Debt Management Plans
For People on Debt Management Plans: A Must-Do List
Reputable credit counseling organizations employ counselors who are certified and trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Those organizations that are nonprofit have a legal obligation to provide education and counseling.
But not all credit counseling organizations provide these services. Some charge high fees, not all of which are disclosed, or urge you to make â€œvoluntaryâ€ contributions that can cause you to fall deeper into debt. Many claim that a debt management plan is your only option before they spend time reviewing your financial situation, and offer little or no consumer education and counseling. Others misrepresent their nonprofit status or fraudulently obtained nonprofit status by misrepresenting their business practices to regulators.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nationâ€™s consumer protection agency, and some state Attorneys General have sued several companies that called themselves credit counseling organizations. The FTC and the states said these companies deceived consumers about the cost, nature, and benefits of the services they offered; some companies even lied about their nonprofit status. Several of these companies are now going out of business. Similar companies also may be shutting their doors, even though they havenâ€™t been sued by the FTC or the states. That could be of special concern if you have a debt management plan with one of these companies.
Must-Dos for Anyone With A DMP
Organizations that advertise credit counseling often arrange for consumers to pay debts through a debt management plan (DMP). In a DMP, you deposit money each month with a credit counseling organization. The organization uses these deposits to pay your credit card bills, student loans, medical bills, or other unsecured debts according to a payment schedule theyâ€™ve worked out with you and your creditors. Creditors may agree to lower interest rates or waive certain fees if you are repaying through a DMP.
The FTC has found that some organizations that offer DMPs have deceived and defrauded consumers, and recommends that consumers check their bills to make sure that the organization fulfills its promises. If you are paying through a DMP, contact your creditors and confirm that they have accepted the proposed plan before you send any payments to the organization handling your DMP. Once the creditors have accepted the DMP, it is important to:
- make regular, timely payments.
- always read your monthly statements promptly to make sure your creditors are getting paid according to your plan.
- contact the organization responsible for your DMP if you will be unable to make a scheduled payment, or if you discover that creditors are not being paid.
You need to be aware that if payments to your DMP and creditors are not made on time, you could lose the progress youâ€™ve made on paying down your debt, or the benefits of being in a DMP, including lower interest rates and fee waivers. Although creditors may have forgiven late payments that you made before you began the DMP, the creditors may be unwilling or unable to do so if payments are late after you have enrolled in a DMP. If you fall behind on your payments, you may not be able to have your accounts â€œre-agedâ€ again (reported as current), even if you start a new DMP with a new counselor. That means your credit report will have â€œlateâ€ marks and you will rack up late fees, which, in turn, will lead to more debt that could take longer to pay off.
If Your Credit Counselor Has Gone Out of Business
What happens to your DMP if the credit counseling company that managed your debts shuts down? A counseling agency that is going out of business may send you a notice telling you that your DMP is being transferred to another company. Or it may tell you that you need to take some action to keep your financial recovery on track. If a government agency has filed an action against your credit counseling company, you may get a notice from a third party. If you discover that the organization handling your DMP is going out of business you need to:
- contact your bank to stop payment if you are making your DMP payments through automatic withdrawal.
- start paying your bills directly to your creditors.
- notify your creditors that the organization handling your DMP is going out of business. Consider working out a payment plan with your creditors yourself. Ask if they will give you a reduction on your interest rate without a DMP.
- order a copy of your credit report. Check for late payments â€” or missed DMP payments â€” that may result from the company going out of business. If you see â€œlateâ€ notations you donâ€™t expect, call the creditor immediately and ask that the notation be removed. Understand that they have no obligation to do it.
If payments are late because the organization handling your DMP has failed to make scheduled payments, the consequences can be just as devastating as if you failed to make payments to the DMP. If you do not act quickly to make arrangements with your creditors, you could incur late charges that increase your debt, lose the lower interest rates associated with the DMP, and have â€œlateâ€ marks on your credit report.