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AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized to give you the free annual credit report you’re entitled to each year. Checking your credit report regularly will help you spot any problems or may alert you if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.

How to Choose a Credit Counseling Agency

It’s easy to get into debt. It’s much harder to get out of it.

Fortunately, there are credit counseling agencies that can help you get your finances in order. They can help you figure out a budget and stick to it while managing your debt and avoiding future financial pitfalls.

However, not all credit counseling agencies are the same. Some offer free or low-cost services while others charge high fees or might not be trustworthy. The following tips will help you choose the right credit counseling agency.

Look for Agencies with a Good Reputation

Most reputable credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that offer free or low-cost services. However, the fact that an agency is a nonprofit does not guarantee that it is affordable or that it has a good reputation. Here are some tips for selecting a credit agency you can trust:

  • Ask family members and friends if they can recommend an agency. It’s best to pick one that has been around for several years and has a well-established reputation.
  • Use credit agencies or credit counseling services referred by credit unions, banks, universities or military bases.
  • Choose a credit agency that’s been approved by the Federal Government.

You can also check out state and local consumer agencies to find out if a credit agency has complaints.

Compare Services and Costs

Once you have a list of agencies you can trust, the next step is to take a closer look at the services and costs they offer so that you can choose the one that best serves your needs. Be careful with credit agencies that charge high fees for services that you can get for free somewhere else.

Some of the most common services offered by credit agencies include:

  • Professional, person-to-person assistance with managing your money and debt.
  • Help putting together a family budget and sticking to it.
  • Free workshops and educational material.

Ask Lots of Questions

Before finally choosing a credit agency, it’s worth writing down a list of questions you might have so that you can avoid surprises such as hidden fees or limited services. Here are some questions to help you pick the right credit agency.

  • Are there different fees for different services? Some agencies might charge for initial consultations or a monthly fee. Be careful with agencies that pay their employees more depending on the services you sign up for.
  • Will you be signing a contract before getting counseling? If so, be sure to read the contract before signing it.
  • Does the agency have the right certifications to provide credit counseling? It’s best to use agencies that have been certified by independent organizations.
  • What is the privacy policy of the agency? It’s important that your personal and financial information is protected.

This guide from the Federal Trade Commission can help.

If you’re only making the minimum payment on a credit card, find out how long it will take to pay it off and what it will cost.

The Bankruptcy Process Explained

Declaring personal bankruptcy is often a last resort option for debt management. If you declare bankruptcy, you are granted a court order saying you don’t have to pay off certain debts.

However, the effects of filing for bankruptcy are long-lasting. It stays on your credit report for 10 years and can make it hard to get a line of credit, buy a home, or sometimes even get a job.

The U.S. Courts put together a video series explaining the bankruptcy process, the relief it offers and how to find legal help you might need. If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy, these videos could help you understand what’s involved.

Learn more about what’s involved in filing for bankruptcy.

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