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How To Get Free Credit Counseling in California

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In a Nutshell

To receive free credit counseling assistance in the Golden State, you’ll need to research and ultimately choose a nonprofit credit counseling agency to work with. Once you’ve chosen an agency, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what to expect from the California credit counseling process.

Written by Attorney Kassandra Kuehl
Updated November 15, 2023

If you’re struggling to manage your debts, it’s important to understand that there are many free, reputable resources available that are designed to help you navigate your financial challenges. One of the best ways to begin figuring out how to manage your debt and achieve your finance goals is to participate in debt counseling, also known as credit counseling.

Credit counseling generally involves a one-on-one conversation with a certified credit counselor. Although some credit counseling organizations take a different approach, most introductory credit counseling sessions last no more than an hour. During this initial session, your California credit counselor will take time to learn about your financial situation. After evaluating your income, debts, expenses, and other unique financial circumstances, you’ll be given a recommendation regarding the next steps you can take to better your situation. No two individuals have the exact same financial problems. Depending on your unique situation, you may benefit from utilizing various money management tools, constructing a debt management program (or “DMP”), pursuing debt consolidation, or participating in bankruptcy counseling. Whether you’re skilled at managing your money and you just need a set of “fresh eyes” to help you manage your debt repayment approach or you’re unsure of how to begin handling your personal finances more successfully, a free session with a qualified California credit counselor can help you determine what steps you need to take next to better ensure a solid financial foundation for the future.

If the thought of sitting down with a credit counselor seems intimidating, know that many nonprofit organizations offer financial counseling services online and/or over the phone. As long as you are working with a reputable, licensed California credit counselor, you should feel comfortable working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency in California in any of these ways. It’s also important to know that there is no prerequisite for credit counseling in California. As long as you’re struggling to pay your household expenses and your debt payment plans, you may benefit from this type of assistance. Are you hoping to reduce your credit card debt, wipe out medical bills, raise your credit score, resolve errors on your credit report, stop incurring late fees, make your student loans more manageable, or generally benefit from receiving informed financial education? Consumer credit counseling can help set you on a path to achieve each of these goals.

How To Get Free Credit Counseling in California

To receive free credit counseling assistance in the Golden State, you’ll need to research and ultimately choose a nonprofit credit counseling agency to work with. Once you’ve chosen an agency, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what to expect from the California credit counseling process.

Find California Nonprofit Credit Counseling Agencies

It’s generally a good idea to work with certified, nonprofit California credit counseling agencies, as these organizations are both reputable and more likely to provide you with free, one-on-one services than for-profit companies are. Make sure that any organization you choose to work with offers its initial credit counseling services for free and that you’re not required to provide details of your financial situation before meeting with a counselor. When United States credit counseling agencies request payment or details about your finances before you’ve had a free, one-on-one meeting with a licensed credit counselor, consider it  a red flag and avoid working with this agency.

Information to Research Before Talking to a California Credit Counseling Agency

Before you make contact with a California credit counseling agency, take care to make sure it is accredited. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) creates and enforces accreditation standards. If the NFCC has not accredited the organization you’re looking at, consider contacting a different nonprofit. Accreditation ensures that an organization’s operations are licensed, that an agency complies with consumer credit disclosure requirements, and that it otherwise adheres to certain professional standards within the credit counseling field. In short, ensuring that you only work with an accredited organization helps to guarantee that you’re working with a legitimate operation and are therefore not going to be taken advantage of by that California credit counseling organization.  

Questions to Ask the California Credit Counselor Before Signing Up

Once you have determined which California nonprofit organizations or agencies you’d like to request more information from, it’s important to ask some basic questions before scheduling a credit counseling session. For example, you’ll want to ask how long the meeting will take, whether you need to prepare for your California credit counseling session in any way, and whether the agency can send you any free educational materials about their services. You also may want to ask about any follow-up services that the agency offers and the costs associated with these services. Your intake should always be free, but some additional services may be fee-based and it’s a good idea to research those services in advance. That way, you can ask any questions you may have about them at the end of your intake consultation.  

What to Expect During Credit Counseling?

It’s generally a good idea to prepare for your initial California credit counseling session by tracking down some key documents that will help your credit counselor gain a strong sense of what your financial challenges consist of. For example, you may want to request a free copy of your current credit report online so you can bring it to your session. This report lists your current debts and serves as a handy reference so that you don’t have to bring records of all your debts individually. You may also want to bring recent pay stubs, bank statements, and your latest tax return. Your credit counselor will be able to make a recommendation that is more personalized if they have access to as much information about your finances as possible. For example, your credit counselor is unlikely to recommend potentially valuable debt relief options if they aren’t aware of what debts are currently dragging down your family budget. Once your session has begun, you can generally expect to answer a number of questions about your current financial challenges, your priorities, and your goals before your counselor provides you with their recommendations for your next steps.

What Happens After Credit Counseling in California?

After you’ve completed your credit counseling session and received a recommended action plan, the next steps are up to you. Depending on your situation, your credit counselor may recommend that you pursue financial goals by working through a debt management plan, pursue debt consolidation, or consider bankruptcy as a way to achieve significant debt relief.

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California Debt Consolidation

If your credit counselor recommends debt consolidation, you’ll take steps to merge your numerous debt payments into one, more manageable monthly payment. Specifically, you’ll secure a loan (ideally a zero percent interest loan that will essentially serve as a balance transfer) which will allow you to pay off your existing debt; then, you’ll only have to pay off the debt consolidation balance monthly. If you to take advantage of this money management tool, consider working with a nonprofit debt consolidation company so that you don’t get stuck with unnecessarily high fees charged by many for-profit debt consolidation operations.  

California Debt Management Plan

You may also decide that pursuing a debt management plan might be in your best interests. If you work with an NFCC certified agency to create your debt management plan, you’ll send a certain sum (voluntarily agreed upon by you and your creditors) to that agency each month; the agency will then use that sum to pay your creditors directly. This is a particularly good option if you anticipate that your income will remain steady for the foreseeable future and that your debt load is unlikely to increase significantly during that time. With this arrangement in place, you’ll know that your debts are being paid, on-time and that creditors no longer have an excuse to call and harass you for overdue payments.

California Bankruptcy

If your debt is overwhelming and your income won’t support significant debt repayment, even if your debt is consolidated or subject to a debt management plan, it may be time to consider bankruptcy. Depending on your income level and the type of bankruptcy that best fits your situation, you may be eligible to have certain debts erased within a few months or you may be able to have eligible debts erased after you complete a 3-5 year repayment plan.

Written By:

Attorney Kassandra Kuehl


Kassandra is a writer and attorney with a passion for consumer financial education. Outside of consumer law, she is focused on pro bono work in the fields of International Human Rights Law, Constitutional and Human Rights Law, Gender and the Law. Kassandra graduated from Universi... read more about Attorney Kassandra Kuehl

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