are non-profits, and some are better than others. The longer an agency has been in business, the more likely itis that it is legitimate and won't go out of business after you've begun a debt management plan with them, sotry to find one that has been in business for at least 5-10 years.
Find an accredited agency.
In the U.S., make sure an agency is a current member in good standing of atleast one of two large trade associations, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and theAssociation of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA), which require rigorous third-partyaccreditation for their members. You can look at these organizations' websites to find an agency near you. Anagency should be accredited by either the Council on Accreditation (COA) or the International Organization forStandardization (ISO). Like non-profit status, accreditation is a good sign, but it's no guarantee of an agency'squality.4.
Make sure the agency is licensed
, if required. Not all states in the U.S. or jurisdictions in the world requirecredit counseling agencies to be licensed, but if your jurisdiction does, make sure the agency you're consideringis currently licensed. Licensing is administered by different agencies--departments of corporations,departments of commerce, or divisions of banking, for example--in different places, so you may have to makea few phone calls to find the appropriate agency. Again, keep in mind that you still need to do your duediligence even if a firm is licensed.In the U.S., all people considering bankruptcy must receive credit counseling from an agency approved bythe Department of Justice. You can locate an approved agency on the DOJ's website.If you need assistance with mortgage debt, find an agency that is certified by the U.S. Department ofHousing and Urban Development (HUD).5.
Look for complaints
. Compile a list of potential agencies--preferably ones that have an office near you toprovide in-person counseling--and research them with agencies where complaints might be filed.Look at the company's reliability report with the Better Business Bureau. It should be both listed and free ofunresolved complaints. Check the Bureau's website and watch out for companies with a long list ofcomplaints. Look at how long the company has been in business and contrast that against the number ofcomplaints the company has had. It's very rare for a company to be in business for very long without gettingany complaints, but don't consider any company that's only been in business for a short time yet has a listof complaints with the BBB. If a company does have complaints, be sure they are resolved. Ask thecompany about the complaint and trust your gut when you hear their response.Check with your state attorney general. In the U.S. the National Association of Attorneys General maintainscontact information for state attorneys general offices. Look up the company on your state attorneygeneral's website, or call the AG's office to find out if any complaints have been filed against an agency.Check with the relevant regulatory authority in your jurisdiction. If you live outside of the U.S., contact theappropriate consumer protection, commerce, or banking agency in charge of regulating credit counselingagencies and tracking complaints.6.
Ask for information about the firm
. Reputable credit counseling agencies will provide free information abouttheir services without asking you for money or requiring that you provide them with personal information aboutyour finances. If a company wants an upfront fee or won't talk about the services they provide without seeingyour credit card statements or other information, don't bother with them.Seek an agency that provides a wide range of services. A lot of so-called credit counseling agencies shouldreally be called debt management agencies, because they push all their clients into debt management plansright away, often without offering any real counseling. Don't deal with these agencies, as most people don'treally need to enroll in a debt management plan. Look for an agency that will provide budget advice, savingsand credit classes and free educational materials in addition to debt management plans.Ask about the qualifications of their counselors. Find out if the counselors are certified or accredited by anindependent agency. If not, ask how they are trained and what other qualifications they have.7.
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