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"Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers."

Bible (Proverbs 16:20)
Why You Need a Certified Credit Counselor

If you are so deeply in debt that you canít figure out how to dig your way out, you have got to admit one thing. Youíre not a financial wizard.

Admitting that one fact is the first step in a long road out of debt and into the land of prosperity. You see, one reason so many people drown in debt is that they refuse to admit they need financial advice. A lot of debtors want financial aid, but they donít want financial information. Ironically, itís the financial information that is going to set you free.

While this website and others like it can give you some good general information, finances are very tricky because every person is different. Every situation is different. And the laws in California arenít the same as the laws in Texas or the laws in New York. Your situation will depend on your age, your past, your family situation, your education, and a bunch of other factors. Financial planning for a single mother of three in Brooklyn is going to be different than financial planning for a man retiring from an executive job and moving with his wife to Arizona.

A credit counselor is a person who gives you advice on debt. The reason you need a counselor is that only a counselor can get to know you and your circumstances. Since counselors work locally, they'll know your state and local regulations as well as federal guidelines.

Credit counselors should be able to work with you as you figure out what the problem is, map out an effective strategy, and then help you work your way through it. They can be great resources because they have access to more information than you do, they may be aware of companies and resources you donít know about, and they can be more objective and less emotional than you about your problems.

So where do you find one of these people? Well, just about anybody can say they are a credit counselor. In fact, lots of people call themselves credit counselors, counselors, financial advisors, and so on. Be careful! Some of these people don't know what they're doing and some may be outright frauds.

You want somebody who does not work for a company that wants to lend you money. You see, if you go to a counselor who works for a debt relief company, that counselor is paid to steer you toward working with that debt relief company. In fact, they may only be willing to counsel you insofar as you work with their company!

The kind of credit counselor you want is independent. He or she will not work for an organization or institution that is seeking to do business with you. He or she will not make any more or any less money if you go to Company A or Company B. That way, if he or she tells you to do business with Company B, you know that itís honest advice rather than a vested interest.

The government works with credit counselors in a certification program. A certified credit counselor is a person who meets and maintains minimum requirements for the job. That means they know about debt, credit, and local laws.

You want a CERTIFIED credit counselor who works independently, that is, either in private practice or for a company that does not also make loans.

You can find a list of certified credit counselors from the government, which breaks out the list by state. Go to this website: www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm.

Now just because you find a CERTIFIED credit counselor on this list does not guarantee that he or she is great. It does assure you that they have met the requirements and are recognized by the government as able to assist you with your financial problems. But think about it. Do you think every person who is licensed as a dentist is equally great? Is every doctor or lawyer equally great?

Besides that, your certified credit counselor is going to be working with you closely in some very private matters. Most of us regard money as something extremely personal, even intimate. You have to have a good connection with your counselor. He or she should be somebody you trust, because you are going to have to open up to them in a way that might embarrass you. He or she should be the sort of person you respect, and you should be able to relate well to him or her.

That being said, your certified credit counselor doesn't have to be your best friend. You just have to trust him and feel comfortable working with him.

Once you find some certified credit counselors in your area, you should check on them. A lot of people will skip this step, but it can be crucial to your long-term success. Now sometimes you just get lucky and youíll just pick the ideal credit counselor from a list. But if you donít feel so lucky, you can still stack the deck in your favor. Hereís how.

        Call several credit counselors in your area. Ask them (or the person who answers the phone) the credentials of the counselor, such as where he or she went to school, when they were certified, how long they have been in business at that location, what degree(s) they might have. Take notes as they tell you. Danger sign: You canít get a straight answer or they refuse to tell you. Sometimes they will insist you come in for an appointment before they will tell you anything. Watch out. A legitimate business person is usually willing to discuss basic credentials and business terms on the phone.

        While youíre on the phone, ask if the counselors have a website and if they are members of the Better Business Bureau. Neither one is a deal-breaker, but a website can give you more particulars than youíre likely to get over the phone. Membership in the BBB is always a good sign, but not being a member is not necessarily a bad sign. Danger sign: They won't give you any information and pressure you to come in. You should feel comfortable talking to your future counselors, so if you feel pressured now, this is probably not the right person for you.

        And while youíre still on the phone, ask if the counselor can provide you with some references. A real referenceóthat is, a name and phone numberóis better than a testimonial on a website or in a brochure, but sometimes that is all you may be offered. Danger sign: You canít get a single reference or testimonial from the counselor.

        If you get references, contact them and ask if they have used the services of that particular credit counselor and what their experiences were. If you have particular issues, bring them up. (ďI really donít want to file for bankruptcy. I want somebody who will help me avoid that if at all possible. Is this counselor a good choice for me?Ē)

Last but not least, ask your counselors what they charge. Yes, you have to pay them. Just like lawyers or dentists or ditch diggers, they donít work for free.

If a credit counselor agrees to work with you for no fee, you have to assume that he or she is being compensated somewhere. Chances are they are being paid by a debt company or other organization that makes money when you borrow from them.

In other words, it's often cheaper (in the long run) to pay a credit counselor than to take advantage of somebody's "free" counseling and wind up using a debt relief plan that really was not right for you.

While certified credit counselors do charge for their services, most of the time this is money well spent. Here's why: over the long haul, you'll benefit enormously from this investment. You'll learn how to budget, find the best solution from your debt, and get other forms of financial help. You won't waste money in the wrong plans or continue to build up debt.

The best way to get good quality independent advice is to pay for it. The right credit counselor can give you just the help you need to get out of debt. Isnít that worth it?

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