These agencies can move in a wide range of directions, depending on your situation, from simply offering guidance to negotiating with creditors to resolve debt that is beyond your ability to pay.
Individuals filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy are required to receive counseling.
Lists of member agencies are available from both the NFCC or the AICCCA.
The nature of the business has changed in the 1990s.
Credit card debt was on the rise and many new organizations entered the business.
Plans could range from simple budgets to filing for bankruptcy.
One of the most popular options was the debt management plan (DMP).
This includes getting in writing how much the fees will be, whether the agency is licensed to work in your state, what training the counselors have and whether employees are paid a salary or earn more depending on what services the clients receive.
If they receive bonuses for signing up clients for various programs, that would be a red flag.
In addition, because of the requirement that applicants for Chapter 13 bankruptcy must receive counseling, the United States Trustee Program maintains its own list of agencies.
It's important to know who you are dealing with as well as the terms of whatever agreement you will have with the organization.
When you're struggling to dig out from under a mountain of debt, you could benefit from the wisdom and guidance of an organization that has helped others who have been in a similar situation.
Credit counselors work with consumers to educate them about money, to develop household budgets and to come up with a plan to eliminate debt.
Most agencies will offer an initial meeting at no charge that typically lasts about one hour, at which a counselor will ask key questions about the consumer's financial situation and a discussion will take place about the potential options.