Consolidated credit programs allow you to consolidate debt, regardless of how much debt you have or your credit score. You work with a certified credit consolidation agency to develop a consolidated debt repayment plan that fits your budget. The program freezes your accounts while you’re enrolled, which helps you break your credit habit and learn better ways to budget for everyday expenses.
While your credit score may suffer if you’re falling behind on monthly payments before you get your debt management plan set up, starting your plan should provide some relief. Your credit score should increase as you begin making regular monthly payments and your debt balances drop. Experian does note that you may see some negative side effects when accounts are closed, usually due to changes with your credit utilization rate or credit mix.
There's also an important caveat: You need to determine if the lender you're thinking about repaying charges a prepayment penalty for early payoff. Some personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages charge if you pay off your debt before the designated time. If so, you may not want to put that debt on your early payoff list, as any money saved on interest might be lost to the penalty.
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.
Many have heard of the tremendous benefits of compounding interest regarding investments before. However, when related to debt, compounding interest works against you as interest builds upon growing outstanding balances. This means that the longer you hold higher-interest debt, the harder it is for you to get out of debt. A higher-interest debt will cost you much more over time and should be your highest priority in paying off. Typically, credit card debts and personal or small business loans will have the highest interest rates.
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.