What to look for in a credit counseling agency

The first step to working with a credit counseling agency is finding one that you’d like to work with. Consider:

Accreditation and certification: Ensuring the agency you’re working with is accredited and certified is a good way to verify that it’s a reputable agency. Be wary of any for-profit company that purports to be a credit counseling agency.

Most nonprofit agencies are members of either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. Both of these groups have certification requirements to ensure a standard level of education and quality among counselors. They also require accreditation, in which an outside body checks that standards of practice are being met.

Access: When choosing a credit counseling agency, ask yourself how you’d rather receive services: over the phone, in person or online. While many agencies are accredited in 50 states, most only offer in-person counseling in select locations.

Cost: Price of services can vary widely by agency, state and individual financial need. Before you commit to a service, verify how much you’ll pay monthly so you fully understand the overall cost.

Be aware that nonprofit credit counselors are different from for-profit credit repair companies, which offer services you can often do on your own.

Credit counseling services are also different from debt settlement, which is marketed as a quick fix but it’s not a good option for most people.