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There are plenty of scammy businesses that promise to magically erase your student loan debt. But, spoiler alert: They can’t.
The purpose of nonprofit credit counseling near you, however, is to truly help borrowers. So here are three potential sources of low-cost or free student loan advice that’s actually worthwhile:
1. The National Federation for Credit Counseling (NFCC)
The NFCC is a network of dozens of nonprofit credit counseling agencies across all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico. Although the member agencies are unique, each offers the same level of free student loan advice and support.
“The idea is to offer a holistic assessment of a consumer’s student loan repayment options,” Matt Ribe, NFCC’s general counsel and corporate secretary, told Student Loan Hero. “But to do so in the context of their broader financial picture — so understanding what their financial goals are, and also what their obligations and constraints are.”
According to Ribe, counseling sessions typically cover:
- Which loan repayment plans make the most sense for your situation
- The pros and cons of various strategies
- How repayment can fit with your other financial goals
To find a NFCC-certified student loan counselor, you can either enter your zip code in the NFCC’s agency locator or visit StudentLoanHelp.org. The latter route, Ribe explained, calls for you to create a financial profile, allowing counselors to dive right into your situation — instead of spending time gathering data.
You can then either connect with a counselor immediately or schedule an appointment for later. Most charge between $50 and $200 per session, and promise you’ll leave with a comprehensive game plan for paying back your student loans.
If that cost seems out of reach, don’t despair. Since the NFCC and its member agencies are nonprofit, Ribe noted that they can’t refuse you services because you can’t pay. So fill out your information, and if an agency determines you can’t afford its services, it’ll work with you on a fair price — which will sometimes be nothing.
“We are very proud of the service,” said Ribe. “And we hope that as many people will avail themselves of it as possible.”
2. American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC)
If you’re seeking more than just free student loan advice, you might phone an NFCC member directly. ACCC is a national nonprofit that provides a free budget and consultation before setting you up with a debt management program that could put your repayment on the right track.
ACCC counselors could also help you evaluate your eligibility or fit for…
Keep in mind that these are all things you could do on your own and without opening your wallet. Still, working with a credit or student loan counselor could give you peace of mind that you’re making the right decision.
And by working with a nonprofit like ACCC, you’ll ensure you won’t have to open your wallet very wide. If you opt for a debt management plan with ACCC, for example, you would be subject to a $39 enrollment fee that could be reduced or waived based on your situation.
Speaking of NFCC-approved nonprofit credit counseling near you — at least virtually speaking — Credit.org could be a better fit if you have debt other than student loans or are trying to improve your credit. The independent organization’s debt coaches provide clients with a free analysis, helping you to make choices like debt consolidation or debt management or even settlement.
Unfortunately, Credit.org doesn’t offer free student loan advance: The standard fee for a loan review is $125, but many other Credit.org services, including credit counseling, won’t cost a dime.
Credit.org also stands out from other nonprofits because of its suite of free online tools, including:
- Personal finance classes and how-to videos
- Virtual workshops, seminars and other events
- Financial calculators for budgeting, saving and other aims
How to pick nonprofit credit counseling near you
Free student loan advice isn’t hard to come by, but good student loan advice can be difficult to find.
To ensure you don’t fall prey to shoddy guidance or, worse, a scam, rely on NFCC-member organizations as a starting point. Agencies like ACCC and Credit.org are tried and true.
Not all nonprofits were created equal, however, so ask about their certifications and fees before signing up. You can also avoid counseling agencies that have racked up complaints by checking in with your state’s attorney general or consumer protection office.
If you’re seeking nonprofit credit counseling near you but come up empty, ask your bank or credit union about whether it offers such services. Your financial institution is just one of many places with potentially helpful advice on student loan repayment.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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