Getting out of debt is a long-term commitment; there’s not an overnight solution. The most important step you can take is to develop a realistic plan and set a time-bound goal for paying down your debts. For example, you plan to pay off your $10,000 in credit card debt in three years by paying $280 toward your debt every month. However, make sure your goal is realistic for your budget. If you can’t afford that $280 per month, then you’ve set yourself up for failure and may need to consider extending your timeline to five years for a more affordable payment. Having your goal planned out and written down can go a long way to helping you successfully get out of debt.
There are other aspects of a Debt Management Plan that may impact one’s score, though. When a debtor enrolls in a debt management plan, all of his/her accounts are closed. This changes the mix of credit available to a consumer, and affects the length of one’s credit history. Those changes to the utilization rate and age of accounts can lower one’s score.
Keeping a budget helps ensure you have enough money to cover your monthly expenses. Plan far enough in advance and you can take early action if it looks like you won't have enough money for your bills this month or next. A budget also helps you plan to spend any extra money you have left after expenses are covered. You can use this extra money to pay off debt faster.
On the plus side, if you pay off a card balance that’s close to the credit limit, you may improve your “utilization ratio”—the ratio that compares your credit limits with the balances you currently have—provided you leave the card open after paying it off. But simply moving balances from one card to another is unlikely to do a whole lot for your scores.
Bankruptcy is a last-ditch attempt to settle debts. It is a legal proceeding through which you liquidate all assets in order to wipe out debt (Chapter 7) or persuade creditors to approve a repayment plan over a 3-to-5 year time frame to eliminate debt. There are severe consequences for both, including a drop of as much as 200 points in your credit score and the bankruptcy action remaining on your credit report for 7-to-10 years. A debt management program is not a legal proceeding. A notation that you are in a DMP could appear on your credit report, but there should be little impact on your credit score until you complete the program. At that time, you could expect your credit score to improve, sometimes dramatically.
There are assistance programs for car owners that have poor credit scores. Programs can help them make a payment on an existing loan or debt obligation. Or if someone has bad credit (or no credit history) and they are in the market to purchase an automobile, then assistance is available with that as well. Find a list of programs that help families with poor credit either buy a car or make a payment.
Instead of diving into debt settlement, a better option might be to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor. Credit counseling organizations can help you better understand tactics for managing and reducing your debt, including creating and following a budget. Credit counseling may not have the negative impact of debt settlement (though if you choose a Debt Management Plan, it could appear on your credit report).
Experian, one of the three major credit bureau companies in the U.S., said the impact on your score should be minimal if you and the agency making payments for you, are on-time every month. If lenders look at your full credit report while you are in a DMP, they will see that you are repaying the debt at a reduced rate and it may affect their final decision on whether to grant you a loan.