When to Seek Debt Counseling

A woman with her head on a stack of bills overwhelmed by debt

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Many people turn to a debt counseling service when they become overwhelmed with debt. Many people slowly accumulate credit card debt and then one day realize that they owe so much money that they do not know what to do.

Debt counseling is a good alternative to bankruptcy, and you should seek counseling from a professional financial planner or counseling before you seriously consider bankruptcy as an option.

There are many options if you are considering debt counseling, and it is important to make sure that you find a reliable debt counselor that will help you to change your financial situation around. Additionally, credit counseling is a requirement before you declare bankruptcy and it may help you prevent it.

How Credit Counseling Works

Your debt or credit counselor will look at your monthly bills, your expenses, your debts, and your income. Then he will help you set up a budget that you can keep in order to make your monthly payments. In addition to helping you with a budget, he can negotiate better terms on your credit cards.

These terms mean that you can no longer use the cards, but he can negotiate lower monthly payments and a lower interest rate. Usually, you will send one monthly payment to the credit counseling service, who will then send the payments to your different creditors. It can make managing your money much easier.

How to Find Credit Counseling Services

Many credit counseling services are not reliable. It is important to check the qualifications of any financial counselor that you visit as well as check with the Better Business Bureau before you use a debt counseling service. Additionally, using a credit counseling service will put a mark on your credit report, and if you are currently current with your debts and able to make minimum payments you would be better off seeking help elsewhere.

Alternatives to Credit Counseling

A financial planner may be a good option if you are seeking debt counseling. Many financial planners will charge an hourly fee, particularly if you are not interested in investing at the time, but they can still help you set up a good financial plan to help you get out of debt.

A financial planner can help you plan a budget and set up a debt repayment plan that will accelerate how fast you can pay off your debt. They can also help you find extra money in your budget to put towards your debts. When you a credit counseling service, it does show up on your credit report, whereas, a financial planner would not. However, a financial planner will not negotiate your interest rates and monthly payments for you. 

Additional Options

If you do not feel comfortable visiting a financial planner, you may wish to visit with someone through your church or take a class that will help you get out of debt. One example of these classes is Financial Peace University, which is offered by Dave Ramsey.

Your employer may also offer these services at a reduced rate as part of their employee benefits program. Additionally, you can start your own debt/budgeting group in which you offer support to each other. The group approach helps to offer accountability to your budget and allows you to bounce your concerns and frustrations off of others who are going through the same thing.

Negotiating Better Rates and Payments Yourself

You can do all of the things that a debt counselor would do on your own. The most basic step is to set up a budget so that you know where your money is going each month. Then you need to set up a debt payment plan listing your debts in order of the interest rate. You apply all of your extra payments to the debt with the highest interest rate until it is paid off and then you move on to your next debt.

Doing it on your own helps to prevent you from running up your debt again because you are taking control of your finances and learning how to control your spending through a budget. You can also work to reduce your interest rates by calling your bank and asking for a lower rate. Another option is to transfer your credit card balance to a card with a lower interest rate. This should only be done if you are completely committed to stopping using your credit cards.