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In order to answer that question, you'll first need to have an idea of what kind of help you need.
Are you looking for basic advice on how to improve your credit score, qualify for a mortgage, or identify the best student loans? Or are you already in a sticky situation and hoping to find a path that lets you reduce or eliminate some of your credit card debt, consolidate loans, or get tax debt relief from the IRS? All of those efforts can be found with credit counseling services - but many providers only specialize in one or two particular areas.
Monday, September 20th
Credit.org was founded in 1974 and is a proud certified member of the NFCC, "the gold standard in the financial counseling sector". While you can read more about the NFCC in our review specific to that organization, we'd like to tell you everything we love about the credit counseling services offered by Credit.org.
Unlike every other provider of credit counseling that we evaluated, Credit.org tells you upfront which of their services are free and which may come at a slight cost. For example, free services include credit counseling, debt counseling, foreclosure prevention, and webinars. On the other hand, if you need a credit report review or student loan review, a debt management plan, pre-petition bankruptcy counseling or homebuyer education/workshops, those fees vary.
Just click on the Service Fees page to see a detailed list of all of Credit.org's available services, and then hover over the word "Varies" to see a pop-up with the standard fees for the ones that aren't free. Fortunately, those fees are still affordable: $49.99 for a credit report review, $75 to $125 for an online homebuyer education workshop, and so on.
Friendly, knowledgeable reps
In order to begin your credit counseling with Credit.org, you'll need to fill in their online form with your name, email, phone number, zip code, best time to call, and your preferred language (English or Spanish). Alternatively, you can call Credit.org's toll-free number (Monday through Friday, 7a-7p Pacific) or click on the live chat feature on the website. Once you've gotten in touch with one of their credit counselors, you'll go through the basics of your financial situation: expenses, income and debts. From there, the counselor will connect you with the resources you need to carry out the plan you design together. We found their reps to be both friendly and knowledgeable, and answered our questions quickly.
Not sure you're quite ready to take that step? No problem. We encourage you to check out everything Credit.org has in their Education and Resources page. From financial calculators and budgeting tools to educational videos and more, you'll have plenty of things to challenge your knowledge level and get you thinking about what you'd like to get out of credit counseling - whenever you're ready.
And yes, as we mentioned, Credit.org has a sterling reputation. Not only are they a member of NFCC, but they've also maintained an "A+" rating with the Better Business Bureau - since 1983! Other certifications and accolades are accreditation by the Council on Accreditation, approval from HUD as a counseling agency, and serving as a founding member of the nonprofit organization Homeownership Preservation Foundation (which is endorsed by the HUD and the Treasury Department as well).
Credit.org provides all of the credit counseling anyone could need, from advice on student loan issues to planning for retirement and much more. You won't find another provider with a longer list of free services, or with such affordable fee-based programs either. Credit.org is reliable, helpful, and trustworthy: everything you could want when entrusting someone with improving your financial future. They earn our highest rating.
Consumer Credit is the website for American Consumer Credit Counseling, Inc., a nonprofit organization that offers low-fee debt management services, homebuyer education for first-time buyers, and general credit counseling. In operation for nearly three decades, ACCC is registered, licensed and bonded in all 50 states.
Service with excellence
Consumer Credit is a member of NFCC, the nonprofit organization that has been overseeing credit counseling services for decades. You can read more about NFCC in our reviews. The Better Business Bureau has also determined that Consumer Credit is in good standing, awarding the organization a perfect "A+" grade and accreditation in recognition of their excellence in serving the public.
To get started with credit counseling through Consumer Credit, you'll need to reach out to their counselors at ACCC's toll-free number: Monday through Thursday from 9a to 11:30p, Friday from 9a to 8p, and Saturday from 10a to 6p (all times Eastern). Most of their counseling services are completely free, though some of their programs come with a nominal fee.
When you set up a counseling session with ACCC, you can expect a professional certified counselor to review your current financial situation (income, expenses, liabilities and assets); discuss the available options based on your goals; and, finally develop an action plan that will help you move forward. You aren't obligated to use any of the programs or services presented to you.
Before your phone session, you should gather as much information as possible about your current finances, such as credit card statements, pay stubs, bank statements, and any correspondence with creditors or bill collectors. This will make sure that your credit counseling session goes smoothly, and that your counselor has the full picture when making recommendations tailored to your situation.
There's a wealth of information you can access on the Consumer Credit site before you even connect with one of their credit counselors. If you want more information on how to prepare for retirement, credit in general, budgeting, or issues specific to veterans or those 55 and older, be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the page. There, you'll also be able to get more information about some of the programs that might come up during your credit counseling:
The credit counseling services offered by Consumer Credit will appeal to a wide range of people, going well beyond the "debt consolidation only" programs offered by some providers. They can give you plenty of resources, guidance, and help. No matter what your financial situation, the counselors at ACCC can help you figure it out. This is one of our preferred sources of credit counseling.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC, has been in operation since 1951. This nonprofit organization is the largest of its kind and has helped millions of people over the last seven decades, with a mission to give Americans the ability to get in control of their finances.
Wealth of information
NFCC is helpful, trustworthy, and straightforward; you'll find a wealth of information on their site about different types of borrowing/credit situations and what to expect from credit counseling through one of their member agencies. If you're looking for credit counseling that's nonprofit, local to you, and fully vetted by an overseeing organization like NFCC, this service will be an excellent resource to get you connected.
However, because NFCC doesn't take that extra step of being the one to actually offer the credit counseling, they don't wind up at the top of our rankings. In fact, our highest-ranked providers of credit counseling were NFCC partner agencies at the time of this review.
Dozens of choices
When you call NFCC, you'll only be asked to provide your ZIP code and the type of credit counseling you're seeking. From there, their system will match you with one of their partner nonprofit agencies. Alternately, you can enter your ZIP code right on the NFCC site to find a member agency near you. In our area, we found dozens of choices.
Meanwhile, the NFCC site can give you a head start on what to expect from one of their nonprofit partners. We encourage you to spend some time browsing all of the resources available, especially through the links at the bottom of the site. Need more details about debt management plans? Maybe you want more insights on the pros and cons of homeownership? Look for that in the "What we offer" section. Or, if you need a program specific to military veterans, you'll find that along with various calculators, planning tools and more under the "Resources" heading.
How counseling works
We particularly appreciate the detailed explanation of the counseling process under "How counseling works". NFCC walks you through what will happen when you get started with a credit counselor, like questions about your income and expenses, a review of your credit report, and discussion of options like debt consolidation.
Great site for honest information
No matter which credit counseling service you ultimately select, the NFCC site should be a go-to for all of your preliminary research. An informed consumer is a prepared consumer, and the information offered by NFCC can help you have a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding credit - and any pitfalls you might encounter when using services designed to help you manage your finances.
CuraDebt has helped more than 200,000 clients since their beginnings in 1996. Their credit counseling services consist almost exclusively of debt relief services. If you have issues with tax debt, unsecured debt like personal loans or credit cards, or other credit problems, CuraDebt will custom-design an approach to help you.
Your initial contact with the CuraDebt service will be to see if you're eligible for what they offer. If you're specifically looking for debt consolidation or other forms of debt relief, you'll start with CuraDebt's free online consultation. You first select how much you currently owe (at least $5,000, to be eligible), whether you're behind on payments, and which state you live in. Then a knowledgeable rep will contact you to discuss and create a customized plan to help you get out of debt.
Top rated professionals
On your first phone conversation, your CuraDebt rep takes the time to understand your current financial situation, as well as your short-term and long-term goals. CuraDebt has access to the top rated professionals and companies in the industry. Based on a thorough understanding of what you want to accomplish, CuraDebt connects you with the experts that can best help you reach your goals.
26 out of 50 states
CuraDebt operates in 26 of the 50 states. While they continue to expand their operations, this unfortunately means that nearly half of US residents aren't eligible to work with them.
Reputable, professional help
On a positive note, if you live in one of the states that CuraDebt does serve, you can trust that they provide reputable, professional help. One of the strongest indicators of this trustworthiness is their "A+" rating with the Better Business Bureau. Plus, we found that in over nearly 1,000 independently-verified customer reviews, CuraDebt earned a rating of 5/5 stars. Clients said that they felt very comfortable working with their counselors, and that the strategies used genuinely helped them to reduce their debt and get back on track.
While CuraDebt has an excellent reputation with debt relief counseling, when it comes to more general credit counseling, they don't offer the same broad array of services and advice that you'll find with our highest ranked providers. In this case, their specialized focus dropped them a bit in our rankings.
Great choice for debt counseling
We feel completely comfortable in recommending CuraDebt's services. If you need the kind of specialized debt relief services they offer, and live in one of the states they service, they are an excellent choice.
American Debt Enders is a service of Grace Unlimited LLC and has been in operation since 2006. Founded by Steven Ciantro, a Certified Credit Counselor, ADE is committed to helping people live a debt-free life.
When it comes to credit counseling, American Debt Enders' website mostly provides a list of third-party resources - toll-free numbers for credit restoration counseling, student loan consolidation counseling, and so on. You can also contact ADE directly via toll-free number or email, but their services will generally consist of connecting you with other organizations that do debt consolidation, prequalification for bankruptcy, and other strategies for managing debt. In fact, their "About Us" page clearly states that they "operate as contractual affiliates... as a for-profit company, and not a direct provider of services".
Free phone consultation
However, you can still talk with one of American Debt Enders' credit counselors during a free telephone consultation. The counselor will gather information about your current financial situation, help you choose an appropriate course of action, and then enroll you in a program with one of their contracted partners - for debt settlement, credit restoration, or whichever program you decide is the best fit. At that point, ADE is no longer in the picture, and you're subject to the terms and customer service (or lack thereof) offered by the provider with whom you've been matched.
ADE's reputation is average. Customer comments on independently verified third-party sites are a mixed bag: you'll find some people who really appreciate the help and service they received, including credit counseling, but you'll also come across some pretty strongly-worded complaints. We were glad to see that those criticisms were addressed by ADE reps in a professional, calm manner. On the other hand, the ADE website talks about having "no complaints registered" at a service called Netcheck, which is supposed to be comparable to the Better Business Bureau. It really isn't - and we'd much rather see a strong rating (and even accreditation) from the BBB to verify that the services offered by American Debt Enders are reliable.
Middle of the road
At the end of the day, this credit counseling service doesn't have anything that makes them really stand out among the crowd. The website is outdated and makes it challenging to find what you're looking for - it doesn't exactly scream "professional" and "top-quality". There are a lot of providers of credit counseling out there, and we think you'll get a more robust array of services from one of our higher-ranked resources.
Understanding credit can be confusing, and just a few unwise or desperate decisions can lead you downhill fast. It's a horrible feeling when you start getting "past due" notices or phone calls from collections agencies - and even more gut-wrenching to learn that your mortgage is going into foreclosure. Unfortunately, more and more Americans are finding themselves in all of those situations as the economy struggles.
The good news is that there is help available - and often at little or no cost to you. Some credit counseling services are strictly non-profit and can give you as much guidance as you may need, as well as connect you with resources you can use to get your house in order, literally. Other providers, particularly those who focus on debt consolidation and other relief strategies, usually give you an initial consultation for free; you'll only be charged a fee if you use their services, which generally comes out as a percentage of the money they save you by reducing interest rates and negotiating lower amounts owed with your creditors.
As you can see, no two credit counseling providers are equal. Which one is right for you? Here are several factors to consider as you evaluate the options:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best credit counseling services available today. We hope this information helps you find the right advice for your financial situation!
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