Credit Score in the Dumps? Here are 9 of the Best Credit Counseling Services

America has a debt problem. The average American has over $90,000 in debt, and many Americans are buried in high-interest credit card debt that seems to grow faster than they can pay it off. Many desperate people resort to payday loans or other high-interest loans and sink even deeper into the debt trap. Credit counseling can be a step out of that trap.

A qualified credit counselor can provide a crash course in personal finance and help you get back on track. They may also provide other services for people who are struggling under an impossible debt burden. There are no magic tricks, and a credit counselor won’t make your debts disappear, but counseling can be an important step toward freedom.

The Best Consumer Credit Counseling Services

Reputable credit counseling services will be accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). Not all of their services will be free, but they will offer a free initial counseling session and never pressure you to take on a paid service.

The counselors we’ll discuss here are national in scope and deliver their services online, by phone or at physical offices in some locations. It’s also worth considering local services in your area because bigger doesn’t always mean better. Online searches or local directories will point you toward local counseling services if you prefer to go local.

Always be careful when looking for a credit counseling service. May are legitimate and professional, others may be fronts for credit repair scams. Check the company’s reputation, and don’t let yourself be pressured into any service.

Here are our top picks:

1. Consolidated Credit

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 4.93/5 out of 110 total reviews
  • Google: 4.7/5 out of 586 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: 4.7/5 out of 8,737 total reviews

Consolidated Credit is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and it provides services nationwide. They are members of the FCAA and a HUD-approved housing counseling provider. They have been in business for 28 years and claim to have worked with over 10.2 million clients.

Consolidated Credit is heavily engaged in financial education, much of it offered free of charge. They have partnered with over 500 government agencies, municipal groups, and government agencies to provide financial education resources to those in underserved or financially challenged communities. They also work with schools to provide financial education to young people.


2. Money Management International

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 4.9/5 out of 219 total reviews
  • Google: 4.9/5 out of 188 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: 4.9/5 out of 1,738 total reviews

Money Management International (MMI) is a nonprofit counseling service based in Stafford, Texas. They have been in business since 1958, making them one of the oldest credit counseling firms in the country. They are an NFCC member and a HUD-approved provider of housing counseling services.

MMI has offices in 25 states. In-person counseling has been suspended due to COVID-19, but counselors are available 24/7 to serve clients anywhere in the country by phone or online.


3. InCharge Debt Solutions

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 3.29/5 out of 17 total reviews
  • Google: 4.1/5 out of 27 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: 4.7/5 out of 1,984 total reviews

InCharge Debt Solutions is a nonprofit credit counseling service based in Orlando, Fla. They provide credit counseling and financial education across the country by telephone and online. They provide financial education services to U.S. service members through the InCharge Education Foundation. InCharge Debt Solutions is a member of the NFCC and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation.

InCharge offers a range of credit counseling, education, and financial management solutions. Your initial consultation will be a free financial review to help you identify your problems and select further services.


4. Cambridge Credit Counseling

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 5/5 out of 1 total review
  • Google: 4.4/5 out of 123 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: 4.9/5 out of 424 total reviews

Cambridge Credit Counseling is a nonprofit credit counseling company based in Agwam, Mass. They provide services nationwide by telephone. They are a member of both NFCC and FCAA and provide HUD-approved housing counseling services. The company has been in business for 25 years.

Cambridge works with a wide range of financial issues and provides extensive financial literacy resources, including regular publications for children, young people, and adults.

All Cambridge counselors are fully certified by independent third parties and have an average of 14 years of experience. They are available for free initial consultations to help you clarify your issues and needs and decide what will be the best approach for your financial problems.


5. American Consumer Credit Counseling (consumercredit.com)

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 4.92/5 out of 253 total reviews
  • Google: 5/5 out of 58 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: N/A

American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is an NFCC-member nonprofit credit counseling group based in Miami Beach, Fla. They are based in Auburndale, Mass., and offer financial planning and management services nationwide. They also offer a complete range of financial education resources on their website, covering topics from budgeting and college planning to identity theft and tax debt.

ACCC complies with all state regulations and licensing requirements and provides services in all 50 states. They have offices in Massachusetts, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas and provide services by phone and online anywhere in the USA. Offices are open for in-person sessions, but masks and appointments may be required.


6. Apprisen

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 4.97/5 out of 115 total reviews
  • Google: N/A
  • Trust Pilot: N/A

Apprisen was founded in 1955 as The Economy Budget Service Company, the first credit counseling service in the U.S. They adopted the name Apprisen in 2009 as they expanded beyond their base in Ohio to provide nationwide service. They provide phone-based and online services to clients anywhere in the U.S.

Apprisen takes a somewhat different approach to an initial consultation. You can submit your information to an automated system called IRIS, and within 24 hours, you’ll receive a personalized action plan developed by an NFCC-accredited financial specialist. You can also choose a traditional free financial review session. Apprisen is a HUD-approved housing counseling provider.

Apprisen has an A+ BBB rating and an average of 4.97 of 5 stars from 115 reviews on the BBB page. Notably, there are zero complaints to their BBB profile. Reviews on other sites are mostly good, but the number of reviews is low.


7. GreenPath Financial Wellness

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 2.73/5 out of 11 total reviews
  • Google: 5/5 out of 2 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: N/A

GreenPath Financial Wellness is a national nonprofit that’s been in business for over 60 years. Counselors are NFCC accredited. The company is based in Farmington Hills, MI but has over 50 offices nationwide. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all services have been offered by phone or online.

GreenPath offers a free initial consultation. This will help you clarify your needs and decide which ongoing services, if any, will help you most. GreenPath offers a full range of financial counseling services.

GreenPath has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, indicating that the company responds promptly to complaints on the BBB page. Online reviews are generally positive, though there are some complaints of communication issues and the number of reviews on most sites is too low to be a meaningful sample.


8. DebtWave Credit Counseling

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? Yes, with an A+ Rating.
Reviews:

  • BBB: 4.98/5 out of 90 total reviews
  • Google: 4.9/5 out of 135 total reviews
  • Trust Pilot: N/A

DebtWave is a San Diego-based provider of credit counseling services. They state that their counselors are certified through the Center for Financial Certification, but their website does not mention NFCC or FCAA membership or accreditation. They are licensed to provide credit counseling services in 46 states and Washington D.C. They cannot serve residents of Idaho, Kansas, Maryland or New York.

DebtWave offers a narrower set of services than some providers. They focus on helping consumers get out of debt and gain the financial knowledge they need to stay out of debt and manage their finances effectively. This may not be the service you need if your situation requires housing counseling or other specialized services.

DebtWave has an A+ BBB rating with no complaints and an average of 4.98 stars from 90 customer reviews on the BBB page. They have 4.9 of 5 stars from 135 Google reviews. The lack of accreditation from NFCC or FCAA may be an issue for some, but that may be a result of the company’s generally narrow focus on credit counseling and debt management plans.


9. Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions

Is it a non-profit? Yes.
Is it BBB-accredited? No.
Reviews:

  • BBB: N/A
  • Google: N/A
  • Trust Pilot: N/A

Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions is a division of Money Management International Inc. (MMI). The company has been in business for 57 years

Clearpoint is based in Atlanta, Ga., and has offices in California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and Oregon. In partnership with other MMI divisions, they offer telephone and online counseling in over 20 states. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In-person counseling is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Clearpoint is a nonprofit member of the NFCC and a HUD-approved housing counselor. Their objective is to help consumers budget, understand credit, set financial goals, prioritize payments and make good financial decisions.

Clearpoint has an A+ BBB rating. There are three complaints, all dealing with automated calls made on behalf of a mortgage investor that is a Clearpoint client. Reviews on other sites are generally positive, but there are not enough reviews to draw a clear conclusion.

Tips for Choosing a Credit Counseling Agency

Here’s what to look for in a credit counseling service:

  • It should be nonprofit. Most reputable credit counseling services are registered non-profit organizations. If you aren’t sure, ask.
  • It should be accredited. Look for NFCC or FCAA membership.
  • It should provide a free initial session. Reputable credit counselors should provide you with an initial consultation at no charge.
  • There should be no sales pressure. Look elsewhere if a counselor pressures you to take on a paid service. Reputable counselors may recommend a paid service, but they will explain it clearly and be sure it’s your free choice.

Run some internet searches on the agency and check prospective organizations with your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. Check the Better Business Bureau page and search for complaints. Zero complaints does not guarantee a legitimate service, and even good services may have some complaints.

Read more: The Definitive Guide to Credit Counseling

How Much Does a Consumer Credit Counseling Service Cost?

Credit counseling — the initial service provided by credit counseling agencies — should always be free. Additional services, including debt management programs, may have costs.

Debt Management Plans (DMPs) will have an initial fee and then an ongoing monthly fee. These fees may vary with your situation and debt load. The initial fee will typically be less than $50. Monthly fees may range up to $79 but are often less.

Bankruptcy, housing, and student loan counseling fees may vary.

A reputable credit counseling agency will disclose all fees upfront, so if you want to know what a specific agency charges for a given service, ask. Many of the services discussed above disclose fees on their websites. Many credit counseling services will provide discounted or even free service to individuals who are under serious financial stress.

What Happens In a Credit Counseling Session?

Your credit counseling session will be most effective if you assemble complete information about your income, assets, and expenses before it starts. Before you speak to a credit counselor, take some time to write this information down.

A credit counseling session will take around 30 minutes, sometimes as much as an hour. Most sessions are now conducted online or over the phone, so you won’t have to leave home.

Your counselor will want to know your name, location, and contact information. You’ll also need to share information about your income, assets, and expenses. Your counselor will do a soft pull on your credit record (which won’t affect your credit) to get a list of your debts.

The counselor will ask you about your goals and your perceived problems and help you develop a personal plan to improve your financial situation. The counselor may recommend a debt management plan, student loan or housing counseling, or other specialized services. In this case, the counselor will fully explain the process and cost.

Use your initial counseling session to evaluate the counselor. You should feel completely comfortable talking to the counselor on both a personal and a professional level. If you aren’t, you may wish to consult another agency.

How to Find a Certified Credit Counselor

Both the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Financial Counseling Association of America offer search functions that can help you find certified counseling services. You may select national services like those we discussed above, or you can look for services that operate in your state or city.

Both of these organizations require members to provide a complete range of services, hire certified counselors, and adhere to strict non-discrimination standards. The FCAA Standards and Best Practices and the NFCC Member Quality Standards outline the full requirements that member agencies must meet.

Questions to Ask

It’s important to ask questions before committing yourself to work with a credit counseling agency.

  • What services do you offer?
  • Are educational materials available for free? Avoid organizations that charge for information.
  • Will you help me develop a plan for avoiding problems in the future?
  • What are your fees? Get a quote in writing.
  • What if I can’t afford to pay your fees?
  • Can you help me fix my credit score?
  • Will I have a written agreement or contract?
  • Are you licensed to offer your services in my state?
  • What are your counselors’ qualifications?
  • How are your employees paid? (commission or salary)
  • What are your completion rates for debt management plans.

A reputable credit counselor should be able to answer all of these questions clearly, directly, and without hesitation.

Nonprofit Credit Counseling Agencies vs. For-Profit Organizations

Many for-profit companies provide some of the services that nonprofit credit counseling services provide. Some may try to pass themselves off as credit counseling agencies. Here are some types of for-profit companies you may encounter.

Many of these companies will charge substantial sums to do things that you could do yourself. Some are outright scams. Always do research into any company you are considering using. If you aren’t sure if a service is non-profit, ask.

Other Debt Relief Options

Credit counseling and debt management plans are not the only way to get out of debt. You can do much of the same work yourself, and there are other methods for addressing a serious debt problem.

Here are some other options you can try:

  • Hire a debt settlement company. Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors to reduce the amount that you owe. They will not just try to get better terms, they will try to get the creditor to settle for an amount less than the original debt. They will typically charge a percentage of the reduction they achieve in your debt loan.
  • Negotiate with your creditors yourself. You can negotiate with your creditors directly, and you may be able to get better terms. Be aware that unless you are a skilled and experienced negotiator, achieving the same results as a professional counselor supported by a reputable institution will be difficult.
  • File for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a solution if you owe more than you could ever possibly pay back. It’s the last option you want to consider, but in some cases, it’s the only option that makes sense. A free credit counseling session can help you decide whether bankruptcy is the right option for you. You could also consult with a bankruptcy attorney.

The Bottom Line

If your debts are causing you serious stress, it’s worth talking to a credit counselor. If you are worried that your debts might cause you serious stress, once again, it’s worth talking to a credit counselor. The earlier you start, the better!

Remember that your first session will be free, and there is no obligation to take on any further services. There’s nothing to lose: you get free professional advice, and everything else is optional.

You may or may not decide to start a debt management plan or take on any other service offered by a credit counseling agency. Still, it’s at least worth considering a session with one of the best credit counseling services if you’re experiencing financial difficulty.

FAQs


Where Can I Find Free Credit Counseling?

You can get free credit counseling through non-profit organizations belonging to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

Is There a Government Debt Relief Program?

There is no government program that will pay your debts or provide other direct debt relief.

What is the Difference Between Secured Debt and Unsecured Debt?

Secured debts are backed by collateral. A home loan or a car loan are secured debts: if you don’t pay the lender can seize the home or car to cover the loan. Unsecured debts are not secured by collateral. Secured debts have less risk for the lender and usually have lower

Do Credit Counseling Agencies Offer Assistance for Homebuyers?

Many credit counseling agencies are approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD and offer a range of housing counseling, homebuyer counseling and foreclosure prevention counseling services. They do not offer direct assistance, though they may be able to recommend assistance programs.

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