What is a Credit Counseling Service?
A credit counseling service offers guidance for someone struggling with debt. A credit counselor can give advice on budgeting, determine the best debt relief program for you and provide financial education material.
A nonprofit credit counseling agency can offer these tools for free, and the most trusted credit counselors are members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). The NFCC has a list of approved credit counseling agencies on its website.
Credit counselors are trained and certified to help consumers understand their financial options as well as how to improve their budget. Counselors interview consumers to get an accurate picture of assets and expenses, then offer options such as debt management programs, debt consolidation or bankruptcy, to solve financial problems.
What Does Credit Counseling Cost?
Most trustworthy credit counseling agencies are nonprofit and give advice on budgeting, debt relief programs and financial education material for free. In fact, the Telemarketing Sales Rule for Debt Relief Companies forbids any debt relief company from charging advance fees. They can only charge you when a service is rendered. The counseling is free.
InCharge offers free counseling with a certified credit counselor. During your session, you’ll be provided with the following at no charge:
- A portion of your credit report listing your current credit card accounts, balances, and minimum monthly payments for each.
- A counseled budget including personalized recommendations on how to save money in each major budget category
- An action plan providing you with a recommended debt solution, as well as alternate debt solutions available to you
During your debt counseling session and after, you can choose the debt solution recommended by InCharge, or not. The choice is yours.
There is no cost for the credit counseling session. If you qualify for and decide to enroll in the InCharge debt management program, there is an average set-up fee of $40, and an average $25 monthly fee, not to exceed $75 and $55, respectively. Learn more about debt management program fees.
Advantages of InCharge Credit Counseling
- Credit counseling service is FREE! The first time you call InCharge, we will review your financial situation – expenses vs. income; areas of concern, etc. – and offer suggestions to improve it. That service is free!
- Personalized counselor. InCharge assigns a credit counselor to walk you through the process, step-by-step until you’ve reached a satisfactory solution to your debt problem. That counselor will be with you, start-to-finish. The advice you receive is tailored specifically to your unique financial situation. We don’t use “one size fits all” solutions. You get personalized service, including an access number to call your counselor any time you have questions.
- State-of-the-art technology. We use the latest technology to see to it that you make an informed decision on how to solve your debt problems. Our counselors can quickly retrieve data related to your debts and research answers you need to questions. No need to waste time looking through old bank or credit card statements before you call for help.
- Explaining your options. Many consumers need only minor tweaks to solve their debt problems, but if you need more extensive help (e.g. debt management program, debt consolidation, etc.), our counselors will offer recommendations on the ones that best suit your needs and explain why that is your best choice for eliminating debt.
- Managing your account on our program. You can log in at any time on your smart phone or computer to see your updated account balances and savings on interest. You can even track your progress to see what percentage your debt has been paid by checking the graphic indicator that appears every time you open your file.
- Education is our strength. InCharge credit counselors don’t just assess the state of your financial affairs, they take time to educate you on the best ways to manage your debt. The education process includes advice on budgeting, links to articles on managing money, tips on saving and a monthly newsletter that educates you on the latest financial trends.
- Proven track record. Every debt counselor at InCharge Debt Solutions is trained and accredited by the National Financial Credit Counseling (NFCC) agency. The NFCC is recognized worldwide for delivering the highest level of financial education and counseling services. Our counselors average 8 years of experience and promise to use that wealth of knowledge to improve your financial situation.
How Much Debt Do I Need For the Debt Management Program?
We do not have a minimum debt requirement for the debt management program. Our goal is to create a payment plan that is affordable and enables you to pay off your debt within a 3 to 5 year period.
Our clients have, on average, credit card debt of $15,000. Though we have enrolled clients with as little as $1,000 in debt, and more than $100,000 in debt. Our clients have an average annual income of $36,000.
Will Credit Counseling Ruin My Credit Score?
Participating in a credit counseling session will not impact your credit score. Credit counseling will not appear on your credit report. However, changes in your financial behavior, especially after choosing a debt solution, may have a positive or negative impact on your score.
For example, joining a debt management program and having your credit cards closed may initially lower your score. But making on-time payments you can afford over time, could raise your score.
A study published by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that participants saw a 50 point average increase in their credit scores, 18 months after receiving credit counseling.
For a better understanding of how credit scores are calculated, read Will Credit Counseling Ruin My Credit Score?
Advantages of Working with a Consumer Credit Counseling Company
- Impartial financial advice from a nonprofit organization not trying to sell you anything
- Financial counselors are trained, certified and experienced
- Nonprofit credit counseling is offered 100% free of charge
- You may qualify for a debt management program that could lower your interest rates and reduce fees.
- Budget counseling gives you tips and advice you can use today to reduce your expenses
Nonprofit Credit Counseling and Debt Counseling Services
Certified credit counselors are trained in the following:
- Collections and Debt Management
- Consumer Rights and Responsibilities
Financial and personal information offered by clients is confidential. Meeting with a counselor, and identifying a debt solution, will not impact your credit score.
InCharge Debt Solutions helped clients pay off over $108 million dollars in credit card debt in 2015.
Besides helping credit counseling customers find a debt relief solution, InCharge refers clients to state, federal and other relief nonprofit resources. Last year, InCharge made almost 100,000 referrals to housing, employment, food, healthcare and other relief programs.
InCharge counselors are able to provide savings tips for every line item in your household budget, from how to save money on your utilities to your cell phone.
How To Choose A Credit Counseling Company?
The Federal Trade Commission recommends contacting non-profit credit counseling companies, like InCharge Debt Solutions, for in-person, over-the-phone or online counseling. Most non-profit credit counseling agencies like InCharge offer counseling sessions for free.
The FTC website warns that non-profit status does not guarantee the services are free and suggests careful research before choosing a credit counseling company.
Five Characteristics of a Reputable Credit Counseling Company
- Nonprofit: Choose a nonprofit credit counseling agency like Incharge – that is a member of the NFCC, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
- Licensed and Accredited: Make sure the agency is licensed and accredited. The NFCC requires member organizations to adhere to strict standards and regular audits for data security, counselor accreditation and results-oriented customer service.
- COA-Certified: Be sure the organization is certified by Council on Accreditation before signing up for their program. Be certain the counselors are certified, preferably by the NFCC.
- Low Complaints: Contact the state attorney general or Better Business Bureau for records of complaints and how the agency responded to complaints.
- Free Education: Choose an agency that provides free financial literacy education to clients and the general public.
For-Profit vs. Non-Profit Credit Counseling Services
The NFCC, which certifies credit counselors, has approved 83 non-profit agencies. No for-profit companies are accredited by the NFCC.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that 100 percent of the money that consumers send our approved agencies, goes to the creditors,” Pam Carter, the senior director of membership at the NFCC, said. “We don’t hold anything back. That’s not always the case with the for-profit agencies.”
Counselors at nonprofit credit counseling agencies operate under strict state and organizational guidelines designed to insure they act in their client’s best interests. Non-profits are frequently audited by states to insure they comply with all of that state’s regulations. Non-profit credit counseling companies must demonstrate that they are acting in the best interests of all of their clients. For example, InCharge motivates clients with monthly newsletters that include money-saving tips and stories of people who have gotten out of debt.
Does Consumer Credit Counseling Work?
A recent credit counseling study has produced significant research findings for the debt relief industry, showing that debt counseling is effective in helping people pay off more debt and faster. Researchers at Ohio State University compared two groups of financially distressed people with similar characteristics. The first group received credit counseling and the second did not. Those who received credit counseling reduced their credit card debt by nearly $6,000 within 18 months of counseling. Those who had not received counseling, reduced their debt by only $3,600. Additionally, counseled participants’ available credit ratio was 19% higher than non-counseled available credit. Download the NFCC OSU Credit Counseling Statistics Final Report – 2016.
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Data Highlights: Credit Counseling Improves Financial Habits and Confidence
The credit counseling study tracked people’s feelings about their own financial situation. Three months after receiving credit counseling, surveys reported the following results:
- 67% said that it helped them better manage their money.
- 68% said it helped them set financial goals.
- 70% said it improved their financial confidence.
- 73%said they are paying their debt more consistently.
Credit counseling works because it provides people with the time and tools to focus on their financial situation. Nonprofit credit counseling provides a holistic, high-level view of an individual or family’s debts, assets, income and expenses before recommending a debt relief strategy. Credit counseling services work because the solutions provided are personalized and specific, and because counselors are well-trained and non-biased. Additionally, counseling helps consumers consolidate debts into one monthly payment, reducing penalties for missed and late payments.
On average, a counseling session takes about 30 minutes. You can receive credit counseling online or over the telephone. You’ll provide information about your income, expenses and debts, after which you’ll receive a personalized debt relief solution.
The InCharge Credit Card Payoff Calculator
If your financial situation changes – your salary increases, you receive money from a family member’s estate, you are gifted money by someone – and you want to put more money every month toward paying off your debt, take advantage of the InCharge Credit Card Payoff Calculator to find out how much quicker you can eliminate debt.
With the InCharge Credit Card Payoff Calculator, you plug in the numbers for the amount you currently pay and the interest rate, then fill in how much more you propose to pay each month, and the Payoff Calculator does the rest.
You’ll find out how much quicker you eliminate your debt and how much you saved yourself in the process.
Alternatives To Credit Counseling
Before deciding to work with a debt relief company, take a moment to learn about the Telemarketing Sales Rule for debt relief companies, which stipulates that no one can charge you advanced fees before they’ve offered you a service. Report violators to the Federal Trade Commission.
With debt consolidation, your debts are combined into one monthly payment. You can achieve debt consolidation with an InCharge Debt Management Plan – but to qualify, you must complete a credit counseling session.
With debt settlement, you pay only a portion of the total amount owed, and the lender forgives the remaining balance. High fees charged by debt settlement companies as well as the severely negative effect on your credit score may make debt settlement a last resort option for you.
If your combined debts are double or triple your household income and you don’t qualify for any interest-reducing debt relief programs, you may a good candidate for bankruptcy. A credit counselor can advise you as to whether or not bankruptcy may be the best option for you.
NFCC Certification: A Powerful Plus
InCharge is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the oldest and largest nonprofit financial counseling organization in the United States.
The NFCC was founded in 1951 and requires members to deliver the highest quality financial education and credit counseling services available anywhere.
The NFCC has strict training guidelines for credit counselors representing its member organizations. Each credit counselor is certified to provide consumers with financial reviews in person, over the phone or online and to educate them on managing money.
NFCC members must be reviewed every four years to maintain accreditation. The reviews are done by an independent third party – the Council on Accreditation (COA) – to ensure compliance with rigorous best-practice standards and delivery of service.
InCharge adheres to the NFCC’s “Member Quality Standards” and guarantees to provide quality education and assistance to all consumers.
Fast Facts about Nonprofit Credit Counseling and Debt Counseling Services
Certified credit counselors are trained in the following: budgeting; credit; collections and debt management; consumer rights and responsibilities and bankruptcy.
Financial and personal information offered by clients is confidential. Meeting with a counselor, and identifying a debt solution, won’t impact your credit score.