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What to ask a credit counselor

If the credit-counseling firm you hire messes up, it's your credit that takes the hit. Not to mention that one firm might charge you hundreds of dollars more than another agency doing exactly the same thing.

So it pays to shop wisely. Ask the right questions before you sign on any dotted lines.

"Understand what you're entering into," says Robin Holland, senior vice president of customer service at Equifax, a credit-reporting agency. "It's important for [consumers] to be educated and to do their homework."

The Federal Trade Commission recommends consumers ask providers of debt-management plans the following questions before agreeing to a plan:

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  • How much do I have to owe to use your services?

  • How do you determine the amount of my payment? What happens if this is more than I can afford?

  • How does your debt-repayment plan work? How will I know my creditors have received payments? Is client money put in a separate account from operating funds?

  • How often can I get status reports on my accounts? Can I get access to my accounts online or by phone?

  • Can you get my creditors to lower or eliminate interest and finance charges or waive late fees?

  • Is a debt-repayment plan my only option?

  • What if I can't maintain the agreed-upon plan?

  • What debts will be excluded from the debt-repayment plan?

  • Will you help me plan for payment of these debts?

  • Who will help me if I have problems with my accounts or creditors?

  • How secure is the information I provide to you?

-- Posted: Jan. 9, 2003

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