The world of credit counseling is a multi-billion dollar industry populated by companies providing effective financial help such as traditional or Christian debt consolidation services and loans, among others. However, there are also illegitimate, fly-by-night companies that are only after their victims’ hard-earned money. Apart from the issue of legitimacy, only the former companies can actually help you solve the main problems you had set out to fix by availing of their consumer credit counseling services. While it is quite unfortunate that there are those who will exploit innocent individuals who really want to turn their lives around, the unfortunate truth is that there are so many companies out there that could end up further hurting your financial situation. If you are in need of financial advice and wish to implement a personal financial rehabilitation program, here are three ways to help you identify the legitimate companies from the fake ones.

Is the company an accredited one?
Companies that claim to provide consumer credit counseling services must show proof that they are affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. The NFCC is dedicated to setting industry-wide standards for debt and credit counseling. If the company website prominently features the NFCC seal, then you can be assured that the company or agency practices the high standards set by the NFCC. Another major organization that can guarantee the legitimacy of a company is the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. This type of information regarding membership in major organizations can usually be found in the “About Us” sections of the companies’ respective websites. If you are looking for companies that provide non-profit debt consolidation services, for example, you must check if the company has a a proven non-profit status, which will usually refer to being an IRS 501(c)(3)-certified non-profit charitable organization.

Does the company ask for upfront payments?
The operating principle behind seeking financial management or availing of consolidation loans or consumer credit counseling services is to allow you to defer your payments and ultimately save money as you rebuild your financial status. If the company asks for thousands of dollars in upfront payments or “signing up” fees, then you should be wary of these; they may not be sincere in helping you get out of your financial rut. Seeking payments without proof that their service is effective is unethical. Thus, companies who have this kind of policy should be avoided. Typically, a set-up fee should only be around $10; if a company makes you pay more with the promise that they can magically erase your debts in one stroke should be avoided at all costs.

Does it provide effective financial counseling?
A company that is sincere in helping you regain financial stability should be able to provide an effective and comprehensive financial management plan that is tailored to your personal situation. Your advisors should also be able to explain the full range of options including debt management, bill consolidation, or self-repayment schemes to help you get back on track. A company offering real Christian debt consolidation services, for example, will also focus on forming values and habits to help you get out of debt.