How to Get Free Credit Counseling in Illinois

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Written by Kassandra Kuehl.  
Updated December 4, 2019

Summary

To better ensure that you can trust the advice you receive during your Illinois credit counseling session, you’ll need to do careful research before committing to working with a specific credit counseling program. Once you feel confident in the Illinois nonprofit organization you’ve chosen to work with, you’ll need to gather documents to bring to your counseling session and prepare for your next steps. 

When bills begin piling up and it becomes difficult to cover household expenses while making regular debt payments, it can be hard to fight the urge to panic. Your financial situation impacts most areas of your life, so it can be devastating to realize that your income isn’t stretching as far as you need it to, no matter how hard you work. Thankfully, you don’t have to navigate these financial challenges alone. You can take advantage of a free credit counseling session with a certified credit counselor. You don’t need to do anything to qualify for this free assistance. All you need to do is choose an accredited, nonprofit credit counseling organization in Illinois that you’d like to work with and ask to schedule your free session. Your session will probably last for an hour or less. During that time, your credit counselor will ask you questions about your debts, financial goals, current income, monthly expenses, and any other financial challenges you may be grappling with. The counselor will also review any documents you have brought with you, like a current copy of your credit report and your most recent tax return. After evaluating your finances, the credit counselor will give you a personalized, step-by-step action plan to help you manage your debt and get on top of your expenses. Depending on your needs, credit history, debt load, and other factors, your recommendations may include additional debt counseling, a debt management plan, debt consolidation, or filing for bankruptcy. However, you won’t be obligated to follow through with any of these recommendations. The choice to act on this informed guidance or to seek alternative paths forward is always up to you. Additionally, the organization you’re working with may be able to help you with additional steps directly, possibly for a small fee. But regardless of whether you work with this organization in any capacity going forward, your initial credit counseling session will be free.

How to Get Free Credit Counseling in Illinois

To better ensure that you can trust the advice you receive during your Illinois credit counseling session, you’ll need to do careful research before committing to working with a specific credit counseling program. Once you feel confident in the Illinois nonprofit organization you’ve chosen to work with, you’ll need to gather documents to bring to your counseling session and prepare for your next steps.


Find Illinois Nonprofit Credit Counseling Agencies

When you work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, you can rest assured that your initial financial counseling session will be conducted for free. It’s important to select an Illinois credit counseling organization that is both nonprofit and accredited by the NFCC as the operations of these agencies are subject to strict oversight. By contrast, the credit counseling services offered by for-profit companies often take advantage of participants. As a result, when researching which Illinois credit counseling organizations you may want to work with, make sure to narrow your options to those that are nonprofit operations and are NFCC accredited.

Information to Research Before Talking to an Illinois Credit Counseling Agency

If an Illinois credit counseling agency operates as a nonprofit and is accredited, it’s almost certainly trustworthy. However, you’ll gain even greater peace of mind if you research the reputation of any organizations you are thinking about working with. If an agency has a perfect (or nearly perfect) record and isn’t the subject of “red flag” notices from the state’s consumer protection division or the Better Business Bureau, you’ll be able to feel confident about your partnership. You may also want to go onto the website of any agency that interests you, so you can get a stronger sense of how it operates and what its values are.

Questions to Ask the Illinois Credit Counselor Before Signing Up

To make the most out of your Illinois credit counseling session, make sure to ask the agency’s scheduler if your consumer credit counselor needs you to do anything in particular to prepare for your meeting. You may be asked to fill out an intake form or to complete other paperwork in advance of your session. You’ll also likely be asked to bring important financial documents to your meeting, including a copy of your current credit report (which may help determine your current credit score), recent pay stubs, bank statements, and last year’s tax return. The more detailed financial information you can provide your credit counselor with, the more personalized your financial action plan is likely to be. Also, make sure to confirm the time and place of your meeting so that you don’t accidentally miss it.

What to Expect During Credit Counseling

Unless you’re told otherwise, prepare for your Illinois credit counseling session to last no longer than an hour or so. Once you arrive, your credit counselor will ask you about your income and expenses, as well as your financial goals and current financial challenges. You’ll be asked to provide information about your debt load, including any medical bills, student loans, credit card debt, real estate holdings, and other financial burdens you may be juggling. Your counselor will also review the financial paperwork you’ve provided. Once your finances and goals have been assessed, the credit counselor will prepare a personalized action plan designed to help you move toward your financial goals manageably and with intention.

What Happens After Credit Counseling in Illinois

Now that your Illinois credit counselor has constructed recommendations with your unique financial problems and financial goals in mind, it’s up to you to act on these recommendations or to make an informed decision to “go another way.” Certified credit counselors are skilled in money management and debt repayment solutions, so the recommendations you received at the end of your consumer credit counseling session are worthy of strong consideration. However, the decision to pursue additional debt counseling, debt consolidation, a debt management plan, bankruptcy, or any other recommendation is ultimately up to you.

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Illinois Debt Consolidation

If your personal finances could benefit from paying off your debts right now so that you can make a single low or zero interest loan payment each month, your Illinois credit counselor may have suggested that you pursue a debt consolidation process. Debt consolidation allows you to avoid accruing interest, monthly fees, and late fees per the terms of your existing debt agreements. Under this plan of action, you’ll only be responsible for remaining current on a single monthly loan payment. This is often a great option for individuals with access to steady income, who don’t anticipate needing to go into debt again for a significant amount of time. 

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Illinois Debt Management Plan

If you’re concerned about securing a debt consolidation loan, you may benefit from working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency in Illinois to construct a debt management plan instead. Like a debt consolidation action, a debt management plan will allow you to make a single debt payment each month. A credit counseling organization will communicate with your creditors to set up payment plans (often featuring waived late fees, reduced monthly fees, etc.) for your existing debt. You’ll then make a payment to that Illinois credit counseling agency each month, which will pay your creditors according to the plan you’ve constructed together.

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Illinois Bankruptcy

If your Illinois credit counselor has recommended that you look into bankruptcy counseling and filing for bankruptcy, it’s important to understand that there are different types of consumer bankruptcy you may be eligible to file for. If you don’t earn much income, you may be able to erase your eligible debts in as few as 90 days by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Otherwise, you can pursue a debt repayment plan through Chapter 13 bankruptcy and have your eligible debts erased after 3-5 years of compliance with that payment plan. Especially if your debts are overwhelming, bankruptcy can serve as a life-changing debt relief option.

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