Seeking financial counseling services

It happens. You open your mailbox one day and realize that somehow, over a period of time, you’ve accumulated a lot of bills that have now got you concerned about paying them off. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be time to seek professional financial counseling.

Financial counseling services are offered by a variety of non-profit groups, credit organizations, financial institutions, including credit unions, as well as military family service centers and religious organizations. Generally, these services require you to list all your debt and income before it recommends debt management options or payment plans.

Some agencies provide educational programs on money management while others may negotiate lower payments with your creditors and make the payments using money you send them each month.

Here are some things to considering when selecting a financial counselor, according to the website:

Type of services: Look for an organization that offers budget counseling, money management classes and a debt-management plan. Ask what debts can be included in a plan and what type of regular reports will you receive about your accounts. Also ask if the counselor can persuade creditors to lower or eliminate interest and fees.

Fees and free information: A typical set-up fee is around $10. Beware of agencies that charge large up-front fees. Avoid ones that charge for information or make you provide a lot of details about your problem first. If a counselor won't help you because you can't afford to pay, go elsewhere. Be sure to ask for a contract and insist all verbal promises be put in writing before you pay.

Counselor qualification and reputation: Legitimate credit counseling firms are affiliated with the Association of Credit Counseling Professionals, Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You can check with your local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about the counseling service you're considering.

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