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A few years back, I was a recent college grad with student loans, 3 credit cards—and about $12k of credit card debt. I was surprised how little it took to get there—just a little bad luck (vet bills, car repairs and a move), and a lot of small(ish) mistakes, like not paying attention to my interest rates and spending just a little beyond my means.

My boyfriend at the time had credit card debt, too and ended up getting help through a debt counseling nonprofit. They looked at his debt and finances, talked to his issuers and helped consolidate his payments into one monthly amount. It sounded kind of fishy to me (who would do that for free or cheap?), but it was legit and I ended up turning to the same company for help. They helped me pay off my balance over 2 years and become debt-free.

If you’re considering debt counseling or management, here are a few things to ask yourself first:

  • How much help do I need? There are a lot of free and low-cost services out there. Which do you really need? If you can create a plan for repaying your debt on your own, awesome! Tools like this credit calculator can help.
  • What are the drawbacks? Some programs and support can cost a fee, so make sure to ask about costs before signing up. Also, some actions (like enrolling in a debt management program or filing for bankruptcy) can show up on your credit report, so it’s important to ask whether that will be the case.

It’s kind of amazing the options out there. For more on managing debt like a pro, check out

by Variny Paladino

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