During Oprah's Debt Diet, our experts helped three families tackle their debt with a step-by-step plan to financial freedom. Not everyone can have a money expert move in—but if you're drowning in debt and are afraid you can't get out alone, David Bach says a nonprofit counselor may be the next best thing.
Four years ago one, of my closest friends, Bill, came to me to share he was more than $100,000 in credit card debt. Bill needed more then a Debt Diet—he needed professional nonprofit consumer counseling. Fortunately, that's exactly what he got, and last month Bill became officially debt-free! Bill's not alone. Each year, millions of Americans turn to nonprofit credit counseling to help them get out of credit card debt. When people turn to these organizations, they have, on average, more than $20,000 in credit card debt. With that said, you don't need to be this far in debt to get professional help. I'm an advocate of getting nonprofit credit card counseling if you feel you can't get out of debt yourself. If you're having trouble paying your bills on time, are only making minimum payments or have skyrocketed interest rates on your cards and can't make a dent in the debt, it may be time to get some professional help. The key, however, is to get "trustworthy, honest help" from a reputable nonprofit credit counselor. Let's take a look at what these organizations can do for you.
1. Offer you a free debt counseling session
In my experience of interviewing nonprofit organizations, the good ones will work with you for at least an hour to an hour and half to review your entire debt situation and overall financial position for free. If there is an up-front fee, it will be very small—less then $100. Before the counselor gets into the nuts and bolts of your situation, he will most likely start with a "holistic approach" to understand your situation better. He may ask you a question like "What brings you to us today?" This question helps to break the ice and, equally importantly, allows the counselor to really hear your story so he can coach you appropriately.
2. Help you look closely at where your money really goes
Once the counselor has asked you what brought you to the nonprofit, it's time to look specifically at your finances. He will look at what you earn and what your expenses are. Then, he will look closely at your debt, how much you have, what your interest rate is and what you are wasting in late fees and over-the-limit fees. After doing all this work with you, he be able to access if he believes you are in a financial position to get out of debt with their assistance, require a DMP (debt management plan) or need to consider bankruptcy.