Organizations that offer credit Counseling have reputable counselors working for them who are trained and certified in budgeting, debt and money management, and consumer
credit. These nonprofit organizations have a obligation, by law, to provide counseling and education.
However, some organizations that offer credit counseling, but do not provide you with these services and may also charge high fees, not all of which will be disclosed, or pressure you into making contributions to them on a voluntary basis, that can cause you to become farther into debt. Many of these companies will claim that your only option is a debt management plan before they even spend the time reviewing your financial situation, and offer no consumer counseling and education or very little of it. Others may misrepresent their status of being nonprofit or have fraudulently obtained a status of being nonprofit by misrepresenting themselves to regulators.
The the United States consumer protection agency (otherwise known as the FTC or Federal Trade Commission), and some Attorneys General in some states have sued multiple businesses that have called themselves credit counseling companies. The states and the Federal Trade Commission said these businesses misled people about the nature, benefits, and costs of the services they offered. Some of these companies even lied about their status of being for non-profit. Multiple organizations are now going out of business. Similar businesses also may be closing their doors, even though they have not been sued by the states or the Federal Trade Commission. This could be a huge concern if you are enrolled in a debt management plan with one of these businesses.
To Do Priorities For Anyone With A Debt Management Plan
Businesses that advertise that they offer credit counseling often arrange for their customers to pay their debts under a (DMP) debt management plan. In a Debt Management Plan, every month you will be required to deposit money with a credit counseling organization. This organization uses these deposits to pay off your student loans, any unpaid medical bills, credit card bills or other unsecured debts according to the agreed payment plan they have worked out with your creditors and you. These creditors might agree to reduce the rate of interest you are paying or waive some fees if you are signed up with a DMP and repaying them through a Debt Management Plan.
The Federal Trade Commission has found that some businesses that offer Debt Management Plans have defrauded and deceived customers, and highly recommends that any enrolled in one of these plans carefully check their bills to make sure that the company fulfills its agreed upon obligations. If you are paying through a Debt Management Plan, contact your creditors and confirm that they have approved the proposed plan before you make any payments to the DMP handling your plan. Once the creditors have approved the Debt Management Plan, make sure to:
1) Make timely, regular payments.
2) Make sure to check statements monthly to make sure your creditors are getting paid as agreed or according to your plan.
3) Contact the company in charge for your Debt Management Plan if you will be unable to make a payment as scheduled, or if you find that creditors are not being paid.
You should know that if the payments to your Debt Management Plan and your creditors are not made on or before the due date, you could lose the benefits or perks of being enrolled in a DMP and the progress you have made on paying down your debt, including the benefits of having fee and lower interest rates waivers. Although creditors may have in the past forgiven late payments before you began the Debt Management Plan, the creditors may be unable or unwilling to do so if payments are late after you have enrolled in a DMP. If you fall behind on your payments, you may not be able to have your accounts reported as current again, even if you start a new Debt Management Plan with a new counselor. That means your credit report will have late payment marks on it and you will have piled up late fees, which will lead to more debt that could take longer to pay off.
If Your Credit Counselor Has Gone Out of Business
If the credit counseling company that managed your debts shuts down they may send you a notice telling you that your Debt Management Plan is being transferred to another organization or they may tell you that you need to take some action to keep your financial recovery on track. If a government agency has filed an action against your credit counseling organization, you may get a notice from a 3rd party. If you discover that the business handling your Debt management Plan is going out of business you need to:
1) Pay your bills directly to your creditors.
2) Contact your bank to stop payment if you are making your DMP payments through automatic withdrawal.
3) Notify your creditors that the business handling your Debt Management Plan is going out of business. Consider working out a payment plan with your creditors yourself and ask if they can give you a reduction on your interest rate without being in a DMP.
4) Order a copy of your credit report file and check for late payments or missed DMP payments that may have resulted from the company going out of business. If you see any late notations you don't expect, call the creditor immediately and ask that the notation be removed. Understand that they have no obligation to do so. If payments are late because the business handling your Debt Management Plan has failed to make scheduled payments, the consequences can be just as devastating as if you failed to make payments to the DMP. If you don't act quickly to make arrangements with your creditors, you could incur late charges that increase your debt, lose the reduced interest rates associated with the Debt Management Plan, and have payments marked as late on your credit report file.
Questions That Are Important to Ask A Potential Credit Counselor
If the company you were working with goes out of business, you may be able to work a payment plan on your own directly with your creditors. But if you decide that you need additional credit assistance and advice, or if you are considering working with a credit counselor for the first time, asking questions like the ones below can help you find the best counselor for your situation.
What type of services do you offer?
Look for a business that offers a range of services, including debt management classes and budget counseling, plus counselors who are certified and trained in consumer credit, debt management, budgeting, and money. Your entire financial situation should be reviewed and discussed with you by a certified credit counselors. They should help you develop a plan that is tailored to solve your money problems now and avoid others in the future. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions. Avoid organizations that push a debt management plan as your only option before they spend a significant amount of time analyzing your financial situation. Debt Management Plans are not for every situation. You should sign up for a Debt Management Plan only after a credit counselor that is certified has spent time thoroughly reviewing your financial situation, and has offered you customized advice on managing your money. If you were on a DMP with a company that closed down, ask any credit counselor that you are considering what they can do to help you retain the benefits of your DMP.
Are you licensed to offer your services in my state?
Many states require that an organization register or obtain a license before offering debt management plans, credit counseling, and similar services. Do not hire a business that has not fulfilled the requirements for your state.
Do you offer free information?
Avoid companies that charge for information about the nature of their services.
Will I have a formal written agreement or contract with you?
Don't commit to participate in a Debt Management Plan over the phone. Get all the company has verbally promised in writing. Read all documents carefully before you sign up with them. If you are told you need to act right away, consider finding another company.
What are the qualifications of your counselors?
Are they certified or accredited by an outside organization? and if so, which one? If they are not, how were they trained? Try to use an organization whose counselors are trained by an outside organization that is not affiliated with creditors.
Have other consumers been satisfied with the service that they received?
When you have found a credit counseling organizations that will be able to suit your needs, investigate them with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General, and the (BBB)Better Business Bureau. These organizations can tell you if any of their customers have made or filed complaints about them. The absence of complaints does not guarantee the company is legit, but complaints from other consumers may alert you to problems that you may potentially have with them.
What are your fees? Will there be monthly or set-up fees?
Get a price quote that in fully detailed in writing, and ask them specifically if all the fees are included in the estimate. If you are have concerns about not being able to afford to pay the fees, ask if they can reduce or waive fees when providing counseling to consumers in your circumstance. If a company will not help you because you cannot afford to pay for their services, look somewhere else for help.
How are your employees paid?
Is the company or the employees of the organization paid a commission if I pay a fee or if sign up for certain services? Employees who are counseling you to buy certain services may get a bonus if you decide to sign up for those services. Many credit counseling companies might receive additional compensation from your creditors if you enroll in a Debt Management Plan. If the organization will not disclose how employees are compensated or what compensation it receives from creditors, search for someone else for help.
What measures do you take to keep personal information about your clients (for example, address, name, telephone number, and important financial information) secure and confidential?
Your most sensitive financial information is handled by credit counseling organizations. The company should have safeguards in place prevent misuse and to protect the privacy of this information.
For More Information
Read about Getting Out Of Debt
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