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A retired mom wants to pay off her debts and spend money on herself.

Question: My husband and I have raised two beautiful daughters, paid their way through college, and helped pay for their weddings. Now they’re on their own, and so are we. While we were always frugal, my husband and I are still carrying $12,000 on three credit cards.

Now that it’s just us, we can afford our lifestyle. But I want to pay off those credit cards so we can enjoy our retirement. Being new to the Internet, I searched online for “how to get out of credit card debt” – and I saw literally thousands of results!  Many were for companies hawking “solutions.”

Are these companies legitimate? And if they are legitimate, how do I decide on the right one? Some say they can get me out of debt “for free”? Is that true?

— Jody, Pennsylvania

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Getting out of debt is never free, Jody. However, it should never cost you extra.

Let’s tackle your debt in the proper order. First, you should try fixing it yourself, using the same Internet that recently confused you.

That means checking out Debt.com’s financial calculators and financial education booklets to make sure you know exactly where your money is going — and how it can serve you better. Using these online resources is totally free.

In almost three decades of counseling Americans on their finances, I’ve learned that even the savviest are often leaking dollars in dribs and drabs, often without knowing it. Once you better understand where you are right now, you can accurately chart a path to become debt free.

In your case, that probably means credit counseling. You can read all the details about that on our resource page, but here are four key things to know…

Is credit card debt keeping you from success? Learn how to get your debt under control.

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Four tips to credit counseling

1. Credit counseling agencies are nonprofit. Consultations are free and fees are minimal. Never pay for a consultation, and never pay fees up front. That’s actually against Federal Trade Commission regulations.

2. Get a consultation. Since it’s free, you have nothing to lose. A counselor will ask you all about your finances, and because you used the tools I mentioned above, you’ll be able to give detailed answers. That counselor will study your situation and recommend what to do next.

3. Make sure your counselor is certified. How can you find out? Simple, just ask. If they’ve taken the test, they’ll enjoy boasting about it – because it’s not an easy test, and lying about it will get them in big trouble.

4. Check out their references. The best credit counseling services have A-plus ratings from the Better Business Bureau and recommendations from groups like the United Way.

So how do you find one of these reputable credit counseling agencies? I’ll do it for you. Click here and fill out the form.  One reason I created Debt.com was to help match up Americans with debt problems to proven, reliable companies that can help them. You’re under no obligation when you fill out that form.

Tell me what happens, Jody.

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC