Free Money Check-Up
As the new year began, you probably resolved to turn over a few new leaves. Since you’re cruising personal finance blogs, maybe one of your resolutions has to do with improving your finances. (Or maybe you enjoy reading advertisements camouflaged as informative articles! ) A good way to get started would be a comprehensive evaluation of your money situation done by an unbiased third party with some impressive credentials, don’t you think? And if that evaluation were free, well how could you say no? Get ready to say ‘yes’ then, because all you need is an email address and about fifteen minutes to take advantage of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s new MyMoneyCheckUp™ tool.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) represents the “good guys,” take my word for it. (Of course I’m biased: I worked for a time as a certified credit counselor at one of the NFCC’s member agencies!) The debt management industry is full of scammers who charge big fees and promise quick, easy fixes like credit “repair” or short-term (and very high interest) loans or high cost debt settlement you can readily do yourself. In contrast, the NFCC—the largest financial counselling organization in the U.S., founded in 1951—comprises 90 nonprofit credit counseling agencies with 700 offices throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
From the NFCC’s website:
NFCC Members, often known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) or by other names, represent accredited agencies with high standards, ethical practices, certified counselors, and policies which help consumers achieve financial stability. In 2011, more than 3 million consumers received financial counseling and education from NFCC Member Agencies in person, over the phone, or online.
NFCC Member Agencies provide a variety of services including:
- Budget counseling and education;
- Debt management plans;
- Counseling referral services;
- Financial literacy courses;
- Bankruptcy counseling and education;
- Housing counseling; and
Additionally, one-third of our members are multi-service agencies specializing in community-based social service programs such as youth mentoring, foster care, and substance abuse programs.
Access the NFCC’s MyMoneyCheckUp “self-assessment tool” through a button on the homepage of the Foundation’s website, or click right here. You have to first create an account by providing an email address and password. Then you’re off and self-assessing.
The smoothly running tool works like an interview: MyMoneyCheckUp asks questions, and you give answers. No essays! Most of the answers are multiple choice, checkbox type responses, so it’s pretty quick. Some questions ask for a numerical answer. The questions cover five major areas:
- Home (rent or own, mortgage or free & clear)
When you’re done, MyMoneyCheckUp produces feedback. I worked through the tool and gave answers I thought representative of a typical American. Here’s the feedback I got:
I’d characterize the feedback as sketchy, but that’s to be expected from an automated tool. I didn’t explore them, but as you may have noted the results include lots of links (not functional in the screenshots above) to resources where you can learn more. To me the primary value of MyMoneyCheckUp’s results is the identification of key areas where you may need to devote your energy and make changes.
What to Do With MyMoneyCheckUp™ Results
You may have have lots of questions about how to follow-up on your CheckUp results. My suggestion is to read carefully your results, including the links to additional resources. Write down your questions and ideas as you go along. Then, like the feedback suggests, make an appointment with a credit counselor at a nonprofit agency. Take your CheckUp results and your notes to your appointment.
During your appointment you’ll have the opportunity to “flesh out” the CheckUp results and create, with the counselor’s help, a real action plan.
You can find an agency near you through the NFCC’s online directory or phone 1-800-388-2227. Generally appointments with counselors at a nonprofit agency are free.
What Do You Think?
Does the MyMoneyCheckUp tool look useful, at least as a starting point to improving your finances? What reservations would you have about meeting with a credit counselor, assuming the session were free?
Disclosure: Money Counselor received no compensation for this article.