The services provided by credit counseling services are nothing consumers can't do by themselves. "You could do it, but it's an involved process," says Kyle Winkfield, partner with financial firm O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman and Shipp in the District of Columbia. The benefit of using an agency is that they have experience in negotiating debt payments and disputing incorrect information on credit reports. Paying an expert to do these tasks not only saves a person time, but can minimize the stress of having to navigate unfamiliar territory. "If you find a good one, they are worth more than they charge," Winkfield says.
The typical debt settlement program lasts between 24 and 48 months. One important thing to know is that entering a debt settlement program can have immediate and lasting impacts on your credit score. You’ll stop paying your creditors and your accounts become delinquent. This can lead to calls from collection agencies. National Debt Relief advises you to give its contact information to your creditors and collections agencies when you join.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires companies that sell debt relief services to explain their fees and tell you about any conditions on their services before you sign up; it also prohibits companies that sell debt relief services by phone from charging a fee before they settle or reduce your debt. For credit counseling that promises to get you into a DMP, that means the company cannot collect a fee until you have entered the DMP and made at least one payment to your creditors using the DMP.
A debt management plan sets up a payment schedule for you to repay your debts, with the goal of helping creditors receive the money owed to them and ultimately improving your financial and credit standing. By voluntary agreement, you deposit funds with your credit counseling agency each month, who sends those funds directly to your creditors. It usually takes 3-5 years to complete payments under a debt management program, after which you may be able to reestablish credit.