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A certified credit counselor is not a person who works for a debt relief company or a debt consolidation company.

Credit counselors are sort of like lawyers except instead of working with people in legal trouble, they work with people in financial trouble. Now a lot of people will call themselves credit counselors. In fact, most debt companies have people they like to call counselors who get assigned to “help” you in that they try to get you to sign up for their program.

In fact, as you start to look into getting help with your debt, you'll meet financial advisors, loan officers, counselors, and all sorts of other people.

However, there is one professional you absolutely need on your team. It's the certified credit counselor. The key word here is CERTIFIED.

A certified credit counselor is a financial professional who meets certain basic requirements as a credit counselor. They are regulated and must meet and maintain certain standards to get certified and stay certified.

The best thing about certified credit counselors is not only do they know what they're doing, they're going to be objective. They don't work for a company that is going to try to sign you up for its services.

For instance, most banks have loan officers. These can be very bright, knowledgeable, caring people. But at the end of the day, they really only know about their bank's loan products and they will try to sign you up for their loans.

A certified credit counselor knows all of the local programs, the local, state, and federal regulations that come into play, and maybe even has heard about the latest scams going around your area.

You NEED a certified credit counselor. You can find one. Here’s how:

Go to this website: www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm.

They have a state-by-state list of certified credit counselors. Find some in your area.

While you want nothing less than a certified credit counselor, don’t assume that every certified credit counselor is great.

After all, there are good lawyers and mediocre lawyers and some plain-old bad lawyers out there. So you might want to make some calls, ask if the counselor is a member of the local Better Business Bureau, and ask for references. Call the BBB to see if complaints have been filed against that person. Check out the counselor’s credentials; most will be happy to tell you their credentials on the phone. Ask if they are certified, where they went to school, and if they would be willing to provide you with a couple of references. If they give references, call those people and ask if they have been happy with the services of that particular credit counselor.

What do they charge? You should ask that when you call, since certified credit counselors, like any other professional, are free to set and charge fees for their services. Some certified credit counselors are free (they are paid through companies who seek to help people stay out bankruptcy), others charge a nominal fee, and some charge larger fees.

Don't go to a certified credit counselor if he or she will not tell you fees up front.

You may think that the last thing you need right now is another bill to pay, but there is "smart debt" and stupid debt. This is smart debt! Think how much you could lose if you don't get a handle on your debt situation! You could be one of the unfortunate people who end up losing a home, a car, your bank accounts, and even your financial future, not to mention the damage done to your credit report and your self-esteem.

Think of a person who has cancer. Would you be willing to pay to see a specialist? Most people with terrible diseases are.

So try to find a certified credit counselor you can trust and pay him (don't go to a counselor who demands an exorbitant fee; ask what the counselors in your area charge and don't necessarily gravitate to the super-expensive one). It could be the smartest money you ever spent!

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