Debt Management: Take Counsel With Caution

With credit-card debt at record levels, the number of consumer credit-counseling agencies has mushroomed--and so have deceptive practices, say two advocacy groups, the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer Law Center.

Credit counselors offer services from budget advice to hands-on bill management. Signs that you may benefit from such help can be obvious--you're behind on payments--or more subtle--you spend more than a quarter of your after-tax income on nonhome, noncar debt. There's no quick way to check an agency because the industry is largely unregulated. But here are some pointers:

--Fees are rising nationally. Insist on finding out about...

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