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Financial struggles may come in different forms, but they can all lead to stress. Nonprofit credit counseling agencies have certified counselors who can help explain your options, develop a personalized plan and even negotiate with your creditors. Additionally, other financial assistance programs can help you decrease your overall expenses or make your bills more manageable. Here are resources to consider if you find yourself in a financial tough spot.
General Credit Counseling
Credit counseling agencies offer a variety of free and low-cost services to consumers, such as:
- Credit or debt counseling: After completing an initial review of your goals and finances, the counselor may work with you to create a budget and explain different debt management options and programs.
- Debt management plan: If you're overwhelmed with unsecured debt, such as credit card debt, a debt management plan (DMP) may be a good option. With a DMP, you may have to close your credit cards, but a counselor will negotiate with your creditors to get lower interest rates, waive fees and bring past-due accounts current. You'll then make one monthly payment to the credit counselor, who distributes the money to your creditors with the goal of paying off the balances within three to five years.
- Credit report review: If you have questions about your credit reports or scores, a credit counselor may be able to explain what's in your credit report, look for inaccuracies and give you suggestions for improving your credit.
- Required educational courses: Some agencies are approved to offer courses that you may need to complete if you want to file for bankruptcy, purchase a home through a government program or get a reverse mortgage.
Reputable credit counseling agencies are generally nonprofits and typically belong to a certification organization such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Financial Counseling Association of America. You can find local and national credit counseling organizations through these resources or by researching the U.S. Department of Justice's list of approved credit counseling agencies. You may be able to work with a certified counselor online, over the phone or in person.
General Financial Assistance Programs
Financial assistance can come in many forms, from direct payments or subsidized housing to free food and household goods. Many programs are specific to certain states, counties or cities, and eligibility can vary widely. With this in mind, here are several resources hubs you can use as starting points to find different types of assistance:
- 211: The 211 Network offers free and confidential guidance to help people find and sign up for assistance programs. You can call or text 211 to get started, or look online to see what types of assistance are offered in your area.
- Benefits.gov: This government website has a benefit finder tool you can use to see if you qualify for state or federal assistance programs.
- Feeding America: This directory can help you locate food banks and pantries that are part of the Feeding America network.
- Free legal aid: There are nonprofit legal clinics in many areas that may have consumer rights, employment and housing attorneys on staff who can answer your questions or represent you in court.
- Rent relief: Housing costs generally make up the majority of a household's monthly bills, and you may have fewer options if you're a renter. But help may be available.
- USA.gov: This government website provides information about a wide variety of government services.
Student Loan Counseling and Financial Assistance Programs
Student loans can be different from other types of debt, particularly if you have federal student loans. You may be eligible for different repayment plans, forgiveness and cancellation programs. Even private student loan lenders may offer hardship programs that allow you to temporarily stop making payments.
StudentAid.gov is the main resource for federal student loan borrowers. If you have private student loans, you can reach out to your loan servicer and ask about assistance programs.
Additionally, nonprofit credit counselors may offer student loan counseling services, which could be a good option if you're looking for personalized advice. There are also consultants and attorneys who specialize in student loans. While you may need to pay for their services, it could be a worthwhile investment if you have a complex situation or have legal questions.
Medical Bill Counseling and Financial Assistance Programs
If you're looking for help with medical care, the government resources listed above may be a good place to start. Those tools can help you determine if you may be eligible for subsidized or free health care coverage through state or federal programs.
When you already have medical debts, or if you need help with ongoing treatments or medication, other options may be available. You might consider taking one or more of the following actions:
- Ask your health care provider for discounts. Some may give you a discount if you can pay in full or make a down payment. Or, you may be able to get a low- or no-interest payment plan.
- Hire a medical billing advocate. Advocates can review your bills and negotiate on your behalf. Look through the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals and AdvoConnection directories to find several options, and ask the billing advocates about their experience with similar cases and their fees. Advocates may charge hourly, monthly, by the project or based on how much they save you.
- Look for financial assistance with bills, treatments or medications. Nonprofit organizations that focus on helping patients with similar diagnoses and needs may be able to help. Some of the many examples include: CancerCare, Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, Children's Diabetes Foundation, CR3 Diabetes Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, National Organization for Rare Disorders and Patient Access Foundation.
- Seek out patient assistance programs (PAPs). These are run by pharmaceutical companies and may be an option if you're having trouble affording medication or medical supplies. RxAssist and Medicare.gov have PAP search tools you can use to search for applicable programs.
Military Financial Counseling and Assistance Programs
Military members and veterans can look for counseling services that specifically address their needs and assistance programs that they're eligible for based on their service.
Military OneSource and the U.S. The Department of Veterans Affairs are good starting points for finding resources. For example, you can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or start a live chat through the website to get connected to counselors who can provide free personal finance, tax or legal services.
You can also connect with others to learn more. The Military Family Advisory Network has programs focused on finances, wellness and building community. There's also a subset of the personal finance blogging space that focuses specifically on military members. The Military Wallet, The Military Guide, Military Life Planning and Her Money Moves are four well-known military finance blogs.
Learn About Your Credit and Additional Resources from Experian
Experian's blog can also be a great tool if you want to learn more about building credit, managing credit and finances, and how your credit can impact your life. The blog is frequently updated with new information to address consumers' latest questions and issues, such as the COVID-19 education hub. You can also create an account and get free credit monitoring from Experian, which comes with real-time alerts, credit score tracking and access to your Experian credit report.