Why Work With a Certified Credit Counselor: NFCC & FCAA Info

Working with a Certified Credit Counselor

Why Choose Certified Counselors

Anyone giving financial advice should (a) know what they are talking about, and (b) have your best interest in mind – especially when it comes to money.

That’s why it’s important to find a certified credit counselor that works for an accredited credit counseling agency.

Certified and accredited are the keywords here. They mean that an independent organization has verified that the counselor knows what they are talking about and that the agency has your best interest in mind.

To become certified, a credit counselor is required to pass an exam that tests their financial knowledge and ability to guide a consumer through a credit counseling session. Two of the largest independent certifiers are the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

Look for those initials – NFCC or FCAA – when searching for a credit counseling agency.

Certified credit counselors are trained in general money management, credit card debt, bankruptcy, housing and student loans.

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Now, in order for credit counselors to be certified, the agency they work for must be accredited by a separate organization. These organizations provide standards to protect the rights of consumers. Two of the more prominent accreditation institutions are the Council On Accreditation (COA) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Grants provide a huge incentive for nonprofit credit counseling agencies to uphold these standards and retain accreditation year-after-year. A good chunk of their revenue come from grants, which are awarded with the requirement that the agency be accredited.

How to Find a Certified Credit Counselor

There are two ways to find a certified credit counselor.

  1. Consult the NFCC and FCAA – The NFCC is the largest nonprofit financial counseling organization in the U.S. You can call them at 800-338-2227 or go to their website to find one of their accredited counseling agencies convenient to you. Most counseling is done online or over the phone, but you can visit member agencies in person.
  2. The U.S. Department of Justice – The Justice Department has a database with a list of approved providers for each state. Select your state in the drop-down menu, and you’ll be given the name, website, phone number and address of each credit counseling agency. Note that the list is of approved providers, so not every agency will be physically located in your state. But you can still get counseling over the phone or online.

You should do further research on whichever company you select. At the bare minimum, find some customer review sites to be certain they provide the help you need and the quality of service you expect.

Answer These Questions Before Working With a Credit Counselor

It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions that can be answered over the phone or on the company’s website.

Many of the answers you’re looking for involve a debt management plan, which is the primary service provided by many of these nonprofit credit counseling agencies. Debt management consolidates your monthly bills into one payment, while working with creditors to lower interest rates and sometimes waive late fees.

This should help you weed out the agencies that do not have your best interest in mind, narrowing the field to reputable credit counseling agencies.

  • Where do your counselors receive training and certification? Make sure the agency’s counselors are trained and certified by an independent organization.
  • How are your employees paid? – Try to find out if the counselors work for incentives. Some agencies will pressure counselors to enroll clients despite being best suited for alternative solutions.
  • What steps do you take to protect my identity and information? – Security is very important to reputable financial institutions.
  • What are the fees for your services? Credit counseling should be free. Many agencies provide additional services like debt management. Find out what the fees are for these services. Can they lower your interest rates or waive late payment fees?
  • What if I can’t afford the fees? Do they have hardship programs that might help with the debt management fees?
  • What is the penalty if I miss a payment? It’s better to understand the consequences of missing a payment than to be blind-sided if it happens.
  • Do I have to sign an agreement? Get the terms in writing before signing up for a program.
  • Is there a minimum or maximum amount of debt I must have to use your service? Find out if there are eligibility requirements.

Warning Signs of Credit Counseling Agencies

If you are considering a credit counseling agency and they ask for “voluntary contributions” or “up-front money”, that should be considered a warning sign that you are dealing with a fraudulent business.

There are federal laws against charging “up front” fees for credit counseling, yet some companies still do it.

Consumers should not have to pay for the initial budgeting session. Any fees after that can only be charged if you sign up for a service and those services have been delivered, according to the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

This law, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires that debt-relief companies explain fees before you sign up for any of their services. It also states that credit counseling agencies cannot collect a fee for a debt management plan until you have enrolled and made at least one payment to creditors using the DMP.

Sources

NA. (2018, January) NFCC Begin a brighter financial future today. Retrieved from https://www.nfcc.org/

NA. (2018, January) Find a Credit Counseling Agency. Retrieved from https://fcaa.org/about-fcaa/

NA. (2018, June 22) List of Credit Counseling Agencies Approved Pursuant to 11 U.S.C 111. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/ust/list-credit-counseling-agencies-approved-pursuant-11-usc-111

NA. (2012, November) Choosing a Credit Counselor. Retrieved from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0153-choosing-credit-counselor