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Consumer Credit Counseling

Director of Education and Corporate Communications
Financial Literacy Specialist

What to expect when you work with a certified credit counselor.

Consumer credit counseling services exist to help consumers who are struggling to get out of credit card debt. When a person can’t get out of debt on their own but wants to avoid bankruptcy, counseling is there to provide solutions. Consolidated Credit is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit credit counseling services. We’ve counseled 10.2 million people since 1993. This guide can help you understand how the process works and how it can help you.

What is credit counseling?

credit counseling service is not a debt solution in and of itself. It’s a service intended to help you identify the best possible debt solution for your needs. In that sense, counseling is essentially a consumer advocacy service. A credit counselor is there to help you make informed choices on the best way to get out of debt, based on your unique financial situation.

Credit counseling doesn’t have to be so confusing. Here’s a super-easy 60-second explanation of how credit counseling works.

If you’re facing financial distress because of debt, you have a few options when it comes to finding relief. Credit counseling helps you zero in on the right option to use in your situation. That way, you can rest easy knowing your debt solution is actually going to work.

You start the process with a free debt evaluation to see where you stand. A certified credit counselor looks at your debts, budget and credit score to help you decide which solution will work for you.

If a debt management program ends up being your best option, then your credit counselor can also help you enroll in the program. They can tell you how much you’ll pay on the program and how long it should take versus what it would typically take on your own.

So if you’re struggling to get ahead of your debt, we can help! Call Consolidated Credit today for a free debt evaluation with a certified credit counselor. Together, we can find the best solution so you can finally beat your problems with debt.

Don’t spend another restless night stressing about your debt. Talk to a certified credit counselor to find a solution.

How does credit counseling work?

Step 1: Make a free, no-obligation, toll-free phone call

Almost all counseling sessions occur over the phone. This allows you to speak directly with a certified counselor, so they can ask questions and understand your situation.

First, they will also ask about how you got into debt and what financial challenges you’re facing. This is crucial because it helps the counselor understand the root cause of your financial challenges. That way, they can help you make effective plans to get out of debt – and to stay that way.

Step 2:  Get a free debt and budget evaluation

Next, you and your credit counselor will dive into your financial situation with a full debt and budget analysis. This takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

The counselor will ask for details about your debt – how much you owe, who you owe, and what your interest rates are.

They’ll also gather information about your income and expenses. This is necessary, so the counselor can understand how credit card debt may be factoring into the financial difficulties that you’re facing

They’ll also ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number, so they can do a soft credit pull. This means they’ll check your credit report to see where your credit stands. This soft pull doesn’t affect your credit score.

Step 3: Customize a plan to get out of debt

Finally, the counselor will help you understand your options for getting out of debt. Credit counseling services can help you set up a debt management plan. However, as long as you work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency, they won’t push you into that solution. By law, if there are other solutions that would work better in your situation, they must recommend it. They can advise if you’d be better with a debt consolidation loan or if you may be better off filing for bankruptcy.

If a debt management program is your best option for getting out of debt, the credit counselor will help you find monthly payment that works for your budget. Then they get to work with your creditors to reduce or eliminate the interest rates applied to your debt and stopping penalties and fees. This makes it faster and easier to pay off your balances.

This map shows how many people we counseled in 2020 and how many of those went on to enroll in a debt management program:

Connect with a certified credit counselor now for a free debt and budget evaluation.

How much does credit counseling cost?

First credit counseling sessionFree
Debt management programFees vary by state, capped at $79 nationwide

With nonprofit credit counseling services, the initial counseling session is always free. You are not obligated to sign up for anything. That means you can get an expert opinion on your debt and the best way to get out of it without incurring another bill.

Once you decide to enroll in a debt management program, there are setup and monthly administration fees. Nationwide, those fees are capped at $79, but most people end up paying about $40. These fees are relatively low compared to other solutions, like debt settlement.

How consumer credit counseling impacts your credit

As long as it’s done correctly, credit counseling and enrolling in a debt management program should not negatively impact your credit. The credit check done during your free counseling session is a soft pull, so the credit inquiry will not have any negative effect.

Even if you decide to enroll in a debt management plan, it should still have a positive or neutral effect on your credit. Since your creditors agree to accept reduced payments through the credit counseling agency, you build a positive payment history on your credit report with each monthly payment you make. Paying down your balances also improves your credit utilization ratio, which is the second biggest factor in calculating your credit score.

What to look for to find the best credit counseling service

Credit counseling agencies are not created equal. The fees may be the same, but the services can differ greatly.

  • Make sure the agency is rated highly by the Better Business Bureau.
  • Check consumer reports and independent third-party reviews online.
  • Make sure the organization is a member of an accredited trade association. Consolidated Credit is a proud member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), formerly the Association of Credit Counseling Professionals (ACCPros).
  • Find an agency that has a proven track record of working with the creditors that you have accounts with.
  • Ask what financial education materials they offer. A good agency will help you learn better money management skills, so you can avoid challenges with debt in the future.
  • Then get a feel for the company in your free credit counseling session. If you don’t feel comfortable and confident in the service, remember that you’re under no obligation to sign up for anything

Frequently asked questions about credit counseling

That depends on your accounts. If you hold accounts jointly, then you would need to go through credit counseling and debt management program enrollment together. If you maintain separate accounts and only wish to enroll your debts, then you can complete the process without your partner.

Get more information on financial counseling for couples »

You can start the process online by completing a free debt analysis form. This will provide all the basic information that the counselor will need to complete your free session. However, after that, you will need to talk directly to a credit counselor. That’s the easiest to do over the phone.

After you enroll in the program, you’ll be able to track your progress and communicate with the client services team through Consolidated Credit’s online members portal.

There are some numbers and documents that may be useful to have when you call, but it’s not necessary. During your counseling session, the counselor will ask about your income, expenses, bills, and the current balances and interest rates on your credit cards.

Having current monthly statements on hand can be helpful, but you can also provide estimates if you don’t have the statements readily available. If you decide that you’d like to build a formal budget, you can even call back and provide the counselor with the real numbers later.

The initial credit counseling session typically takes 30 minutes to one hour. It’s typically completed in one phone session, although it can be split up if that’s more convenient for your schedule.

If you decide to enroll in a debt management program, the program usually takes 36 to 60 months to complete.

No. While the type of counseling you receive is similar, there are some significant differences that are important to note.

When you file for bankruptcy, you are required to go through a specialized counseling program known as pre-bankruptcy counseling. Pre-bankruptcy counseling is a required 60- to 90-minute session. It costs around $50, although fees vary by state and may be waived if you can’t afford to pay. This session is intended to review your financial situation and make sure you are ready to file bankruptcy.

This is different from the free credit counseling session that you receive through when you call Consolidated Credit or complete a form on this website. The biggest difference is that the counseling you receive here is entirely free. It usually takes about an hour to complete.

In free credit counseling, you still review your financial situation one-on-one with a certified credit counselor. You also draw up a budget and review your options for debt relief, so you can make sure you choose the right option. So, you get many of the same benefits that you get from pre-bankruptcy counseling, without the cost.

Still have questions about credit counseling? Ask our certified financial coaches, so you can make an informed decision about what to do with your debt.