If you're deep in credit card debt and are considering turning to a credit counseling agency for help, be careful. As Dayana Yochim explained last year in Credit Counseling Crisis, many specialize in "heartache, high fees, and the runaround." She added, "Lenders have become less willing to lower interest rates for consumers enrolled in debt-management programs. That used to be the main selling point for counseling firms."
Still, sometimes using such an agency can be helpful. The folks at Consumers for Responsible Credit Solutions (CRCS) have offered some tips on how to evaluate and choose the right credit counseling agency:
- Determine to what degree the agency is funded by credit card companies -- such as MBNA
(NYSE:KRB)or Capital One (NYSE:COF)-- and banks, such as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM). If it's more dependent on keeping lenders happy than on satisfying its customers, it might not have your best interests at heart. It might not suggest bankruptcy, for example, even if that's your best option.
- Find out whether its board members work for creditors. Some agencies have executives from the companies you're in debt to on their boards, suggesting that the agency might not be too objective.
- Find out whether you can deal with them over the phone or online, if you so prefer. Some agencies insist on meeting with you in person, which can be inconvenient at best and humiliating at worst. If you're to meet in person, make sure you won't have to wait weeks for appointments.
- Find out what their hours are, and make sure they're convenient for you. Learn how much you can do via their website, saving you the hassle of waiting on hold. (Usually, there are several things to do online, such as updating data and checking the status of creditor plans.)
- See what kinds of educational services are offered. Note that you can also learn a lot in the Fool Credit Center, for example, and our free Get Out of Debt seminar.
To learn more about breaking free from debt, read:
- Living on Borrowed Dimes, by Selena Maranjian
- Stupid Credit Tricks, by Dayana Yochim
- My $45,000 Mistake, by Tim Beyers
- Dump Your Duds, by Dayana Yochim
- How to Reduce Your Debt, by Selena Maranjian
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.