Once you've got a list of counseling agencies you might do business with, check each one out with your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. They can tell you if consumers have filed complaints about any one of them. (If there are no complaints about them, don't consider it a guarantee that they're legitimate.) The United States Trustee Program also keeps a list of credit counseling agencies approved to provide pre-bankruptcy counseling. After you've done your background investigation, you will want to  interview the final "candidates."
As you begin to work this system, keep in mind that it’s not easy. Just like losing weight, losing your debt takes work, but if you genuinely want to slough of that stressful debt, your perseverance can make it happen. And don’t fret if you need to make adjustments along the way. This isn’t about a quick fix, it’s about changing your habits and behaviors so you can achieve your financial goals.
Kalkowski recommends finding a nonprofit rather than a for-profit agency. Reputable companies may be accredited or certified by one of three organizations: The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the Financial Counseling Association of America or the Council on Accreditation. Consumers can also check the Better Business Bureau for company ratings and reviews or discuss the matter with trusted friends and family members who may be able to make a recommendation.

While your credit score may suffer if you’re falling behind on monthly payments before you get your debt management plan set up, starting your plan should provide some relief. Your credit score should increase as you begin making regular monthly payments and your debt balances drop. Experian does note that you may see some negative side effects when accounts are closed, usually due to changes with your credit utilization rate or credit mix.
A credit counselor also may be able to negotiate lower interest rates with your creditors and get late payment fees and other fees waived, which will help to lower your monthly payment amount. Because of the lower interest rate, more of your monthly payment will be applied to your outstanding balance, and this will help to speed along your repayment. For example, one agency reported that clients reduced their monthly interest payments by an average of $209.81, and their total monthly payments went down an average of $172.48 each month. (Cambridge Credit Counseling Transparency Report #8).
The debt relief company has had minor legal issues in the past, but it has overcome those obstacles to become one of the most popular accredited debt relief companies online. Despite negative reviews, it’s clear that Freedom Debt Relief isn’t a scam. In fact, many Freedom Debt Relief clients credit the company for getting them out of debt and teaching them how to avoid future debt. You should always compare several companies before choosing a debt relief option, but this one stands out as one of the top debt management companies.
How Long Will It Take To Get Out Of Debt? It depends on how quickly you can build up your settlement funds and save for the settlement offers. The program length varies between 24-48 months, the faster you can save, the quicker you can get out of debt. If you only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, you could be in debt for the next 10-20 years and pay back 2x, 3x, or even 4 times as much as you originally borrowed.
Even better, when you refinance to a lower-rate loan, it lowers your monthly payment. You could continue to pay the higher payments you were making before the refinance to get debt paid off on an accelerated timeline. That $10,000 at 18% over seven years would have monthly payments of around $210 monthly. If you refinanced to a 9% loan with a seven-year repayment period, the required payment would drop to $161. But if you kept paying the $210 you were paying before, you could repay the loan in just five years and pay only $2,418 in interest. You'd make payments for two years less and save yourself $5,252 in interest. 
Bankruptcy can't solve your problems if you have substantial student loan debt. Student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy except in extreme cases where you can show severe hardship, such as becoming unable to ever work because of total permanent disability. You also can't get rid of mortgage or car loan debt if you hope to keep the assets; you'll need to become current and eventually repay these debts in full to avoid foreclosure or repossession of the vehicle. But for unsecured debt -- which is debt not guaranteed by your assets that you simply promised to repay -- bankruptcy could provide relief. 
Understand the basics of good credit counseling. Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer both free and paid services, Kalkowski says. They may offer complimentary consultations, financial literacy workshops or even one-on-one budgeting sessions free of charge. However, if you sign up for a debt management plan, expect to pay for the service. Debt management plans through nonprofits often have a startup fee of $30 to $40 and monthly fees of $20 to $40.
Also, there are many not for profit credit counseling organizations who offer services at local offices, online, and on the phone. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Local financial institutions and consumer protection agencies may also be good sources of information and referrals.
There are also specific debt consolidation loans available, marketed to borrowers looking to get a handle on debt. In many cases, however, these debt consolidation loans have high interest rates and other unfavorable terms. If you see a loan product labeled as a debt consolidation loan, research very carefully to determine whether the loan is actually a good deal.

Gerri. I screwed up bad. I joined up with a friend who said he can get a company going. I bought $13,000 worth of merchandice and loaned him through time about $15,000 in cash Through cash advanced from my cards. He bailed. I got about $4000 in tools back but I had previous balances(that were controlled) I ended up getting a consolidated loan. Big mistake. Total I owe $13,000($320 month)on a card and $34,000($806 month) to consolidated loan. Now I’m thinking of debt relief($906 per month){total of $34,000which is lower than what I owe on the two debts} My score is 750 est and I don’t want to hurt that. I have house payment of $540 (pay off est $74,000) Car at $450 (pay off approx $15,000)one at $300(pay off approx $13,000) and one at $325 (pay off $23,000{bran new}) and basic stuff. Food, power bill, cable, insurance & cell phones that total up to approx $1300 month. My wife takes care of all that but the mistake of the two debts is all mine. I give her 80% of the pay and I take 20%. I average take home about $2500 to $3000 est every two weeks. I think I need a counselor. What should I do? I’m freaking cause I started the debt relief program($34,000 at $906 for 38 months which is lower than what I owe total on the two debts I’m discussing). but haven’t signed the final paper just yet. I feel I make enough to pay off everything in no time but my wife says we are living paycheck to paycheck. All my wife’s cards will be paid off probably in March. I’m like way confused
This involves opening several bank accounts — your regular current account, one for your own wage, another for tax and finally one for a rainy day. You then apply the percentages to your income and as soon as you get paid, you transfer these percentages into the accounts. For example, you have 70 percent as your wages, 10 percent tax and 5 percent for rainy days. This leaves 15 percent in your current account for expenses. After this, you’ll hopefully be in a position to reach your earning target with the sales you already have. However, you can also work backward, using these percentages, to price your services and products.
The services provided by credit counseling services are nothing consumers can't do by themselves. "You could do it, but it's an involved process," says Kyle Winkfield, partner with financial firm O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp in the District of Columbia. The benefit of using an agency is that they have experience in negotiating debt payments and disputing incorrect information on credit reports. Paying an expert to do these tasks not only saves a person time, but can minimize the stress of having to navigate unfamiliar territory. "If you find a good one, they are worth more than they charge," Winkfield says.
It is also important to know that National Debt Relief uses a company called Global Client Solutions to manage your payments as a third party processor and trust account servicer.  This company has a history of working with many debt settlement companies who have been sued in the state of Washington and across the country for violating various debt adjusting and consumer protection laws.  Global Client Solutions has also been sued itself on a national level by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and in the state of Washington.
While it seems to make sense to devote every dollar possible to eliminating debt today, in the long run, it’s a costly mistake. Remedy: Contribute at least 5%-10% of your income to retirement savings as soon as you begin working and don’t let eliminating debt cut into that. Time is the most powerful tool in retirement savings. The earlier you start contributing to a 401(k) or other retirement fund, the better off you’ll be at retirement. Find other places in your budget to pay down credit card accounts.
How Is Debt Negotiation Different From Bankruptcy? Bankruptcy is an option that is generally treated as a last resort. It will remain on your credit report for 10 years & you can be denied employment, state licenses, insurance, as well as tenancy of an apartment. Most importantly, you can be denied virtually any type of credit with a bankruptcy on your report for several years. In addition, since the bankruptcy laws have changed recently, it is even more difficult to qualify for Chapter 7, the method of liquidating assets to eliminate your debt. You will not be allowed to discharge alimony, child support, taxes, student loans, judgments, or any loan on the bankruptcy petition. Under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your debt payments are simply restructured meaning you will still have to pay a percentage of your debts while you suffer the consequences of bankruptcy. Debt negotiation is an alternative to bankruptcy.
Often, one of the first things that people ask when they come to us is "what are my credit card debt options?" Typically, consumers want help consolidating debt, which means taking out a new loan to pay off a number of other debts. The hope is that with a lower interest rate on a new loan they'll save money, and with just one loan payment to make, they'll stay current with their creditors more easily.
It will decimate your credit scores and stay on your credit report for up to 10 years even as you restore your credit history. That’s no small thing, because poor credit history can affect your eligibility for certain jobs, your chances of getting an apartment lease, and how much you pay for car insurance. When your credit is already bad, a bankruptcy may allow you to rebuild your credit much sooner than continuing to try to repay. (Learn more about when bankruptcy is the best option.)
The top benefit is that you are on a plan that should eliminate debts in 3-to-5 years and you will stop receiving harassing calls from debt collection agencies. Convenience is another plus. You make only one payment a month for your debt payment plan as opposed to numerous payments with numerous deadlines. You receive free educational material that should help you better understand how to manage debt. Finally, you can always call a credit counselor and receive free advice should your situation change.
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