According to the 2020 National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) Consumer Financial Literacy Survey, 62% of consumers had credit card debt in the previous 12 months, with 43% carrying it over month after month (16% greater than in 2019). Mike Sullivan of credit counseling agency Take Charge America states that individuals with a debt management plan can lower their interest rates by 15% to 20%.
In order to achieve these results for yourself, you may need the help of a credit counseling service, which is a nonprofit organization with certified counselors trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. These organizations help individuals create personalized plans to solve their debt problems and offer solid financial planning advice.
We reviewed close to a dozen credit counseling services—all nonprofits—based on reputation, time in business, range of services, accessibility, and educational resources. Here are our top picks.
The 7 Best Credit Counseling Services of 2021: Lessons to boost your finances
Best Overall : GreenPath
GreenPath Financial Wellness has been helping people manage debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and credit challenges for 60 years. The agency is accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best overall because of its long history and network of brick-and-mortar offices across the country.
GreenPath offers most standard counseling services including credit and student loan counseling, debt management, and bankruptcy support. The organization also assists clients with foreclosure prevention and support, homebuyer assistance, reverse mortgage counseling, and resources for renters.
GreenPath also provides its customers with free educational resources and tools, including articles, online classes, webinars, calculators, worksheets, and guides. Those looking for more personalized support can visit one of the agency’s numerous branch offices in over 20 states to speak with a counselor in person.
GreenPath does not charge for a credit counseling session. There is a one-time setup fee between $0 and $50 plus a monthly fee between $0 and $75 for debt counseling based on the state and how much debt is owed.
GreenPath does not charge for mortgage delinquency or rental counseling. There is a $199 fee for reverse mortgage counseling and a $150 fee for pre-purchase counseling.
Student Loan Counseling
GreenPath does not charge for a student loan counseling session. For the enhanced service, which includes working with a client’s student loan servicers until a final resolution is reached, there is a $200 fee.
GreenPath charges up to $35 for bankruptcy services depending on the client’s financial situation and service method.
Runner-Up, Best Overall : Cambridge Credit Counseling
Cambridge Credit Counseling is a not-for-profit agency that has been providing credit counseling and financial literacy education since 1996. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as our runner-up because of its high ratings and experienced and certified counselors.
Cambridge Credit is a member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA) and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA). Its counselors have an average of 14 years of experience and are certified with the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, the Partnership for Financial Education, NeighborWorks, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In addition to credit, housing, bankruptcy, and student loan counseling, Cambridge Credit offers debt management plans and financial education, including articles, videos, guidebooks, and worksheets. The organization claims to be able to reduce credit card interest rates from 22% to 8% and monthly credit card payments by 25% with debt repaid in 48 months or less.
Cambridge Credit’s fees are based on the rules and regulations set by each state. The organization's initial and monthly fees are capped at $75 and $50, respectively, with an average initial fee of $40.00 and an average monthly fee of $30.00.
Best Price : Apprisen
Originally named the Economy Budget Service Company, Apprisen was founded in 1955 to offer budgeting and guidance to families overwhelmed with credit problems. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best price because it offers the lowest maxim setup and monthly fees of any of the agencies we reviewed.
Clients can get started with Apprisen through the agency’s secure, online, interactive financial tool called IRIS. In conjunction with a financial specialist, IRIS will perform a comprehensive financial analysis and create a custom action plan in 24 to 48 hours. Clients can also schedule an appointment at one of a dozen branch offices located across Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Apprisen offers most standard credit counseling services, including debt management and financial health plans as well as credit, health, student loan, housing, and bankruptcy counseling. The agency also offers a subscription-based financial health program called Propel, which includes on-demand financial coaching, a yearly financial checkup, a comprehensive savings plan, and exclusive educational tools and resources.
Apprisen’s debt management fees are determined by state and income, but will never exceed a maximum $45 one-time setup fee plus a $45 monthly fee. The agency may also reduce or waive fees for individuals facing financial hardship.
Apprisen offers holistic individual or joint coaching sessions over a 12-month period for a one-time $250 fee.
Apprisen offers pre-bankruptcy counseling sessions by phone as well as two-hour post-bankruptcy education workshops at one of the agency’s local offices at a price of $50 per session.
Apprisen’s mortgage delinquency, foreclosure prevention, first-time homebuyer counseling and education, and first-time renter counseling sessions are all free. The agency does offer pre-purchase mortgage counseling sessions for clients who are working with a mortgage lender for a one-time fee of $90.
Best Mobile App : InCharge Debt Solutions
InCharge Debt Solutions has been offering professional credit counseling, debt management services, bankruptcy education, housing counseling, and education in financial literacy since 1997. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best mobile app because it offers an easy way for users to check and make changes to their debt management plan using their mobile phones.
InCharge offers many typical credit counseling services, including credit counseling, debt management, and consolidation programs, housing and student loan counseling, and pre-file credit counseling and pre-discharge education for bankruptcy. The agency also offers a number of educational resources, including financial calculators, e-books, and financial literacy workshops, and webinars through local and national partners.
Finally, InCharge offers a mobile app that lets clients access their debt management account on any iOS or Android phone. Users can view creditor proposal status, update account balances, add creditors to the program, and change their payment date on the go.
Credit Counseling Services
InCharge offers free credit counseling to its clients, which includes a budget review, debt analysis, and recommendations. The agency charges a one-time, setup fee between $50 to $75 for a debt management plan plus a monthly service fee averaging $32 depending on the state and debt amount. InCharge does not share fees for its bankruptcy, housing, and student loan counseling services.
Best for Education : Clearpoint Credit Counseling
Founded in 1964, Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions is a division of Money Management International (MMI), the largest nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency in the U.S. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best for education because of its affiliation with MMI and a wide range of resources, including e-books and podcasts.
Clearpoint provides all the services one would expect of a credit counseling agency, including budget and credit counseling, debt management and housing programs, bankruptcy and student loan counseling, and a program to help military service members reconnect and establish themselves when they return home from service.
Where Clearpoint stands above the rest of the providers we reviewed is in education. It offers workshops in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Houston on housing, budgeting, and credit card issues, along with guidance on maintaining a healthy credit report.
Clients can enroll at Clearpoint University for free for online and on-demand courses led by financial experts on budgeting, managing a small business, paying down debt, rebuilding after foreclosure, and more. Clearpoint also offers free downloadable e-books, financial calculators, and podcasts that teach a variety of financial lessons and money management strategies.
Credit and Debt Services
Clearpoint offers budget and credit counseling free of charge. Pricing for debt management programs varies by state but will never exceed $50. Student loan counseling is available for a fee of $99.
Clearpoint offers foreclosure prevention counseling free of charge. Pre-purchase counseling (in person or by phone) costs $99, and reverse mortgage counseling is available for $199.
Clearpoint offers pre-filing counseling and pre-discharge education for $50 per household.
Clearpoint offers an eight-hour online Homebuyer Workshop for $35 per person and various seminars and workshops with pricing that varies by location, size of the audience, and type of presentation.
Best for Veterans : Consolidated Credit
Since 1993, Consolidated Credit has been providing personalized credit counseling services to people facing challenges with debt. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best for veterans because it partners with Army OneSource and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help military personnel and their families improve their financial literacy.
Consolidated Credit offers free standard credit counseling services as well as debt consolidation and debt management programs. The agency specializes in housing counseling, including homebuyer education and counseling, foreclosure prevention, and reverse mortgage counseling. Consolidated Credit also offers a Financial Wellness in the Workplace program to help employers provide financial education to their employees.
In addition to offering a variety of webinars and tools, Consolidated Credit partners with Army OneSource and the VA to offer educational resources for military service members. These include a practical guide for veterans that walks them through the basics of bill paying, housing options, increasing credit scores, saving for retirement, and more. The agency also helps military service members plan ahead before deployment and Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to ensure their families and finances are taken care of.
Although Consolidated Credit doesn’t offer clear pricing on its website, it states that its fees are based on how much is owed in total, as well as how many accounts need to be paid off. It also claims that its debt management program clients pay around $40 per month.
Best for Transparency : American Consumer Credit Counseling
Founded in 1991, American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit organization offering confidential consumer credit counseling services with 14 locations across seven states. The agency is accredited with the BBB and has an A+ rating with the organization. We chose it as the best for transparency because they offer an extensive FAQ page that breaks down every detail of their services.
Like many of the agencies we reviewed here, ACCC offers debt management; budget, bankruptcy, housing, and student loan counseling; and financial education to consumers nationwide. The agency also offers a number of financial calculators, videos, and educational resources on specific topics, including budgeting, retirement planning, identity theft, information for veterans, and more.
ACCC goes above and beyond in terms of offering transparency about its process and programs. An extensive FAQ page covers everything important to its clients, including pricing, interest rates, client rights and responsibilities, account transfers, confidentiality, and more. Users can also access Ask Talking Cents Guy, a feature on ACCC’s blog that lets anyone ask personalized finance questions and receive an email response.
ACCC does not charge a fee for credit counseling sessions. Debt management programs are billed at a one-time payment of $39 plus a monthly maintenance fee between $5 and $50. The agency may waive or reduce these fees for clients in financial hardship.
What Are Credit Counseling Services?
Credit counseling services help individuals manage debt and plan their financial futures. The trusted relationship between credit counseling services and creditors allows individuals to get better interest rates for their unsecured debts and pay them off faster through a debt management plan (DMP).
Credit counseling services can also help individuals with bankruptcy counseling, budgeting, student loan management, as well as general education about smart money management.
What Does Credit Counseling Include?
Credit counseling typically starts with a financial review of the individual to get a picture of their debts and overall financial picture. From there, an agency can make simple recommendations or offer a more structured service, like a DMP, to help manage a client’s debt.
Credit counseling services can also help individuals improve their credit scores through budgeting and repayment plans and create a savings plan for future financial security. Many offer classes and educational resources on specific topics to improve their clients’ financial literacy.
What Does Credit Counseling Exclude?
Many people confuse credit counselors with debt relief agencies. Credit counseling services are typically nonprofit organizations that help clients managing money and debts and often offer educational materials and workshops. By contrast, debt settlement companies are for-profit businesses that can arrange settlements of debts with creditors or debt collectors for a fee.
Although credit counseling agencies aren’t able to reduce amounts of debt their clients owe, they can lower their overall monthly payments. Debt settlement companies, on the other hand, negotiate a debt settlement for their customers allowing them to pay off what they owe in one lump sum.
What Does Credit Counseling Cost?
Almost all credit counseling services will perform an initial credit counseling session at no charge. This typically involves a review of a client’s debt and finances as well as basic recommendations for budgeting and money management.
The most typical service offered by credit counseling agencies is the DMP. This typically costs between $40 and $75 upfront plus a $40 to $75 monthly fee, depending on the amount owed and one's state of residence.
Typical pricing for other services includes a one-time fee of $200 for reverse mortgage counseling, $150 for pre-purchase counseling, and $90 for student loan counseling. Some agencies also offer paid and free educational classes.
Is Credit Counseling Worth the Cost?
According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 70% of people enrolled in debt management plans had either paid off or were paying off their debt within just five years. Similarly, participants in a credit counseling program run by the NFCC improved their credit scores by 50 points and reduced their revolving debt by $8,000 in just 18 months.
Most people think that credit counseling is only for people experiencing a financial crisis like bankruptcy or foreclosure. However, credit counseling can actually help people who are dealing with debt avoid such disasters and begin to save money and reduce their overall expenses.
How We Chose the Best Credit Counseling Services
We looked at nearly a dozen credit counseling services for this review. We made sure to choose agencies that were highly rated and well-established in the marketplace. We also wanted to find agencies that offered a variety of educational support for most of their services.
Finally, we chose agencies that offer reasonable and competitive fees for their services as well as free basic counseling.