Let’s face it: It can be difficult to talk about debt. It’s generally a hush-hush topic in society, and it can even cause people to feel negative emotions like shame and guilt. But hiding your debt away and pretending it doesn’t exist will only make it worse. One easy and free way to get personalized help with your financial situation is to speak with a credit counselor.
Even though most initial credit counseling meetings are complimentary, you’ll still want to do some legwork before the meeting to get the most value out of the session.
Here are some tips on how to get prepared.
Find an Accredited Credit Counselor
The first step is finding a reputable, accredited counseling agency with services relevant to your financial needs. As NerdWallet advises, both the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the U.S. Department of Justice offer self-service search tools to make finding an agency all the simpler.
This is the stage at which you’ll want to quality check any potential agencies, looking online to see if there are any reviews or complaints. The Better Business Bureau is a good resource for evaluating individual agencies.
Another factor to consider is how you’d like the meeting to take place. Agencies may offer a combination of in-person appointments, phone meetings and online sessions. Consider your comfort and convenience when deciding which method will work best for you.
Credit Counseling vs. Debt Management
It helps to ask, “What is credit counseling?” when you’re getting ready. That way, you can gather all the information you’ll need to bring.
Credit counseling itself is typically an hour-long conversation with a certified counselor — in which you’ll look over your budget and debts in detail before coming up with some strategies for strengthening your finances.
During this meeting, your credit counselor may float a debt management plan (DMP) through the same agency as an option. Under a DMP, you’ll start making payments to the agency instead of creditors; the agency will distribute the funds. Creditors may agree to cut you some slack on interest and fees in exchange for you sticking with the terms of the DMP for five years. You may have to close certain credit accounts and agree to stop using credit if you go this route.
Do your research before committing to anything beyond the initial meeting.
Fill Out the Necessary Budgeting Paperwork
Next it’s time to compile your detailed financial information. Oftentimes, agencies make it easy by offering a downloadable template for you to fill out. Include all your income, expenses, assets and liabilities so you’re showing the counselor the big picture. Compile any supplementary materials you feel might be helpful to bring up, too. It’s better to walk in over prepared than underprepared.
Set Your Credit Counseling Goals
Your counselor will likely inquire about some variation of what you’re hoping to get out of the session. Some people are looking for tailored budgeting help so they can stay current on bills; others are dealing with specific types of debts, like student loans or medical expenses. You can use your money goals to shape the conversation and make sure you walk out feeling like you got real value from your meeting.
We’d suggest writing down your short- and long-term financial goals so you can refer to them quickly.
Create a List of Questions to Ask
Last but certainly not least, write down any budgeting and debt-related questions that come to mind ahead of your appointment — as well as any credit counseling-specific questions you have about the process. There’s truly no such thing as a bad question here.
Preparing for credit counseling is primarily a matter of choosing a good agency and compiling all the financial information your counselor will need to offer insights.