Not all credit counseling services require that consumers participate in a debt management program, and not all consumers who need credit counseling also require a debt management program.
A debt management program is a program that helps consumers with their existing debt. Qualified credit counselors will take a look at your debt and income levels, discuss options for getting out of debt, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a debt management program with you.
If it is determined that a debt management program is the appropriate plan of action for your situation, the credit counselor will develop a payment schedule with each of your unsecured creditors, in an attempt to lower the total amount of money owed, decrease your interest rates, and have over the limit and late fees removed from accounts while you are participating in the credit counseling debt management program.
How Debt Management Programs Work
When you join a debt management program, you will begin making a monthly payment to the credit counseling agency. The agency then takes those deposits and uses them to make payments on your behalf to your student loans, credit cards, medical bills and other unsecured debts- using the payment schedule that the credit counselor has worked out with your creditors.
It’s always a good idea to get the debt management program terms in writing- and then ask each creditor if they actually do offer the concessions that the credit counselor has indicated.
Successful debt management programs may take 2 years or more to pay off your debt. Your credit counselor should be able to estimate how long it will take you to completely pay off each of your existing debt, and chances are you will be required not to apply for or use any other credit while you are part of the program.
Questions to Ask before Enrolling in a Debt Management Program
Before signing a contract or making a commitment to use a debt management program, there are more questions you should ask in order to determine if the debt management program is the best option for your situation.
If a credit counseling agency only offers debt management programs as their service, you should probably consider using a different credit counseling program that can also provide assistance with budgeting and money management.
Ask how the monthly payment is determined. If the debt management payment is higher than what you can afford each month- you’re not going to make any progress by using the program. Make sure the monthly payment is reasonable enough that you can make the payment as required each month before the due date.
Find out how the debt management program makes payments to creditors. Will it be within the billing cycle and before the due date? Do they make monthly payments to creditors or are they on some other schedule? How does their payment schedule affect your debt?
Are there any debts that you currently have that cannot be included in the debt management program? Find out why, and make sure that you can afford to pay that bill on your own while still paying the proposed debt management monthly payment.
Ask the credit counselor how the debt management program will affect your credit. If they tell you they can remove negative marks on your credit report, they’re wrong. Legally, only incorrect negative marks on your credit history can be removed before the seven year period is over.
Make sure the program you are considering is a debt management program and not a debt negotiation plan as they are two very different methods, and a debt negotiation plan can have long lasting negative results for your credit report.