Struggling to pay your credit card bills each month only to discover your balances aren’t budgeting can be stressful. Falling behind, or finding yourself charging more on your credit cards just to stay afloat, can be overwhelming.
If you find yourself in that “overwhelmed” category, a debt management plan may be a good option for you. Debt management plans are available through profit credit counseling agencies that are members of organizations such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.
When you enroll in a debt management plan (DMP), you make a monthly payment to the counseling agency and it pays your participating creditors on your behalf. You pay a small monthly fee to the credit counseling agency for their help. (This fee may be waived if you can’t afford it.)
If you have multiple credit cards with balances, a DMP can simplify things because you have just one payment to make each month to pay all your participating credit card issuers, and often that payment will be made automatically from your bank account.
A credit counselor also may be able to negotiate lower interest rates with your creditors and get late payment fees and other fees waived, which will help to lower your monthly payment amount. Because of the lower interest rate, more of your monthly payment will be applied to your outstanding balance and this will help to speed along your repayment. For example, one agency reported that clients reduced their monthly interest payments by an average of $209.81 and their total monthly payments went down an average of $172.48 each month. (Cambridge Credit Counseling Transparency Report #8).
How Does Credit Counseling Affect Your Credit?
While paying down debt in a responsible and timely manner is ultimately good for your financial life and your credit, participating in a debt management plan may have a somewhat negative impact on your credit during the course of the program. It seems counter-intuitive — after all, you’re getting a handle on your debt, shouldn’t you be rewarded?
The negative impact is due to the fact that you must close your accounts while in the program and this can affect your debt usage ratio. This factor accounts for about 15% of your credit scores. (On the flip side, paying down your debts will improve your overall debt levels. Some consumers see their scores improve during and after one of these programs.)
You should also consider that a potential landlord or employer who pulls your credit report will be able to see that you are enrolled in a debt management plan. Be prepared to explain why you are doing that, and how it will help your overall financial health.
Because of this, debt management plans make the most sense for people who are struggling with high-interest debt, especially those who are making little to no headway paying down debt on their own, or who are worried about falling behind on their payments.
If you successfully complete a DMP, however, your balances will be paid off and you will be able to start saving the money you were paying on them toward other financial goals.