Credit counselors provide resources and services to help manage your finances, pay off debt, or understand debt options like bankruptcy. If you're searching for objective assistance, learn how to find a credit counselor to help you get your debt and finances on track.

How to Find a Credit Counselor

  • Start your search by creating a list of counseling agencies. Credit counseling trade associations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA) offer agency search tools to help you find accredited, reputable companies. 
  • Review the services and fees for each company on your list. Consider taking advantage of free consultations to discuss your finances with the counselor and learn more about your options—and how you mesh with the counselor and agency. 
  • Complete an application to enroll in the program. Your credit counselor may ask for details about your finances to get started.

When Is It a Good Idea to Seek a Credit Counselor?

It's easy to miss the signs that you need professional help. If any of these describe your situation, consider looking for a certified credit counselor.

  • You're relying on your credit cards for everyday purchases. Depending on your credit cards to survive is a sign that you're spending too much. Without changing your spending, your credit card debt could become unmanageable. A credit counselor can help you create a plan that allows you to cover your expenses without using your credit card.
  • You have too much debt. Credit counselors can work with your creditors to reduce your monthly payment under a debt management plan. While credit counselors can't negotiate secured debts like a mortgage or auto loan, they can help avoid foreclosure or repossession by making your other bills more affordable.
  • You've had a loss of income. It may be helpful to consult with a credit counselor after a significant life event—like a divorce or job loss—affects your income. A credit counselor can negotiate lower payments with some of your creditors, but your income will need to be high enough to afford the payments.
  • You're considering bankruptcy. Before you can file for bankruptcy, you must complete credit counseling. You'll have a chance to explore alternatives and learn debt management skills. These skills can help you avoid filing bankruptcy again in the future.

Choosing a Credit Counselor and Applying for Credit Counseling

The best debt relief companies will provide information about their services at no cost before you enroll. As you search for the right company, here's what to look for.

Look for Trustworthy Companies

Look for credit counseling agencies that belong to a national association like the NFCC or the FCAA. The U.S. Trustee Program, which is part of the Department of Justice, maintains a list of credit counselors who are approved for pre-bankruptcy credit counseling.


You can check with your state attorney general and local consumer protection agency to learn whether a credit counselor has received complaints from previous clients.

Review the Services Offered

Look for a credit counselor that provides free financial advice, help with budgeting, and educational resources in addition to fee-based debt management plans. The best credit counselors spend time discussing your finances before offering a paid solution.

When you review an agency's services, ask how credit counselors are qualified and whether they hold any certifications.

Understand the Fees

Credit counseling agencies commonly charge a monthly fee for ongoing debt assistance, even when they're part of a nonprofit organization. However, these fees should be affordable.

Watch out for credit counseling agencies that pay their employees more when clients sign up for specific services. Ask the agency how its agents are paid.

Review Your Contract

You should receive and review a contract before you start paying for services. Make sure everything you discussed is in the agreement and that you understand the terms. If you don't agree with the terms, it's OK to reject them, seek clarification, or choose another company.

What's Negotiable

  • Fees: Reputable credit counselors can reduce or waive fees if you can't afford to pay.
  • Accounts under debt management: While you can only enroll unsecured debts in a debt management plan, you can choose which debts to include.

Best Credit Counselors

Company Available Services Fees for Credit Counseling and Debt Management Plans
Cambridge Credit Counseling Credit counseling, debt consolidation, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, and debt management plans Free credit counseling
Initial fee: $40
Monthly fee: Average of $30
Money Management International Credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, disaster recovery counseling, and more Free credit counseling
Initial fee: Varies by state
Monthly fee: Varies by state
InCharge Debt Solutions Credit counseling, housing counseling, bankruptcy counseling, and debt management plans Free credit counseling
Initial fee: $75 (varies by state)
Monthly fee: Average of $33
GreenPath Financial Wellness Debt counseling, debt management, bankruptcy support, student loan counseling, housing counseling, debt management plans, and more Free credit counseling
Initial fee: $0 to $50 Monthly fee: $0 to $75
Apprisen Credit health education, student loan education, bankruptcy counseling, and debt management plans Initial fee: $45
Monthly fee: $45

What You’ll Need During Credit Counseling

You don't need much to start the credit counseling process.

  • Budget details: To give the credit counselor a clear view of your finances, prepare a list of your monthly income and expenses and gather copies of your credit card statements.
  • Credit reports: During your consultation, the credit counselor will review your loans and credit card debt. You can pull these beforehand, or give the credit counselor permission to pull them for you.
  • Financial documents: If you've received letters from collection agencies or the IRS, provide copies to your credit counselor to review during your session.

Alternatives to Credit Counseling

  • Debt consolidation: This is a do-it-yourself approach in which you combine multiple debts and pay them off with a personal loan or low APR credit card balance transfer. Consolidating debts simplifies debt repayment, but it can cost more in fees and interest depending on the terms.
  • Debt settlement: This is often confused with debt management and credit counseling. Debt settlement (or debt relief) reduces the total debt you repay by asking creditors to accept a lower payment on debts that are seriously delinquent. Debt settlement will have a significant negative impact on your credit score. You can negotiate with your creditors or seek the assistance of a debt relief company (which will cost 15% to 25% of the amount settled).
  • Bankruptcy: This can wipe out your debt by court order. It's usually considered a last resort because it causes long-lasting credit damage.

What Is the Success Rate of Credit Counseling?

While credit counselors don't publish client statistics, a National Foundation for Credit Counseling report shows the broad impact of credit counseling services. According to the report, after three months, 67% of participants reported better money management, 73% reported paying their bills more, and the average amount of outstanding debt dropped by $8,000.

Does Debt Counseling Affect Your Credit Score?

Your credit score may drop initially if you enroll in a debt management plan. This is due to closing your credit cards. Thanks to consistent on-time payments and lower debt balances, credit scores often improve during debt counseling. These are the two biggest components of your credit score. On the other hand, a partial payment or settlement made during debt counseling can hurt your credit score.

Can You Do Credit Counseling Twice?

Credit counseling requirements do not prohibit previous clients. For instance, if you're planning to file bankruptcy a second time, you're required to go through credit counseling again.

What Are the Disadvantages of Debt Counseling?

Debt counseling can take several years to complete. In the meantime, you may not use credit cards until you've completed your debt management plan, in some cases even if those cards aren't part of the plan. Many counselors charge a monthly fee, but should offer lower-cost or free credit counseling if you can't afford to pay.

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