Anyone having debt management problems, including senior citizens, can take advantage of credit counseling. Seniors often live on fixed incomes, which adds an additional challenge to their debt issues. Legitimate nonprofit credit counseling companies tailor their services to individual clients, including seniors, and offer various options based on the client's specific financial resources and obligations.
Credit Counseling's Role
Consumer credit counselors discuss your financial situation and offer suggestions for managing your debt problems. The counselor's advice might include helping you make a budget, refer you to financial management seminars, or even negotiating with your creditors to make and administer a multi-year debt management plan. Counselors often get concessions from creditors, like suspension of late payment fees and lower interest, and their payment plans take a senior's income limitations into account. Most plans are geared to wipe out the debt completely in three to four years.
Credit counselors typically meet with clients in person, but many firms deliver services in a variety of ways, including online chats and telephone calls. This makes credit counseling readily available to senior citizens who have health or mobility problems or other issues that keep them home-bound.
Finding a Counselor
Seniors can find credit counselors through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Professional association membership, counselors trained by an outside agency and proper state licensing are all signs of a legitimate counseling company. Many firms tout their nonprofit status, but the Better Business Bureau warns that this does not automatically mean they are reputable. Check their BBB rating and note the number of recent complaints and whether they were resolved satisfactorily. Ask about the cost up front. Many counselors are affordable or provide free services, but some impose excessive fees.
Credit repair companies and debt settlement firms also offer help to people with bill problems, but Sid Kirchheimer of AARP Bulletin advises senior citizens to use credit counselors instead because repair and settlement services are costly and often ineffective. Settlement companies negotiate for lower bill payoff amounts and charge a percentage of the money saved by the client. Credit repair companies dispute questionable negative data on credit reports, but some challenge items without an appropriate reason, which causes these challenges to be dismissed. Counseling is low-cost and effective compared to other methods.
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."