Dealing with a lot of debt can feel overwhelming and can even have a long-term impact on mental health. You’re trapped and you have no idea how to break free.
But it’s OK to ask for help. There are a lot of professionals out there who can help you make sense of how you got here and how you move forward. One of the most trusted financial helpers is American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).
American Consumer Credit Counseling: What You Need to Know
American Consumer Credit Counseling is a non-profit agency that helps people who are struggling with debt. They offer programs in the following areas:
- Credit counseling
- Debt management
- Bankruptcy counseling
- housing counseling
- Debt settlement
- Debt consolidation
- Financial counseling
- Student loan counseling
ACCC was founded in the early 1990s with a simple mission: “To empower consumers with financial education to build a better life.” In the 30+ years since its inception ACCC is considered the gold standard in financial education and rehabilitation.
It is important to understand that the ACCC is not a lender. It is primarily a nonprofit credit counseling and educational agency. And sometimes it provides debt negotiation and management services where it acts as the middleman between you and your creditors/lenders.
If you’re looking for a debt settlement company rather than a credit counselor, check out this guide of top recommendations.
American Consumer Credit Counseling At a Glance
|Do they offer a free consultation?||Yes|
|How to get started||Call ACCC at 800-769-3571 or fill out their online form.|
|Fees||$39 enrollment fee for debt management program, $7 monthly maintenance fee, with a $70 max. Both fees can be waived based on state regulations or financial hardship|
|How it works||It depends on the program you use|
|Who owns American Consumer Credit Counseling?||ACCC is a nonprofit agency, so there is no individual owner.|
|Company address and phone number||ACCC has locations in every state. |
Contact phone number: 800-769-3571
|Minimum debt settled||N/A|
|Noteworthy features||Massive financial education library, free advice and consultations, non-profit status means fees are low (and can be waived).|
What makes American Consumer Credit Counseling Stand Out?
In a lot of ways, ACCC is a one-stop shop for financial counseling, financial education, and debt recovery programs.
General Budgeting and Advice
ACCC has an extensive library of information and resources to help people learn about budgeting. All of this is offered to site visitors for free. If you need some extra help, you can also contact ACCC and speak to a financial counselor — also for free.
Debt Management Plan
A debt management plan is a plan that you build with a credit counselor to pay off your existing debt. Your counselor will be your plan’s manager and will make sure you stay on track. Essentially what happens is that they help you figure out how much money you can afford to put toward your debt each month. You pay that money to ACCC. Your counselor distributes that payment to each of your creditors/lenders. They will also negotiate with your creditors/lenders to reduce your interest rates, get rid of over-the-limit and other fees, etc.
READ MORE: Is it better to settle a debt or pay in full?
In order to be eligible to file for bankruptcy, you’ll need to complete pre-bankruptcy counseling. Once you file, you will have to complete Post-Bankruptcy counseling to have your debt discharged. ACCC’s bankruptcy counseling program The counseling program helps you meet those requirements in 49 out of 50 states (Oregon is the exception).
Bankruptcy counseling is a little more expensive than credit and debt management. Bankruptcy counseling costs $49 per household for pre-bankruptcy counseling and $39 per household for post-bankruptcy counseling.
Student Loan Counseling
Student loans make up a larger percentage of consumer debt than credit cards and auto loans. The only type of debt that costs Americans more is mortgage debt (more info on that in a sec). ACCC offers consumers information to help them budget for their student loan payments, the different types of repayment plans there are, qualifying for loan forgiveness, etc.
Speaking of mortgage debt, ACCC also helps people dealing with housing debts. Specifically, ACCC offers counseling for reverse mortgages and for homebuyer education and certification.
The educational requirements for homebuyer education and certification vary from state to state. Even so, you can call a housing counselor and ask them to help you find a local program that will meet all of the requirements. The housing counselor’s number is different than the general customer service number. To reach a housing counselor, call 866-826-7180.
READ MORE: What is a second mortgage and how does it work?
How to Sign Up
There are two ways you can sign up for a debt consultation. If you’re a phone person, you can call ACCC at 800-769-3571. You can also use ACCC’s online form.
Understand that your debt consultation is going to be extensive. You’ll want to make sure you know exactly how much you owe, to whom you owe it, how much money you make, how much you spend on essentials each month, etc. Your counselor will probably ask you to provide copies of credit card statements, loan contracts, employment and tax records, asset information, etc. Get all of that information together before you make the call or fill out the form.
How Does American Consumer Credit Counseling Work?
During your consultation, a counselor will review your current financial situation with you. If one of ACCC’s programs can help you out, your counselor will explain exactly how that program works. They’ll make sure you know what ACCC can actually do to help you, what your responsibilities will be, and give you a realistic idea of your outcome.
If you agree that the program is a good fit, you’ll begin the onboarding process.
IMPORTANT: When you enroll in a debt management or consolidation program you will be instructed to hand over all communication and payment responsibilities to your case manager. Sometimes it takes a little while for your program to get up to speed. This is because it can take a little while for plan to get all the way up and running. Negotiating with creditors and lenders, making sure all the paperwork is in order, etc. all take time.
Since your creditors/lenders don’t care why payments are missed, they’ll report those missed payments to the credit bureaus. This will cause your credit score to drop. If you follow your program, that drop will be temporary. Try not to panic.
READ MORE: Why did my credit score drop?
Is American Consumer Credit Counseling a Scam?
ACCC is definitely not a scam. There have, however, been some complaints filed against the agency. Most of these complaints are from clients who didn’t pay attention during their on boarding process, so they are angry about credit scores dropping, monthly maintenance fees, and for problems that aren’t actually solved or managed by ACCC (like getting someone out of a timeshare).
There were only two results for lawsuits on Casetext.com. In the first, someone sues ACCC for calling them without permission, which ACCC insists it does not do. In the second ACCC is suing a company for using a name that is too much like theirs.
READ MORE: Top options to get out of credit card debt
Pros and Cons
ACCC seems like it’s pretty great, but there is no such thing as a 100% perfect company. Even ACCC has some flaws. Check it out:
- Services provided for free or for a low cost
- Multiple unsecured debts can be consolidated into a single program
- Potential for lower interest rates, and smaller payments
- Potential to pay debt off faster than going it alone
- Puts an end to collection calls.
- Debt management plan only works for unsecured debts
- Not all creditors/lenders are willing to negotiate or participate in the program
- Program can take 5+ years to finish
- There are some upfront and maintenance fees
READ MORE: Pros and cons of debt settlement
Who Should Use American Consumer Credit Counseling?
ACCC works best for people who:
- Are overwhelmed by their debts
- Struggle to make their payments
- Considering bankruptcy
- Intimidated by the debt settlement process
- Need help figuring out budgeting, credit, and other financial issues
To learn more about the differences between credit counseling, debt settlement and bankruptcy, check out this video:
Who Should Not Use American Consumer Credit Counseling?
ACCC probably won’t work for people who:
- Do not want to pay monthly fees, even if those fees are small
- Aren’t able to commit to making payments on time
- Are managing their debt fine on their own
- Want a quick resolution to their debt issues
The ACCC site is well made and easy to get around. At the top of every page on the site is a notice that ACCC does not contact anybody without consent. You will find things here that you won’t find on the sites for privately owned companies. For example, you’ll find a report that details exactly how ACCC is funded. You’ll find an annual report that details the agency’s activity. You’ll also find links to their licensing for each state.
The fastest way to contact customer service is to call them. The contact page on the agency’s website lists all the phone numbers for each of the major programs offered. It also contains the information for general inquiries. The contact page also lists an email address people can use if they are phone-avoidant. There is also a feedback form you can use.
Is American Consumer Credit Counseling Trustworthy?
IMPORTANT: If you are reading this because you’ve been receiving unsolicited phone calls from ACCC, the calls are likely a fraud. ACCC’s policy is to only initiate contact to potential customers who’ve specifically requested a call. But ACCC says there’s an entity calling people claiming to be ACCC and maintains that those calls are not legit.
What are Customers Saying?
The Better Business Bureau gives ACCC an A+ rating and named it one of their Best Businesses of 2021. There are only two complaints reported over the past three years. ACCC does not have a Trustpilot profile.
Overall, the reviews are positive. Customers especially like how supportive their counselors are.
The Bottom Line
American Consumer Credit Counseling is a trustworthy option if you need help managing your debt and financial counseling. It is not a fast option (programs take multiple years to complete) but it is cheaper.
It takes a while for your debt management plan to get up to speed. While your counselor is negotiating with your creditors and lenders, a few payments might get missed, which can cause your score to drop.
Unsecured debts, like credit card debt, personal loan debt, student loan debt, etc. Debt that is secured by collateral is not eligible.
ACCC is a credit counseling agency rather than a debt settlement company, so the goals and cost are going to be different from a traditional debt settlement company. Credit counseling can be an excellent place to start if you’re unfamiliar with debt settlement and how it works, don’t know how you want to proceed or are looking for a way to tackle your debt problems at a lower cost. If you think debt consolidation or debt settlement might be better for you, check out our list of top recommendations.