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How to Become a Debt Counselor

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Debt counselors, also called credit counselors, help people who are struggling with their finances. They often work for non-profit credit counseling agencies, government agencies or in a private practice. Debt counselors review client finances, help create budgets for families, negotiate with creditors and often set up payment plans to help clients get out of debt. They typically come to the job with a background in banking or finance and earn specialized industry certifications.

Get Financial Experience

To best prepare for the rigorous tests involved with certification and to boost the chances of landing a position with a reputable consumer credit association, candidates for the role of debt counselor should enter the field with prior experience in finance. Most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or economics, as well as two or more years’ experience in the field working directly with customers.

Enroll in Certification Courses

Enrolling in a program that provides training and certification for debt counselors is one of the most effective routes to take. The National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC) and the Association for Financial Counseling Planning Education (AFCPE) are two organizations that provide training through online courses and self-paced study plans. The AFCPE requires certification candidates to work in the field for 1,000 hours as well as take an exam before earning certification. Through the NACCC, debt counselors can earn a variety of credentials, such as Credit Counselor Certification, Debt Settlement Specialist Certification and the Accredited Financial Counselor Certification.

Take and Pass Exams

After completing the required courses and work prerequisites of a certification group, candidates take the exam for accreditation. Associations typically use regional proctors to give the tests at various times throughout the year at a number of locations. Skills learned in training that require proficiency include an ability to counsel families with debt problems and an in-depth understanding of bankruptcy and credit laws, debt reduction methods and mortgage rules.

Maintain Certifications with Continuing Education

Certifications require renewal at various points to ensure that counselors keep up with legislative updates regarding debt repayment and other laws concerning financial management. Members remain in good standing with associations and earn continuing education points by participating in workshops and educational training programs that are regularly offered. The NACCC, for example, keeps an updated list of continuing education programs and tracks the number of courses taken for re-certification. The AFCPE requires debt counselors to submit continuing education proof bi-annually and pay an annual fee to maintain certification.


Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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