Choose a Debt Management Program
If your finances have taken a turn for the worse and you find yourself drowning in debt, a debt management program may help you keep your head above water. These programs, also known as debt management plans or DMPs, are a form of debt relief in which a counseling agency works with your creditors to reduce your monthly payment to a level more suitable to your current situation. A DMP may be able to help you negotiate lower interest rates, get late fees waived, work out a payment schedule that's acceptable to you and your creditors, and consolidate your monthly payments into one. However, keep in mind that all DMPs charge fees, and some can be excessively expensive or even fraudulent.
Deciding to Enroll in a Debt Management Program
- Take advantage of free credit counseling. The best kept secret in the debt management industry is that you can do most of the things debt management agencies do and avoid paying their fees. Credit counseling is a mandatory prerequisite to enrolling in a DMP. Credit.org offers credit counseling at no charge. Many debtors find that credit counseling alone can help set them on the path to being debt free.
- Try to manage your debt yourself. Even without the help of a credit agency, you can make a household budget, reduce unnecessary expenses, and prioritize your debts. You can also call your creditors to request them to waive late fees, reduce interest rates, and/or work with you on a payment schedule. You can also ask about debt re-aging, also known as rollback or curing. This process can report past-due accounts as current, which can help you avoid delinquent status. Many times creditors will be happy to work with you if you make a good-faith effort to pay them.
- Weigh the pros and cons of signing up for a DMP. While credit counseling is free and does not affect your credit score, enrolling in a DMP may be expensive in the long run and negatively your credit if debts are settled for less than their original value. You will also not be able to use your credit cards for the duration of your time enrolled in the DMP. However, you also need to keep in mind that working with a credit counselor or debt management company can provide some unique benefits. There are plenty of creditors who won't work with you directly but will work with you through a DMP. Similarly, the "concessions" given to you by the creditor (lower interest rates and waived fees) might be better and help you save more money in the long-term if you opt to go through a credit counseling agency.
Finding a Reputable Agency
- Find a good credit counselor. Almost all DMPs are administered by consumer credit counseling agencies--so much so, in fact, that the terms "credit counseling" and "debt management" are often used interchangeably. Thoroughly researching the agency is the most important thing to do before deciding to enroll in their debt management program. The FTC has put together a simple guide to help you get started and choose the right plan.
- Look for a licensed, accredited, non-profit agency, and be sure to verify that they are currently licensed in your state (unless you're in a state that doesn't require licensing), have current accreditation and that they do indeed have non-profit status. Understand, however, that while these measures can help establish a firm's legitimacy, they are no guarantee, and you still need to research the agency. Note also that a non-profit company does not mean that they do not charge for their services, it only means that the company will distribute all profits to the corporate officers at the fiscal year end, thereby zeroing their profit.
- Find out exactly how the company's program works. The terms "debt management," "debt consolidation," and "debt negotiation" are often used interchangeably, sometimes in an effort to confuse or deceive people and sometimes quite innocently.how to consolidate loans. They do, however, refer to three different options, so regardless of what a program is called, find out what it is. For more information on the differences between these options, check out
- Make sure the company requires complete information from current statements before giving you a quote. The debt counselor will need you to provide all your current credit card and loan statements before they can tell you how much your monthly payments will be or how long it will take to complete the program. Beware of anyone who gives you a quote without thoroughly researching the following first:
- your account statuses
- creditor names
- balance transfer, cash advance and large purchase activities
- minimum payment amounts
- interest rates
- Avoid large fees. Fees are inevitable when it comes to services related to finances but still, keep your eyes on the lookout for unusually large fees. Find out about the proper price range of fees and stick to it. Unusually large fees are not only signs of frauds and scams, it might also pull you deeper into debt.
- Avoid outrageous upfront fees. A small initial fee (up to $50 or, in rare cases, as much as $100 if you have a lot of debt or high income) is normal, but large upfront fees are out of line. If any agency asks for a fee (or donation) make sure that you know what it will cover, and get it in writing. Find out if you'll have to pay any additional fees to start the program. Don't get tricked into paying one "consultation fee," and then an "application fee" or "an enrollment fee." If you're truly unable to pay, look for an agency that is willing to waive the fee or spread it out (without charging additional fees for doing so).
- Avoid high monthly fees. Most debt management plans charge a nominal monthly fee to cover the administrative expenses. Depending on the number of creditors you have, the monthly fee may vary, but it generally should be between $2-5 per creditor or, at most, not more than $50 per month. Make sure the agency doesn't charge any other maintenance fees (i.e. an annual fee) in addition to monthly fees.
Making Sure You are Protected
- Find out how payments will be disbursed to your creditors. Fraudulent debt management companies are notorious for sending payments late and getting their clients into trouble with creditors. Make sure the agency will send your payments to creditors on time and within the correct billing cycle. Ask how soon they will disburse your payment after they receive it, and find out how you can track the payments made. They should send you a statement each month or have some way for you to look it up online.
- Accept a plan only if you can fulfill your requirements. If you can't make the monthly payment the program requires, don't enroll. Ask if they can get it any lower, contact your creditors yourself, and/or check with another debt management agency. Again, be aware that many debt management plans require you to avoid taking on any additional debt or at least any additional revolving credit debt (i.e. credit cards, store charge accounts). Understand the terms and conditions, and make sure you can follow through on them.
- Get everything in writing. Before enrolling in a plan, make sure you get a contract. Get all verbal promises in writing, and read the contract very carefully to make sure the terms are the same as those you discussed. Watch very carefully for hidden fees. If a company won't send you a contract before you make your first monthly payment, don't pay them and go elsewhere for help.
- Check with the Department of Justice. Beginning October 17, 2005, all bankruptcy debtors have to go through approved credit counseling. Credit counseling agencies must be approved and are monitored by the Justice Department.
- A process of negotiation will occur between your debt consolidation agency and your lenders. Many reputable debt agencies will have considerable negotiating power with your lenders and will be able to help you in both the short and long term. There is no guarantee, however, that the negotiation will be successful. Lenders do not have to accept reduced repayments or altered terms.
- On rare occasions, a creditor will require that you make a payment to the debt management or credit counseling agency before they will accept the proposed plan. If an agency tells you this, however, call the creditor to verify it, and make sure the payment will in fact be sent to the creditor.
- Continue to make payments to your creditors until you are certain that they have accepted the debt management program and you know when the debt management agency will pay the creditors. If you miss payments in the meantime, you may incur further charges and the creditors may back out of the agreement.
- This article is intended to provide general guidelines only and is not intended to replace professional legal or financial advice. Individual financial circumstances vary, and you need to choose an option that works best for you
- It cannot be stressed enough that you need to take the time to thoroughly research your options. If you fail to do the proper research and get taken by a fraudulent or deceptive company, it is you who will lose money (sometimes a lot of money) and have to face the consequences.
- Get Credit Counseling
- Make a Debt Management Program Work for You
- Choose a Credit Counseling Agency
- Get Out of Debt
- Consolidate Loans
- Prioritize Your Debts
- Repair Your Credit
- File Bankruptcy in the United States
- Avoid Property Repossession
- Start Living Frugally
- Get the Best Debt Settlement
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://credit.org/debt-management-plan/
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