There are several professional debt assistance options, including credit counseling agencies, debt management programs and specialized financial products. Depending on your situation and goals, some might be more appropriate than others. Generally, these options work to reduce your debt burden or make it easier to pay off existing balances. They also may impact your credit score less than other alternatives such as debt settlement.
Debt relief professionals can help you negotiate with creditors to settle your outstanding unsecured debt for less than the full amount owed. Often, you will make payments to a debt settlement professional debt assistance that are held in an account until the balance is paid off. You should be wary of companies that claim to “settle” your debt for a fee upfront or advise you to stop communicating with creditors to speed up the process. The CFPB and National Consumer Law Center warn consumers to avoid these types of companies.
A debt management program, or DMP, is a type of debt relief option that involves working with a credit counselor to arrange a plan for paying off your outstanding debts. This is often a more cost-efficient alternative to negotiating with creditors yourself and will usually include some concessions like lower interest rates, reduced monthly payments or fee waivers. During the course of the DMP, you typically will not have access to your credit accounts, and you may be required to close some accounts, which can have a negative impact on your credit score.
For people who find it difficult to control their spending habits, there are many budgeting tools and apps that can help you create a financial action plan to get your debt under control. However, this method is best suited for those who have a good understanding of their financial situation and can handle the process on their own.
For those who are deeply in over their heads with unmanageable debt, filing for bankruptcy is a last resort. Filing for bankruptcy, however, can have long-term effects on your credit score and isn’t suitable for everyone. Before choosing this option, it’s a good idea to seek credit counseling from a non-profit organization or the Financial Counseling Association of America. They have member agencies that provide counseling nationwide, and their counselors must maintain certifications to be able to offer services. The counselors will review your debt and finances, and can recommend a strategy for you to deal with your debt. They can also point out which debts are eligible for bankruptcy and help you decide whether this is the right choice.