If you enter a debt settlement program, you’re essentially hiring a company to negotiate with creditors on your behalf. In order to show creditors that you’re truly unable to repay your debts (and hopefully convince them to settle for less than what you owe), the debt relief company will ask you to not make payments on your outstanding debts. During this time, interest and late fees will accrue on your loans.

Discipline yourself to make regular payments on your debts, prioritizing your smallest debt to make early wins in eliminating debts. Automate those debt payments, so it doesn’t just rely on discipline. Discipline will fail you sooner or later, so the more you can automate “good financial behaviors” like paying down debts and saving money, the more likely you are to sustain them.
This should really only be explored a last resort for debt relief before you file for bankruptcy. If you’ve tried everything else and haven’t had any success, then you can consider a debt settlement plan where you settle your debts for less than the full amount owed. This can cause significant damage to your credit score and results may vary, but it may be your best option if your situation is truly critical.
Shady. I have to work with these ” yahoos” daily as I am a debt collector. They will not accept the guidelines set by the creditors to provide settlement options to their clients. They INSIST that I take very low and unreasonable offers to creditors and even if I manage to get them approved then say THEY have to get them approved before paying out. I feel if you are making an offer to settle, it is only fair that you can fund the settlement instead of jerking around. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and is unethical. You can’t make offers to creditors that you can’t fund!
I’m about 70k in debt (which includes a car loan and student loans). I was very naive in thinking that earning a Bachelor’s degree would award me with a high paying job and I would be able to take care of this mountain of debt no problem. Of course, that’s not reality, and I make 25k a year. I’ve been working at this job for about a year and a half now, and I have FINALLY found a better paying job after a year of active searching. Although it’s not much, I’ll be moving up to 29k a year. While I pay off my 10k car loan at 250 a month, I’ve been completely avoiding my student loan debt, I don’t even look at it. Right now my loans are in deferment but I owe my first payment in August. I’m really starting to panick. I appreciated your article and found a lot of useful advice in it. I think my first step to paying off my loans will be to work as hard as possible at my new job so maybe after another year or so I can increase my salary more substantially…. Other than that I’m really at a loss for what to do. Any specific advice regarding such a high amount of student loans? (That honestly, I’m almost too embarassed to admit to in this post)
The convenient answer is: When your debt is so small that you can handle it yourself by doing a better job of budgeting; or when your debt is so large that there isn’t enough income to pay for basic living needs AND make a payment toward your debt. The truth is that everyone’s circumstances are so different that an interview with a credit counselor is the only way to know whether you qualify for a DMP.
Credit counseling organizations are usually non-profit organizations. Typically, their counselors are certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors discuss your financial situation with you and help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems.  Here are some examples of what credit counselors might do: 

If you’re looking specifically for a nonprofit credit counseling agency to work with, explore NFCC member agencies, all of which are nonprofit. NFCC member agencies are required to meet eligibility criteria that ensure they are accredited by a third party, upfront about included fees and provide consumers with counseling and financial guidance that can help them improve their finances over time.

First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 1.95% – 4.45% APR. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
Reading the complaints, now I see it wasn’t me, because sometimes. I expect more from a company, but what really upset me ,was this person who answered the phone and he pretty much said you handle that .We only have limited power of attorney. I was trying to explain the problem, but all he kept saying was “ DID I ANSWER ALL YOUR Concerns! I said yes because I knew he didn’t hear a word I said , and could give a crap less.
If you negotiate a payment plan or a settlement offer, get it in writing. And don't give creditors access to your bank account, as this could make it easier for them to get a court order to freeze your bank account or to put a lien on it -- and unscrupulous collectors could take out more money than you give permission for. Instead, send payments in the mail. 
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.
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