Reputable credit counseling organizations have staff counselors who are certified and trained. These counselors can discuss client financial situations to help them develop a personalized plan for their economic issues. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions. A reputable credit counseling agency should offer free information about itself and the services it provides without requiring potential clients to release any details about their situation.
You’ll pay a nonprofit credit counseling agency to consolidate your debts into one monthly payment, while also reducing your interest rate, in an effort to pay off your debt faster. This is a good option for consumers in credit card debt who have a steady income to repay the debt within three to five years. Unlike debt settlement, a debt management plan should help improve your credit score.
Participating in a credit counseling session will not be reflected on your credit report and it will not impact your credit score. However, changes in your financial behavior, especially after choosing a debt solution, may have a positive or negative impact on your score. For example, joining a debt management program and having your credit cards closed may initially lower your score. But making on-time payments you can afford over time, could raise your score. A study published by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that participants saw a 50 point average increase in their credit scores, 18 months after finishing the service. This gain applied to those in the bottom quartile of credit score.
This isn't good news for the millions of American consumers who struggle with mounting debts and less-than-perfect credit scores. Since carrying long-term debts increases your chances of missing a payment, running up excessive balances or damaging your credit in either ways, debt consolidation lenders don't have a very big pool of potential applicants at their disposal. Unless you've been fortunate enough to maintain a stellar credit score during your debt struggles, you might have to look elsewhere for help.
While some private companies offer this service to borrowers, many lawyers and debt settlement attorneys may also be able to help you through this process. They help borrowers reduce or eliminate their debts and will work directly with your creditors, including banks. Many of these attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning you need to pay them only if they are successful and save you money. Learn more about attorneys that settle debts.
NerdWallet recommends the 50/30/20 budget: Keep essential expenses, like housing, to 50% of your income. Then allocate 30% for wants, and use 20% for savings and debt pay-down. Since you’re focused on paying off your debt, you may decide to use money from your wants category to make extra debt payments. That will wipe out debt faster and help you save on interest.
This is paramount to mapping out a plan to pay off your debt. There are two approaches that are worth considering. The first is where you list your debts smallest to largest regardless of the interest rate. This is the method that we used to pay off $52,000 in debt in 18 months and it worked great because it helped us build momentum. When we paid off our first debt it put wind in our sails. Even though we had higher interest debts, this gave us something that was very powerful: the belief that we could get out of debt quickly if we stuck to the plan.
This year, my husband and I made a few changes… we put ourselves on a strict budget and gave ourselves a cash allowance so we wouldn’t even be tempted to use the debit cards “just to grab lunch,” squirreled our credit cards away so we wouldn’t use them, and went through TONS of stuff that we weren’t using anymore and are planning a neighborhood yard sale for the spring.
A debt-settlement firm is typically a private company that works to settle your debt with a creditor. They may charge fees upfront and promise to help you pay off debt. Beware of debt settlement companies, and if you’re unsure of the difference between a debt settlement company and credit counselor, review this chart by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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.
Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our rankings and recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view a list of partners, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser's page for terms & conditions.
Unsecured debt such as credit cards and medical bills are, by far, the most common debts associated with debt management programs. Utilities, rent and cell phone services are other types of unsecured debt that could be part of a DMP. Some installment contracts, such as country club or gym memberships also could be eligible. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how far in debt you must be to get in a program, but most creditors and legitimate credit counseling agencies say your financial situation needs to be severe. In other words, you must owe more money than your income and savings can reasonably handle. Secured debts, such as a mortgage or auto loan, are not eligible for the program.