In a Nutshell: Debt is a serious problem for millions of Americans. Boosting one’s income or becoming a financial expert would certainly help folks get out of debt, but this is easier said than done. Thankfully, organizations like Advantage Credit Counseling Service are there to provide consumers with valuable credit counseling and debt management services. The nonprofit has helped more than 400,000 consumers since it opened its doors in 1968. The Pennsylvania-based organization is available online to residents in most states. In addition to its free credit counseling and Debt Management Program, which is available for a small fee, the nonprofit also offers bankruptcy counseling and housing counseling services.
For millions of households, keeping a monthly budget in the black is an ongoing challenge. Unexpected expenses, dips in income, or even rent increases can derail precariously positioned budgets.
And once someone falls into debt, getting back out can be extremely challenging. High interest credit cards or short-term loans often do more harm than good in the long run. Consumers end up in an even worse situation than where they started because it can be hard to pay down the principal balance of these types of lines of credit.
Mounting debt can also lead to increased stress that can take a toll on relationships and a person’s mental and physical health.
Thankfully, most people have a number of paths they can take that can lead them out of debt. Many financial literacy resources are accessible online to help people learn to navigate debt issues. Taking on a part-time job and boosting income can also help.
But these options take time and effort that many people don’t have available in their day-to-day lives.
Another valuable option is using a service like Advantage Credit Counseling Service, a nonprofit counseling agency that has helped more than 400,000 clients become debt-free.
“One client named Andrew just finished our Debt Management Program. He paid off a little over $20,000,” said Advantage Credit Counseling Service Online Marketing Specialist Lauralynn Mangis. “And he told us, ‘You saved my family. You’ve taught me so much about finances — I couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you so much.’”
Mangis said this is just one of many examples of satisfied clients who have used the nonprofit’s services over the years.
“It’s amazing to hear stuff like that, and to know that we’ve actually helped somebody,” she said.
Offering Credit Counseling for More Than 50 Years
Advantage Credit Counseling Services was founded in 1968, Mangis said.
“We’re one of the longest-running nonprofit credit counseling agencies out there,” she said. “We’re members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the Council On Accreditation, and we have a BBB A+ rating — all that great stuff.”
Mangis explained that Advantage Credit Counseling Services maintains five locations throughout Pennsylvania, but the nonprofit is licensed nationally. She said there are a few states where the agency is not licensed, but it is available to consumers in the vast majority of states.
“As a certified nonprofit credit counseling organization incorporated in 1968, Advantage Credit Counseling Service educates consumers about wise debt management and the responsible use of credit through an effective debt management program,” according to the organization website. “The agency enlightens and assists thousands of people each year through free, confidential credit counseling, debt management, and various community education presentations.”
These services ultimately enhance clients’ lives, their family stability, and the communities in which they live and work.
“Advantage Credit Counseling has been designated a certified comprehensive housing counseling agency by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),” according to the organization. “The agency is also a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the umbrella association for over 150 credit counseling agencies nationwide.”
It is also approved by the Executive Office of the United States Trustees (EOUST) to provide the mandatory prefiling counseling and predischarge bankruptcy education course, and issue bankruptcy certificates for both services.
Providing a Debt Management Program, Bankruptcy Counseling, and Housing Counseling Services
Mangis discussed what Advantage Credit Counseling Service offers clients.
“We do nonprofit credit counseling, and that is always free,” she said. “There are never any charges for that.”
In fact, the nonprofit is the industry leader in online credit counseling, according to the company website.
“If you’re in debt and feeling overwhelmed by your financial obligations, you’ve come to the right place,” according to the nonprofit. “Our team of compassionate and professional credit counselors understands where you’re coming from. They have helped hundreds of thousands of people over the years, all with unique financial situations, and now they’re ready to help you.”
The organization also offers its Debt Management Program, which is accompanied by some fees, Mangis said.
“But we would never turn anyone away,” she said. “If they weren’t able to pay, at the end of the day, we’re still a nonprofit. And the fees are very, very minimal. It all depends on how many creditors you have on the program and also the state in which you reside.”
Advantage Credit Counseling Service acts as an advocate for clients going through the Debt Management Program and helps them achieve financial freedom.
“Debt management plans will include a money-spending plan based on your income, expenses, and lifestyle, which will help you manage the debt you have today and the money you’ll make tomorrow,” according to the company. “Debt management is an affordable and easy way to recover from all of your unsecured debts. In some cases, our counselors may be able to offer a debt management program in cooperation with your creditors that will lower your monthly payments and reduce your total debt.”
The nonprofit also provides bankruptcy counseling services and certificates — again for only a minimal fee. And it offers housing counseling for those looking to purchase a home or for clients who may be facing challenges in their current situation.
“Common challenges include understanding your financing and loan options, preventing the threat of foreclosure, and realizing the true cost of homeownership,” according to the company. “That’s why Advantage CCS is here to help you with personalized housing counseling services. Whether you’re looking to buy, trying to avoid foreclosure, or interested in refinancing to a reverse mortgage, we are on your side and our housing counseling services are here for you.”
Words of Advice for Those Preparing to Tackle Debt
Mangis also provided some insider tips for people who may be ready to tackle their debt and are considering credit counseling or a debt management program.
“One of the main things to know is that, usually, all of the cards that are on our Debt Management Program have to be closed,” Mangis said. “A lot of people have a hard time with that because a lot of people are dependent on credit cards.”
She said this can give some people pause, but the decision is out of the nonprofit’s hands.
“It’s basically the creditor saying, ‘Hey, if you’re going to go on this program, we don’t want you to be able to rack up any more debt so we’re going to close this account and give you some concessions like lower interest rates, and no fees to try to help you get out of it,’” Mangis explained. “That’s one thing people should know on a debt management program.”
And because people’s accounts — some that may have been open for 15 to 20 years — are being closed, consumers may see a drop in their credit score at the beginning of the program.
“But over time, as they start paying off their debt, and their debt-to-income ratio gets better, they’re going to start to see the credit score increase,” Mangis said. “We see so many people that, when they finish their debt management program, they have a better credit score than they ever had before because all that debt is gone and all their payments are made on time.”
Mangis said that it’s important for consumers to understand this going into a debt management program because it can seem scary at first, but in the long run consumers will benefit greatly.