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What Is A Debt Management Plan?


If you have out-of-control debt, you probably have made an attempt or two to pay it down. But a debt management plan (or DMP) is a much more organized plan of attack.

You usually enroll in a DMP through a credit counseling agency, where a credit counselor works with your creditors to come up with a schedule of monthly payments that gets you out of the red without defaulting on your credit cards or loans.

CNBC Select explains how debt management plans work, how they can affect your credit and what alternatives you should consider.

Guide to debt management plans

How a debt management plan works

To get into a debt management plan, you need to start working with a credit counseling agency. These non-profit organizations offer services, programs and classes that offer education on financial topics at low cost or free of charge. You can find a reputable agency through the National Federation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

After you schedule a credit counseling session, a certified counselor will evaluate your financial situation. Based on that, they will recommend the next steps which may include a debt management plan. If that’s the case, they will enroll you in the program and negotiate with your creditors on your behalf to set up a new repayment plan. Note that generally, only unsecured debt is eligible for enrollment.

You’ll typically pay a one-time enrollment fee (usually between $30 and $50) and an ongoing monthly fee ($25 to $50 per month). Note that this monthly fee doesn’t include whatever you’ll have to pay toward your debt. Your credit counselor will then work with your creditors to lower the interest rates on your accounts (or waive fees) to help you fully repay your debt within three to five years.

The agency handles payments to all accounts enrolled in the program. You’ll receive a single monthly statement and send payment funds to the agency which will pay creditors on your behalf. As a part of the program, you’ll have to close any credit cards included in the plan. Further, your creditors might require that you stop using cards that aren’t part of the plan while you’re in the program.

Does a debt management plan affect credit scores?

Your creditors might note on your credit reports that you’re using a DMP to pay the account, but it won’t directly affect your credit score. However, if you follow through on your debt management plan, your score could rise or fall thanks to:

You can check your credit and the status of your accounts by using a credit monitoring service. Experian free credit monitoring can be a good resource — you’ll get monthly credit report updates from the credit bureau and access to your FICO credit score.

Experian Dark Web Scan + Credit Monitoring

On Experian’s secure site

  • Cost

  • Credit bureaus monitored

  • Credit scoring model used

  • Dark web scan

  • Identity insurance

Is a debt management plan a good idea?

If your debt situation is becoming stressful and you’re a few months behind on your payments, a debt management plan can be helpful. You’ll have the support of a certified professional who will interact with your creditors on your behalf and create a financial roadmap for you to follow. Plus, you’ll likely have an easier time paying down the debt after your interest is lowered and fees are waived — and you’ll have a single payment for all your enrolled accounts.

It’s also a much safer option than debt settlement. While the idea of paying less than you owe may sound enticing, debt settlement as a service can be prohibitively expensive and drag on for years without any guaranteed results. Not to mention, your credit score will possibly take a huge hit.

At the same time, a DMP isn’t always an optimal choice. If your debt is a source of worry but you still manage to pay on time most of the time, you can resolve it yourself with a different method.

Alternatives to a debt management plan

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Wells Fargo Reflect® Card

On Wells Fargo secure site

  • Rewards

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers. 18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% Variable APR thereafter.

  • Regular APR

    18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Balance transfers fee of 5%, min $5.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

  • Rewards

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for 21 months on balance transfers; 0% for 12 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Consider a debt consolidation loan

A debt consolidation loan is another excellent tool. It’s a personal loan you can take out to pay off your other debts and have one monthly payment with a fixed interest rate. Many lenders will even pay your lenders directly, taking that task off your plate. Whether you’ll save on interest depends on your credit profile and your lender’s terms. The higher your credit score, the higher your chance of getting a low interest rate.

Like with other strategies, there might be an upfront cost. Origination fees are common and range between 1% and 10% of the loan amount.

CNBC Select recommends LightStream which charges no origination fees, early payoff fees or late fees and can provide same-day funding. SoFi also doesn’t charge these fees and can be a great choice if you’re looking to consolidate high-interest debt. Note that with both of these lenders, you’ll need good credit to qualify.

LightStream Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

    7.99% – 25.99%* APR with AutoPay

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation, home improvement, auto financing, medical expenses, and others

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

    24 to 144 months* dependent on loan purpose

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

Terms apply. *AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Excellent credit required for lowest rate. Rates vary by loan purpose.

SoFi Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

    8.99% to 25.81% when you sign up for autopay

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation/refinancing, home improvement, relocation assistance or medical expenses

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

Bottom line

A debt management plan can be a good route if your unsecured debt has gotten out of hand and you’ve been missing monthly payments. Make sure to work with a reputable non-profit organization and remember that you’ll still have to make on-time payments. A DMP requires patience and discipline like most debt repayment methods — but the results are worth it.

Why trust CNBC Select?

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.





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