Training Credit Counselors: Q&A with Neil G.
Meet the expert who helps the credit counselors help you.
Neil G. eavesdrops on his employees. He records their phone calls. He summons them into meetings where he calls out their mistakes in front of others.
That may sound like a terrible boss, but Neil G. is a favorite of the certified credit counselors he oversees at Consolidated Credit – because he’s their trainer.
“Training is extremely comprehensive,” he says. “There’s a lot to learn – all the ins and outs. I do examples on the screen. I have them operate their own computers. We do role-playing. We critique calls. There’s a tremendous amount of review. Once they pass the training, they’re quite competent to get on the phone.”
What’s one piece of advice you always give new counselors before they start taking calls?
“Listen to what the clients are saying – ask don’t tell,” he says. “A lot of people are in denial; you have to let them admit that there’s a problem.”
Neil says credit counselors never sell a client on Consolidated Credit’s services – because if it requires that kind of persuasion, then those clients will never stick with the program and get out of debt once and for all.
So what are certified credit counselors supposed to do?
“The phrase that I give them is, ‘You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.’ You have to let the clients talk. If you let the client talk, they’ll tell you what their issues are. Don’t talk over them.”
Neil says people suffering from serious debt might not truly realize how bad their condition is. He urges the counselors to be supportive but honest.
“You also can’t be phony,” he says. “If you’re phony, the clients hear it.”
Your training seems intense…
“They get homework every night, and they need to study,” Neil says. “I’m pretty demanding in training, because if you don’t lay the right foundation, they won’t be successful. They’re going to develop bad habits – and bad habits tend to grow exponentially.”
Has anyone quit during training?
“There have been people who’ve quit during training. I’m very honest with people. The last thing I want anyone to do is to come to me and say, ‘This is nothing like what you told me it was going to be like.’ I tell them if they’re not coming back, just leave their books here – no recriminations.”
What are some traits a good counselor must possess?
“They have to be smart, but not necessarily book smart. They should have a good speaking voice because so much of the job is about talking to and connecting with people. That also means they have to be a people person, and have some personality,” Neil says.
“They must be a good listener and have thick skin. You have to be able to take positive criticism. We want people who want to work hard, who aren’t happy to make just the bare minimum. You have to be able to go above and beyond.”
What shocks new counselors the most?
“How unknowledgeable some people are about their finances – and how they get through life not knowing,” he says. “You speak to some people, and they tell you they owe XYZ, and you go through their credit report – and you find another $10,000 that they didn’t tell you about! And they’ll say, ‘Oh I forgot!’”
How do you prepare them for some of the stories that they will hear?
“Some of them can be tear-jerkers. Some people get sick, they get cancer, and they have to quit their jobs. You hear stories like that,” Neil says, adding that the only way to survive in the job is to try to help, but also try to lead a normal life. Otherwise, he says, “You can’t do this job. You’ll be devastated by everything you hear.”
You were once a counselor. What was one of your devastating calls?
“I remember it vividly: This guy called me and had an $11,000 debt on a credit card. He had brain cancer and only six months to live. It brought a tear to my eye.”
Do you take your job home?
“It’s sometimes tough not to take your job home,” he says. “When I was a counselor, there were many times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘I should’ve said this or that.’ But you try your best.”
What’s the most common reason people give for being in debt?
“From 2008 to about a year ago, it was downsizing, loss of job, loss of overtime. It was income-related,” he says. “Now, it’s getting back to the old way, where people are getting their full salaries and they’re living beyond their means.”
How do you deal with irate or crying clients?
“Let them vent. Let them talk it out. I try to resolve the problem. See what they were trying to accomplish – and see if I can go about helping them accomplish that.”
“For the clients who are crying, I try to get them back on track. I tell them, ‘I understand, but let’s focus on the here-and-now, so tomorrow you’re not crying, so tomorrow we can put a smile on your face.”
American consumers owe $854.2 billion in credit card debt. Why do you think we are so dependent on credit cards?
“Because it’s too easy to get credit. One thing I see here, and especially among the young people, is instant gratification. When I was raised, I was taught when you had enough money to buy something, you bought it. If you couldn’t afford it, then you didn’t buy it. Now, you have a credit card, you pay $20 a month, it’s no big deal. So now you’re paying $20 bucks for this and $20 for that, and before you look around it’s out of control.”
What’s that one piece of advice you have for Americans in debt?
“Learn to live within your means. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.”
Our Counselors are trained to help you… by Neil
For over 20 years, Consolidated Credit has been helping Americans get out of debt – 5 million and counting. If you are battling debt issues, let us help you. Dial to speak with a certified credit counselor. You can also start the process online with a request for a free Debt Analysis online.