had no credit history, so I’ve always been a bit sick to my stomach when taking on big debts.

      It’s definitely scary when you are just digging a bigger hole for every day that goes by. I’m glad there are options out there for people with problems paying their bills.

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