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If you are drowning in debt and the thought of filing bankruptcy doesn't work for you, consider working with a credit counseling service to help you get your financial life back on track.

While a credit counseling service will not eliminate your previous credit history nor offer you a debt repayment loan they will support you in providing:

• An evaluation of your personal financial situation

• A discussion of alternatives to bankruptcy, and

• A personal money/credit management plan

A typical counseling session will last about an hour and can take place in person, on the phone, or online. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Consumer Credit Counseling Services both offer counseling services free of charge for those consumers who cannot afford to pay. Otherwise, you may be charged a fee for the counseling, which will generally be about $50, depending on where you live and the types of services you receive.

Since this is such a personal matter than affects multiple areas of your life, I recommend that you do some research on the credit counseling service for your unique needs. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission suggests asking the following questions when researching credit counseling services and debt consolidation agencies:

1. What specific services are offered?

2. After helping with your immediate debt needs, will they assist in developing a long-term plan for financial freedom?

3. Is there a service fee (many non-profits charge a fee)? If so, how much and how often do you pay? (Get general terms of agreement.)

4. Will a written contract be necessary? How long will you be required to work with them?

5. How soon will they begin working with you? How soon will you see results?

6. Who regulates or supervises the agency?

7. What type of credentials are their counselors required to have?

8. How many counselors will you work with? Will you be assigned a specific counselor?

9. Will your information remain confidential?

10. How are debt repayment amounts determined?

11. How does the repayment process work? Will you receive confirmation that your creditors have been paid as agreed?

12. Will status reports of your account be made available? If so, how often? Automatically, or upon request?

13. Can the agency get creditors to lower or eliminate interest rates and finance charges or waive late/over the limit fees?

14. What happens if you cannot maintain the agreed-upon plan?

15. Will any debts be excluded from the plan? If so, which ones and why? Is there a program the agency offers to help repay the excluded debts?

Most bankruptcy cases can be avoided with proper help from qualified credit counselors, the process will often require you to make some adjustments in your spending and lifestyle and even seem like you're taking the step backward. However the end result will get on more solid ground financially. To get started by interviewing the credit counselors at NFCC, call (301) 589-5600, or visit and for CCCS, call (800) 251-2227, or visit for more information.

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