Bankruptcy Advice: Choosing a Reputable and Experienced Counseling Agency Often Overlooked Step
Consumers struggling with overwhelming debt need the correct guidance from approved counselors before making the life-changing decision to file for bankruptcy.
Despite the fact that all agencies must be approved by the U.S. Trustee and within the consumer’s home state, there are discrepancies between agencies – particularly when it comes to following the required pre-bankruptcy counseling protocol.
“As is the case with many industries, there are differences in the level of service and education provided by various credit counseling agencies,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling, which is based in Newton, Mass. “There are good players and bad players, and choosing the right agency is vital in the bankruptcy counseling process. Because of that reality and the fact that bankruptcy is such an incredibly complex process, consumers should be aware of the protocols and best practices among counseling agencies.”
Before consumers can file for bankruptcy, it is suggested that they speak to a bankruptcy attorney before completing their legally required pre and post bankruptcy counseling session with an agency approved by the Department of Justice.
The majority of consumers are completing their pre-bankruptcy session online leaving themselves open for misinterpretation of their financial situation. If consumers choose to complete the course online they should choose an agency that also requires a 15-minute financial de-briefing via telephone following their online session before receiving their certificate.
“This 15 minute live counseling and education de-briefing is vital for consumers so that they can learn what it means to file for bankruptcy, including an introduction to the necessary steps and potential future consequences that could result,” said Trumble.
Consumers should also be aware of the time spent during regular counseling sessions. A full counseling session with an adequately trained counselor should last between 60 and 90 minutes. Agencies are also required to discuss fees prior to any counseling session, and provide the counseling session free of charge if the consumer cannot afford to pay the fee. The agency may also not provide legal advice as to whether or not a consumer should file for bankruptcy.
Experience is another key factor. Consumers should look for nonprofit agencies that have been in the business for at least 7 to 10 years and that have adequately trained counselors who are experienced in the area of bankruptcy counseling. Make sure these agencies also have proper certification. ACCC is ISO 9001 certified through the International Organization for Standardization which ensures that our quality management system provides continuous improvement and client satisfaction. The agency should also be a member of one of two trade associations – the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
Finally, it’s always a good idea to research the agency. A brief check-in with the Better Business Bureau can be a valuable way to learn about any consumer complaints made against the agency.
“There are many unknowns for consumers as they decide whether filing bankruptcy is the best choice for them, such as risks to personal credit scores, the costs associated with filing, and the possessions a person can retain,” said Trumble. “It’s important that consumers be able to rely on experienced, validated and reputable agencies that can provide the type of education necessary in this process.
ACCC provides both the pre-bankruptcy counseling and the debtor education course that the government requires before a consumer can discharge debts through bankruptcy. Counseling is available face-to-face, online, and over the phone. ACCC rates are $29 for the pre-filing telephone or internet course and $29 for the post filing internet course. To make an appointment or get more information, call 866-826-6924 or visit online at ConsumerCredit.com.
About American Consumer Credit Counseling
American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve financial health through education, counseling, and debt management. ACCC provides individuals with practical solutions for solving financial problems and recognizes that consumers’ financial difficulties are often not the result of poor spending habits, but more frequently from extenuating circumstances beyond their control. As one of the nation’s leading providers of financial education and credit counseling services, ACCC works with consumers to help them with the best plan of action to reduce their debt and regain financial stability. ACCC is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and holds an A+ rating. It is also a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. For more information or to access free financial education resources log on to ConsumerCredit.com or visit TalkingCentsBlog.com.