Take care to choose reputable credit counseling

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011

By WAYNE CURTIS / Guest Columnist

Like most Americans, you probably recognize the need for financial planning. You may also understand that the importance of careful, deliberate budgeting cannot be overemphasized in the planning process.

Often, however, people lack the discipline to create a realistic and workable budget and adhere to it. In instances where this occurs, debt accumulates, payments are not made on schedule and individuals cannot work out a repayment plan with creditors.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you should consider credit counseling to help you work your way back to solvency. Many organizations that provide credit counseling are nonprofit, and they will work with you to solve your financial difficulties.

But beware of many groups that erroneously claim to be nonprofit organizations. They may not be affordable or, in some cases, legitimate. Some credit counseling agencies charge high fees that often are hidden.

Reputable credit counselors, on the other hand, can assist you in several ways. They can help you develop a budget, advise you on managing your money and debts and provide free educational materials and workshops.

Counselors should be certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management and budgeting. They should be able to discuss your entire financial situation with you. Where can you find a reputable credit counselor? There are several groups that offer this type of advice. First, you might want to start by checking with universities in the area. Many offer free credit counseling through outreach centers in their business schools.

Financial institutions may be good sources of information. In addition, the Cooperative Extension Service often offers nonprofit credit counseling programs.

If you are unsure about other groups that provide counseling, you may want to check with your Better Business Bureau.

Try to prevent the need for credit counseling by practicing good financial management. But if you should require assistance, keep the above in mind.

Wayne Curtis, Ph.D., is on the board of directors of First United Security Bank.  He may be reached by email at wc_curtis@yahoo.com.