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Feeling overwhelmed by your debt? A debt management plan might be the solution.
This debt payoff tool puts you on a path to pay off your debts — typically from credit cards — over three to five years. With a DMP, several debts are rolled into one monthly payment and creditors reduce your interest rate. In exchange, you agree to a payment plan that usually runs three to five years. Note that interest rate cuts are standardized across credit counseling agencies, based on your creditors' guidelines and your budget.
Here’s a comparison of the debt management plans at some major nonprofit credit counseling agencies.
Debt management plans: Pros and cons
Can cut your interest rate by half or more.
Helps pay off debt faster than doing it yourself.
Consolidates several debts into one payment.
Is mostly for credit card debt; can’t be used for student loans, medical debt or tax obligations.
Takes three to five years, and you’re generally unable to use credit cards or get new lines of credit while on the plan.
Missing a payment can derail the plan and end your interest rate cuts.
Is a debt management plan right for you?
DMPs aren’t for everyone. Depending on the agency, only 10% to 20% of clients end up using this debt relief option. Of those who do, about 50% to 70% complete the plan, depending on the year and how the agency reports completions.
You might consider a DMP if:
Your unsecured debt, such as from credit cards, is between 15% and 39% of your annual income.
You have a steady income and think you could pay off your debt within five years if you had a lower interest rate.
You can get by without opening new lines of credit while on the plan.
Alternatives to a debt management plan
DMPs are not always the best route for debt relief. Problem debt from student loans and medical bills will generally not be covered under such plans. Other options:
A debt consolidation loan, if you have good enough credit to qualify, can also gather debts into one at a lower interest rate. You have control over how long the loan is and retain your ability to open new credit lines.
Bankruptcy may be better if your debt is more than 40% of your annual income and you see no way to pay it off within five years. This debt relief tool can quickly give you a fresh start, and consumers' credit scores can start to rebound in as little as six months.
What you need to get started
If you think a DMP might be your best option for debt relief, start by choosing a credit counseling agency. Consider:
Certification and accreditation: Look for an agency that's a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. They require agencies to be accredited by an independent organization, and both require certification and a standard level of quality among counselors.
Access: Ask yourself how you’d prefer to receive services: over the phone, in person or online.
Cost: Fees vary by agency, the state you live in and your financial need. Before you sign up, verify how much you’ll pay each month toward your debt and in fees.