With so many people facing mortgage strain, credit crunch, and general economic stress, mortgage assistance and credit repair places are popping up all over. Some of these places really are legitimate. Unfortunately, there are a lot of groups out there which are scams or will charge you large sums for services you could have gotten at nonprofits.
Two Warning Signs
1. They charge for the service. Many credit and loan counseling agencies out there are run by nonprofits are charge little or nothing for their assistance. Before paying, look into other options. At best they’re simply charging for what you might get elsewhere for free. At worst, they’re a fly-by-night scam.
2. It sounds to good to be true. If a group offers to repair your credit in a few months, or get payments on your $350,000 mortgage down to $200/month, or eliminate your credit card debt–and they charge–run away. It is possible to negotiate with credit card companies, mortgage companies, etc, for lower payments perhaps even lower interest rate. And counseling can help you out with that. But if what they’re promising sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Neither of these signs is conclusive proof that something wrong with the group. But they’re both good reasons to look elsewhere. You can also check out any group at the Better Business Bureau and you should be able to find out if others have reported problems. But lack of an entry/complaint doesn’t prove legitimacy.
Four Non-Profit Options
CNN recent suggested four non-profit options for people facing mortgage/credit/financial problems:
1. The Homeownership Preservation Foundation. As their name suggests, this group is primarily concerned with helping people pay their mortgages. You can call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) and get a counselor who works with you as long as you need.
They can also assist you in finding resources and groups for other financial issues, so if you’re worried about credit card debt and other options aren’t working out, give them a call.
2. SCORE. SCORE provides financial counseling to small businesses. While you may not think of yourself as a small business owner, you might qualify in some fashion. For example, if you’re a SAHM who tutors or you earn part of your income through blogging, you may be eligible. They have options to meet in person and counsel by e-mail.
3. Avvo. Avvo.com offers free legal advice from actual, vetted lawyers. You can post questions and often get several responses. So if you’re wondering whether an old debt still needs to be paid, or whether what someone told you about credit collection is true, you can find out. It’s a great alternative to Yahoo Answers, message boards, and blogs.
4. Credit Unions. Many credit unions offer special assistance for their members. Since credit unions can be found all over the US, you can try finding one in your local area and asking what they offer. It might be worth joining.
You may be able to find more options in your area by asking your church or religious organization (preferably someone in leadership who can recommend a place which has helped other members), your bank, your local Better Business Bureau site. The first two might even offer credit counseling. The BBB for my area has a directory which allows you to find organizations in a category and check out their rating.