If you are unable to pay off your debts and have already applied the advice of a credit counselor, you might consider enrolling in a debt management plan, or DMP. A DMP allows you to deposit a set amount of money with a credit counseling organization each month, which is then strategically dispersed to your various creditors. Consumers typically enroll in DMPs only after receiving a recommendation from a certified credit counselor who has thoroughly reviewed their finances. It is a temporary solution for certain cases, but is no replacement to creating a budget and managing your finances.
This article covers the basics of debt management programs, including information to help you decide whether it is the right course of action for you. For more articles pertaining to debt relief and bankruptcy alternatives, see FindLaw's Debt Negotiation and Settlement section.
Figuring out which debts to pay first, how much to pay each month, and other logistical decisions can be a frustrating endeavor. DMPs are designed to help consumers work off their debt as quickly as possible by leaving these decisions largely to credit counseling professionals. You (the debtor) deposit money with the organization managing the DMP on a monthly basis, which is used to pay unsecured debts, such as student loans and credit card balances.
Creditors may agree to waive fees or lower interest rates, since the use of a DMP may give creditors more confidence that you won't default on your loan, but it really depends. DMPs usually take several years, perhaps four or five, to complete (ask your credit counseling organization for an estimate). Also, DMPs may require that you not use (or apply for) additional credit as you work your way through the plan.
See also Becoming Debt-Free: Your Options.
The following questions will help you make more informed decisions before signing onto a DMP:
What other services can you offer me besides a debt management plan? Will you also provide me with ongoing debt and money management advice?
Organizations that only offer DMPs should be avoided. Since the larger goal is greater financial empowerment, DMPs alone are not a viable solution. Find one that also can help you develop a budget and manage your money.
How will I know that my creditors will be paid on time and in the right billing cycle?
If you choose a DMP, check to make sure your creditors will be paid before the due dates and in the proper billing cycle. This comes down to trust, but reputable credit counseling organizations will guarantee it in writing.
How do you determine the amount of my monthly payment? Can I afford it?
They should know what you are able to pay, but don't sign up for a DMP if you simply can't afford the payments.
How can I track the progress of my DMP? Can I access my accounts online?
Look for an organization that offers regular account statements, preferably online.
Are you able to negotiate with my creditors to lower my interest rates or waive certain fees?
If so, double check with your creditors and ask how long you will have to be on the DMP before rates are lowered or fees are waived.
Are there any debts that will not be included in the plan?
If so, you will have to pay these debts on your own.
Will my creditors require payments before they accept the plan?
Some may have such a requirement, but check with your creditors to verify before sending payments to the credit counseling organization.
Will my credit rating be affected by enrolling in a DMP?
If an organization claims it can get rid of negative information from your credit report, steer clear. It is not legally possible to do so, as long as the information is accurate. Regardless of your enrollment in a DMP, negative information stays on your report for as long as seven years.
Just having a plan in place is only the beginning. The following advice will help you successfully complete your DMP and become financially solvent:
Debt management plans certainly are not for everyone, but can offer a path to financial freedom for the right people. Talk to a bankruptcy attorney in your area if you have additional questions about how to handle a heavy debt load.