28 CFR 58.20 - Minimum qualifications agencies shall meet to become and remain approved agencies.
To meet the minimum qualifications set forth in § 58.19, and in addition to the other requirements set forth in this part, agencies and approved agencies shall comply with paragraphs (a) through (p) of this section on a continuing basis:
(a)Compliance with all laws. An agency shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the United States and each state in which the agency provides counseling services including, without limitation, all laws governing licensing and registration.
(b)Prohibition on legal advice. An agency shall not provide legal advice.
(c)Structure and organization. An agency shall:
(1) Be lawfully organized and operated as a nonprofit entity; and
(2) Have a board of directors, the majority of which:
(i) Are not relatives;
(ii) Are not employed by such agency; and
(iii) Will not directly or indirectly benefit financially from the outcome of the counseling services provided by such agency.
(d)Ethical standards. An agency shall:
(1) Not engage in any conduct or transaction, other than counseling services, that generates a direct or indirect financial benefit for any member of the board of directors or trustees, officer, supervisor, or any relative thereof;
(2) Ensure no member of the board of directors or trustees, officer, or supervisor receives any commissions, incentives, bonuses, or benefits (monetary or non-monetary) of any kind that are directly or indirectly based on the financial or legal decisions any client makes after requesting counseling services;
(3) Ensure no member of the board of directors or trustees, officer or supervisor is a relative of an employee of the United States Trustee, a trustee appointed under 28 U.S.C. 586(a)(1) or (b) for any federal judicial district where the agency is providing or is applying to provide counseling services, a federal judge in any federal judicial district where the agency is providing or is applying to provide counseling services, a federal court employee in any federal judicial district where the agency is providing or is applying to provide counseling services, or a certified public accountant that audits the agency's trust account;
(4) Not enter into any referral agreement or receive any financial benefit that involves the agency paying to or receiving from any entity or person referral fees for the referral of clients to or by the agency, except payments under a fair share agreement;
(5) Not enter into agreements involving counseling services that create a conflict of interest; and
(6) Not provide counseling services to a client with whom the agency has a lender-borrower relationship.
(e)Use of credit counselors. An agency shall have a credit counselor provide the counseling services to each of the agency's clients. The credit counselor shall interact with the client regarding the accuracy of the information obtained from the client and the alternatives available to the client for dealing with his or her current financial situation, including the plan developed to address such financial situation.
(f)Credit counselor training, certification and experience. An agency shall:
(1) Use only counselors who possess adequate experience providing credit counseling, which shall mean that each counselor either:
(i) Holds a counselor certification and who has complied with all continuing education requirements necessary to maintain his or her counselor certification; or
(ii) Has successfully completed a course of study and worked a minimum of six months in a related area such as personal finance, budgeting, or credit or debt management. A course of study shall include training in counseling skills, personal finance, budgeting, or credit or debt management. A counselor shall also receive annual continuing education in the areas of counseling skills, personal finance, budgeting, or credit or debt management;
(2) Demonstrate adequate experience, background, and quality in providing credit counseling, which shall mean that, at a minimum, the agency shall either:
(i) Have experience in providing credit counseling for the two years immediately preceding the relevant application date; or
(ii) For each office providing counseling services, employ at least one supervisor who has met the qualifications in paragraph (f)(2)(i) of this section for no fewer than two of the five years preceding the relevant application date;
(3) If offering any component of counseling services by a telephone or Internet method of delivery, use only counselors who, in addition to all other requirements, demonstrate sufficient experience and proficiency in providing such counseling services by those methods of delivery, including proficiency in employing verification procedures to ensure the person receiving the counseling services is the client, and to determine whether the client has completely received counseling services.
(g)No variation in services. An agency shall ensure that the type and quality of services do not vary based on a client's decision whether to obtain a certificate in lieu of other options that may or may not be suggested by the agency.
(h)Use of the telephone and the Internet to deliver a component of client services. An agency shall:
(1) Not provide any client diminished counseling services because the client receives any portion of those counseling services by telephone or Internet;
(2) Confirm the identity of the client before receiving counseling services by telephone or Internet by:
(i) Obtaining one or more unique personal identifiers from the client and assigning an individual access code, user ID, or password at the time of enrollment; and
(ii) Requiring the client to provide the appropriate access code, user ID, or password, and also one or more of the unique personal identifiers during the course of delivery of the counseling services.
(i)Services to hearing and hearing-impaired clients and potential clients. An agency shall furnish toll-free telephone numbers for both hearing and hearing-impaired clients and potential clients whenever telephone communication is required. The agency shall provide telephone amplification, sign language services, or other communication methods for hearing-impaired clients or potential clients.
(k)Services to clients and potential clients with special needs. An agency that provides any portion of its counseling in person shall comply with all federal, state and local laws governing facility accessibility. An agency shall also provide or arrange for communication assistance for clients or potential clients with special needs who have difficulty making their service needs known.
(l)Mandatory disclosures to clients and potential clients. Prior to providing any information to or obtaining any information from a client or potential client, and prior to rendering any counseling service, an agency shall disclose:
(1) The agency's fee policy, including any fees associated with generation of the certificate;
(2) The agency's policies enabling clients to obtain counseling services for free or at reduced rates based upon the client's lack of ability to pay. To the extent an agency publishes information concerning its fees on the Internet, such fee information must include the agency's policies enabling clients to obtain counseling for free or at reduced rates based upon the client's lack of ability to pay;
(3) The agency's policy to provide free bilingual counseling services or professional interpreter assistance to any limited English proficient client;
(4) The agency's funding sources;
(5) The counselors' qualifications;
(6) The potential impacts on credit reports of all alternatives the agency may discuss with the client;
(7) The agency's policy prohibiting it from paying or receiving referral fees for the referral of clients, except under a fair share agreement;
(8) The agency's obligation to provide a certificate to the client promptly upon the completion of counseling services;
(9) A statement that the client has the opportunity to negotiate an alternative payment schedule with regard to each unsecured consumer debt under terms as set forth in 11 U.S.C. 502(k), and a statement whether or not the agency will provide this service. If the agency does not provide this service, it shall disclose that it may refer the client to another approved agency, and shall disclose that clients may incur additional fees in connection with such a referral;
(10) The fact that the agency might disclose client information to the United States Trustee in connection with the United States Trustee's oversight of the agency, or during the investigation of complaints, during on-site visits, or during quality of service reviews;
(11) The fact that the United States Trustee has reviewed only the agency's credit counseling services (and, if applicable, its services as a provider of a personal financial management instructional course pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 111(d)), and the fact that the United States Trustee has neither reviewed nor approved any other services the agency provides to clients; and
(12) The fact that a client will receive a certificate only if the client completes counseling services.
(m)Complaint Procedures. An agency shall employ complaint procedures that adequately respond to clients' concerns.
(n)Background checks. An agency shall:
(1) Conduct a criminal background check at least every five years for each person providing credit counseling, and
(2) Not employ anyone as a counselor who has been convicted of any felony, or any crime involving fraud, dishonesty, or false statements, unless the United States Trustee determines circumstances warrant a waiver of this prohibition against employment.
(o)Agency records. An agency shall prepare and retain records that enable the United States Trustee to evaluate whether the agency is providing adequate counseling and acting in compliance with all applicable laws and this part. All records, including documents bearing original signatures, shall be maintained in either hard copy form or electronically in a format widely available commercially. Records that the agency shall prepare and retain for a minimum of two years, and permit review by the United States Trustee upon request, shall include:
(1) Upon the filing of an application for probationary approval, all information requested by the United States Trustee as an estimate, projected to the end of the probationary period, in the form requested by the United States Trustee;
(2) After probationary or annual approval, and for so long as the agency remains on the approved list, semi-annual reports of historical data (for the periods ending June 30 and December 31 of each year), of the type and in the form requested by the United States Trustee; these reports shall be submitted within 30 days of the end of the applicable periods specified in this paragraph;
(3) Annual audited financial statements, including the audited balance sheet, statement of income and retained earnings, and statement of changes in financial condition;
(4) Books, accounts, and records to provide a clear and readily understandable record of all business conducted by the agency, including, without limitation, copies of all correspondence with or on behalf of the client, including the contract between the agency and the client and any amendments thereto;
(5) Records concerning the delivery of services to clients and potential clients with limited English proficiency and special needs, and to hearing-impaired clients and potential clients, including records:
(i) Of the number of such clients and potential clients, and the methods of delivery used with respect to such clients and potential clients;
(ii) Of which languages are offered or requested and the type of language support used or requested by such clients or potential clients (e.g., bilingual instructor, in-person or telephone interpreter, translated web instruction);
(iii) Detailing the agency's provision of services to such clients and potential clients; and
(iv) Supporting any justification if the agency did not provide services to such potential clients, including the number of potential clients not served, the languages involved, and the number of referrals provided;
(6) Records concerning the delivery of counseling services to clients for free or at reduced rates based upon the client's lack of ability to pay, including records of the number of clients for whom the agency waived all of its fees under § 58.21(b)(1)(i), the number of clients for whom the agency waived all or part of its fees under § 58.21(b)(1)(ii), and the number of clients for whom the agency voluntarily waived all or part of its fees under § 58.21(c);
(7) Records of complaints and the agency's responses thereto;
(8) Records that enable the agency to verify the authenticity of certificates their clients file in bankruptcy cases; and
(9) Records that enable the agency to issue replacement certificates.
(p)Additional minimum requirements. An agency shall:
(1) Provide records to the United States Trustee upon request;
(2) Cooperate with the United States Trustee by allowing scheduled and unscheduled on-site visits, complaint investigations, or other reviews of the agency's qualifications to be an approved agency;
(3) Cooperate with the United States Trustee by promptly responding to questions or inquiries from the United States Trustee;
(4) Assist the United States Trustee in identifying and investigating suspected fraud and abuse by any party participating in the credit counseling or bankruptcy process;
(5) Not exclude any client or creditor from a debt repayment plan because the creditor declines to make a fair share contribution to the agency;
(6) Take no action that would limit, inhibit, or prevent a client from bringing an action or claim for damages against an agency, as provided in 11 U.S.C. 111(g)(2);
(7) Refer clients and prospective clients for counseling services only to agencies that have been approved by a United States Trustee to provide such services;
(8) Comply with the United States Trustee's directions on approved advertising, including without limitation those set forth in Appendix A to the application;
(9) Not disclose or provide to a credit reporting agency any information concerning whether a client has received or sought instruction concerning credit counseling or personal financial management from an agency;
(10) Not expose the client to commercial advertising as part of or during the client's receipt of any counseling services, and never market or sell financial products or services during the counseling session provided, however, this provision does not prohibit an agency from generally discussing all available financial products and services;
(11) Not sell information about any client or potential client to any third party without the client or potential client's prior written permission;
(12) If the agency is tax-exempt, submit a completed and signed tax waiver permitting and directing the Internal Revenue Service to provide the United States Trustee with access to the Internal Revenue Service's files relating to the agency;
(13) Comply with the requirements elsewhere in this part concerning fees for credit counseling services and fee waiver policies; and
(14) Comply with the requirements elsewhere in this part concerning certificates.