A budget can help you get out of debt and learn responsible spending and saving habits. But if managing money doesn’t come easy, a financial counselor might have the answers you’re looking for.
Counselors aren’t always expensive. In fact, reputable agencies offer free or low cost services.
Once you have a plan, then you can start living it using budget software that lets you keep an eye on every payment made and dollar saved.
Here are a few ways to know that you’ve found a good credit counselor, and when to shy away.
Credit Counselors Should Be Accredited
The Council on Accreditation (COA) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) award accreditation to credit counseling organizations.
Accreditation means the counselor or counseling organization has been reviewed by the COA or ISO, and has been found to operate using legitimate practices that genuinely help the consumer, based on the criteria that the accrediting agency requires.
When you find an accredited credit counselor, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that someone else is looking out for your best interest. When in doubt, check with the Better Business Bureau.
Counseling Agencies Should Not Levy High Fees
When a credit counseling agency charges expensive rates for their services, you might want to think twice.
Although some private financial planners and accountants certainly cost more, there are plenty of other options that have low rates or provide counseling for free.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a free or low cost counselor who can work with you over the phone, in person, or online.
If a Counselor Promises the Moon, Stars, and Debt Elimination, Walk Away
Credit counselors can’t eliminate your debt, except in exceptional circumstances. Bankruptcy is usually the only option for eliminating debt, and that isn’t an option for many people.
If a counselor advertises or explains that he can work with your creditors and let you walk away free and clear, be skeptical.
What counselors can do, in many cases, is work with your creditors to negotiate better interest rates, help you consolidate some debt, and reduce your monthly payments.
Counseling is a process where you learn to manage money better, and creditors are given the opportunity to work with you. Creditors might require you to sign a written agreement for a new payment plan.
Getting control of personal finances isn’t always easy.
Emergencies happen. Debt creeps in, sometimes slowly, and before you know it, bills are past due and there’s a mountain of debt that you can’t afford.
A reputable credit counselor gives solid financial advice, helps you pay off what you owe, and instructs you on how to start saving for the future.
Since it’s usually free or low cost, there’s no reason to put off getting the help you need.
Mint.com budget software works with your new budget to keep you working toward your goals.
Once you know what you’ve got and what you need to pay, Mint products give quick and easy access that lets you see real progress.
Sign up for your free account today, and start working toward a debt-free future.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.