Personal finance comes with a learning curve. After all, none of us were born knowing about interest rates, credit scores and budgeting. We have to go through the process of learning how to handle our money and deal with debt.
Luckily, there are resources to help us along the way — like credit counselors at non-profit agencies, who are qualified to give clients free or low-cost guidance about important personal finance topics. If you choose to avail yourself of their services, it helps to prepare a list of questions ahead of your first meeting so you can make the most of your session.
Here are five questions worth asking at your first appointment.
What Services Do You Offer?
A solid first step is establishing exactly which services a credit counselor does and does not offer. Credit counselors often provide services like personalized budget counseling, financial education classes and free educational materials. Asking them to outline what they can do for you specifically will help you set accurate expectations.
How Much Do Your Services Cost?
After learning about the services available to you, ask about cost. Reputable agencies tend to provide information for free, so be wary of anyone who says they charge for these basic services. Find out if an agency you’re considering charges fees for certain services — and whether they’re one-time or recurring charges.
What Are You Noticing About My Financial Situation?
The “meat” of your session with a credit counselor should entail going over the details of your financial situation. As Magnify Money cites, reputable credit counseling generally includes three main components:
- An in-depth review of your current financial situation
- An analysis of the factors that contributed to your current financial challenges
- A plan to address your current debts so the amount stops increasing due to rising interest over time.
This is the point at which you go beyond general finance education to dig into your specific financial standing with the help of a trained professional. Make sure your counselor is prepared to help you identify problem areas and make a concrete plan to address your debts.
Can You Help Me Make a Plan for the Future?
Going over your current financial situation with a credit counselor is an excellent first step, but what happens next? Ask your counselor to help you set goals and make a firm financial plan for the future.
What Does a Debt Management Plan Entail?
After undergoing credit counseling, you may find you’re eligible to enroll in a debt management plan (DMP) through the agency. Under a DMP you’ll make fixed monthly payments to the agency, which will then distribute those funds to your creditors. The potential benefits of signing up for a DMP include lower interest rates and waived fees, plus you’ll only have to make a single payment each month. However, DMPs typically require a start-up fee and monthly maintenance fees, and you’ll need to commit to making payments for three to five years.
While it’s perfectly normal for credit counselors to inform you debt management is an option, it’s a red flag if they push you to enroll or fail to give you specifics about the program before reviewing your situation with you thoroughly.
Knowing which questions to ask a credit counselor right off the bat can help you get the most value out of your meeting and set you up for a stronger financial future. Reputable counseling agencies can be a great free or low-cost source of useful information pertaining to all things personal finance — especially for people dealing with debt.