Become a Certified Credit Counselor

If you’re looking for a career that is professionally rewarding and allows you to help people get their finances back on track, then you may want to learn how to become a certified credit counselor. These professionals evaluate a client's financial status, including debt and income, and make recommendations on what the client's next step should be. Credit counselors also enroll clients in debt management programs, and help them set up budget and expense tracking programs. Credit counselors may work for lenders, such as banks, or for nonprofit credit counseling agencies.[1]


Developing Skills in Finance, Communication, and Negotiation

  1. Get a degree bachelor's degree in a related field. While you may be able to find work as a credit counselor without a college degree, having one will make you much more competitive in the job market. You may not be able to find a specific degree program catered towards credit counseling, but there are many different majors you can select that will be helpful to you in pursuing this career.[2]
    • A degree in accounting, finance, economics, or math will help prepare you for a career as a credit counselor by providing you with the knowledge you need about managing money.
    • A degree in social work, counseling, psychology or a related field may also be helpful, as credit counselors must often offer advice and guidance to individuals who are going through hard times.
    • If you are just starting college, consider taking courses in more than one of these fields. You might choose one as your major and one as your minor, or even choose to double-major.
    • Courses in communications and teaching may also be helpful, as you will be required to communicate complex information to your clients in a way that is easy to understand.[3]
    • Individuals with backgrounds as CPAs, Certified Financial Planners, or lawyers are especially well-equipped to become credit counselors.[1]
  2. Have a good understanding of finances. No matter what your degree is in, it's crucial that you have a good understanding of how to crunch numbers and manage money. If you plan on providing guidance to others, you need to know how to do it yourself!
    • Certified credit counselors need to be able to help clients with things like setting financial goals and making plans, developing and analyzing financial statements, managing credit and debt, understanding financial risks, accessing financial assistance programs, investing, saving for retirement, and estate planning.[4]
    • Keep in mind that you will learn more about the specific topics related to credit counseling during your certification program, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the concepts beforehand. If you feel you are lacking these skills, consider taking a few courses in accounting.
  3. Have great people skills. In addition to the technical skills you need to succeed as a credit counselor, you will also need to be an excellent communicator. You will likely be dealing with clients from all different walks of life, some of whom are facing tough realities like foreclosure or bankruptcy, so it's important that you know how to talk to people.[2]
    • Taking a few classes in psychology or a related field may help you improve your ability to speak to clients in a sympathetic and helpful way.
    • Working in customer service is a great way to gain useful experience. If you are in school, consider getting a part-time job in retail, at the front desk of a medical office, or at a restaurant. While these jobs are not directly related to credit counseling, they will teach you how to talk to different people in different situations. You can also look for volunteer opportunities that would allow you to spend a lot of time interacting with different people.
  4. Be an excellent negotiator. If you want to work for an agency that provides debt management solutions to clients, you will need to be capable of negotiating with lenders in order to reduce or consolidate their debts.
    • Negotiating comes naturally to some people, but others may need practice to become good at it. If possible, look for a job that will give you the opportunity to practice your negotiating skills while you are pursuing your education. Working in sales may be a great way to help develop these skills.
    • Not all credit counselors offer these types of services. Some focus mostly on teaching their clients how to make good financial decisions instead of negotiating debts.

Getting Certified as a Credit Counselor

  1. Understand the benefits of certification. While it may not necessarily be required for employment, a certification in credit counseling will make you much more appealing to prospective employers. The certification program will provide you with extremely specific knowledge that will be helpful to you as a credit counselor, whereas your college degree program will have provided you with the broader background knowledge you will need.[2]
    • There are many different certification programs out there, so it's important to choose a reputable one. Many colleges and universities offer programs, as do several organization in the finance industry.
    • A certification may be even more important if you do not have a background in a related field because it will show potential employers that you are knowledgeable about credit and debt.
    • Some credit counseling agencies offer training programs for new employees, so you may want to consider applying for jobs before you pursue a certificate on your own.
  2. Check out reputable institutions for certification. If you choose to pursue a certification through an institution other than a college or university, it can be especially tricky to understand which are reputable and which are not. Be sure to do plenty of research on any program you consider. The following reputable institutions offer training programs through a variety of affiliated organizations:
    • Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE)
    • The Center for Financial Certifications
    • National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC)
    • National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC)
    • National Institute for Financial Education of America (NIFE)
    • The Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA).
  3. Choose a general or specialized certificate program. There is more than one type of credit counselor certification, so it's important to do your research and find out which one is right for you. Some programs offer generalist certificates, while others offer more specialized certificates.
    • If you're not sure of the specific type of credit counseling you want to do, it's probably best to pursue a general certificate. You can then try working in different areas to see what is most appealing to you.
    • Some specialty areas you might consider studying include student loans, housing, debt management, and financial health.[5]
    • Multiple certificates may make you even more marketable. For example, if you want to work with clients who are considering student loans, prospective employers may want to know that you have both general knowledge about credit counseling and specific knowledge about student loans.
  4. Complete the coursework for certification. Depending on the course you select, you may complete your studies online, in a classroom, or independently. Be sure to consider what format would work best for you when choosing your program.
    • Many programs offer you the ability to study at your own pace, which means you can pursue a certificate while still maintaining your normal schedule and attending to all of your responsibilities.
    • Costs for the different types of programs vary, so be sure to compare them before choosing which type of course to take.
  5. Pass your certification exam. No matter what kind of course you take, you will need to take an exam at the end in order to earn your certification.[5]
    • You will have to pay for the exam, so be sure to devote plenty of time to studying for it in order to improve your chances of passing.
    • Find out how your test will be administered before you start the program. Many offer internet-based tests, but some may require paper tests, which are typically available less frequently.

Getting a Job as a Certified Career Counselor

  1. Start looking for a job as a career counselor. Once you have the necessary skills and training to be a successful credit counselor, it's time to start looking for your first job. Start by browsing through listings on popular online job boards, such as Craigslist and Indeed.
    • Credit counselor jobs may not always be advertised, so contacting local credit counseling agencies directly is a good idea. Be sure to send a Write a Resume and personalized cover letter that detail you training and experience.
    • Networking is also very important. Try to make connections with individuals in the field in any way you can and be sure to let them know what kind of job you are looking for. Attending industry conferences and job fairs is a great way to meet people that may be able to help you in the future. Social media sites like LinkedIn make networking easier than ever.
  2. Apply to reputable credit counseling agencies. When looking for a job with a credit counseling agency, you will want to make sure that you only apply to companies that you actually want to work for. Do some research on the company in order to determine if they are reputable.[1]
    • Check to see if the agency is listed on The Executive Office for United States Trustees' website. This site maintains a complete list of credit counseling agencies that are able to provide the required credit counseling to individuals filing for bankruptcy.
    • Find out if they're accredited by a reputable third-party organization. In addition to the agencies that provide courses, the Better Business Bureau also accredits credit counseling agencies.
    • If you want to work for a nonprofit agency, check on the IRS's website to confirm that the agency has official Section 501(c)(3) status.
  3. Consider starting your own credit counseling business. Working for an established lender or credit counseling agency is a great option for certified credit counselors, but it may not be right for everyone. If you would rather be your own boss, you may want to consider starting your own credit counseling agency.
    • Starting any business is a financially risky endeavor, so be sure you can afford the start-up and operational costs. Writing a solid business plan will help you determine the feasibility of your business.
    • In order to operate as a credit counseling agency, you will need to register with your state. Each state has its own regulations and processes for applying for a license. Check with the licensing board in your state for more information.
    • You will almost definitely need a certification from a reputable agency in order to start your own credit counseling business. Some states also have other requirements, such surety bonds to protect clients.[6]
  4. Keep your credit counseling certification up-to-date. Once you have become a certified credit counselor, don't forget to keep your credentials up to date. You will have to get re-certified every two years. The exact process for renewing your certification will depend on the agency that issued your original certification.[7]
    • While it may seem like an inconvenience, getting re-certified on a regular basis is a very good thing for you because it will ensure that you stay current on the latest laws, regulations, and government programs. You will need this knowledge to effectively help your clients.


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