A debt management plan (DMP) is one possible path forward. But of course, you have questions. Like: How does debt management work? How long does it take? Is it true you have to stop using credit while enrolled in a DMP?
Keep reading to learn more.
What to Expect from a DMP
Enrolling in a DMP will first require you meet with a credit counselor. To get things started on the right foot, you’ll want to first do your research and choose a reputable non-profit credit counseling agency as your partner. During that meeting the credit counselor will take an in-depth look at your financial situation and may determine you’re eligible for debt management.
How does a DMP differ from do-it-yourself debt repayment? Instead of paying creditors directly you will instead make a single monthly payment to the credit counseling agency — which will then make those monthly payments to your lenders. The agency will also try to negotiate with creditors on your behalf, using your participation in a DMP as leverage to potentially secure lower interest rates and get fees waived. Creditors may agree to these more favorable terms provided you fulfill the terms of the program. Bear in mind that it typically takes three to five years to complete a DMP.
As is true with any debt relief strategy under the sun, there are pros and cons to entering a DMP. Many agencies have one-time startup fees and monthly maintenance fees — though if you’re deep in debt these fees may seem inconsequential compared to what you owe.
You can also expect to change your spending behavior while undergoing a DMP. In fact, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to keep buying on credit.
What Happens to Your Credit Cards in a DMP?
According to the experts at NerdWallet, you should “be prepared to live without credit cards for as long as you’re in the program.” This is because most creditors will require you to close accounts involved in a DMP. At the very least you’ll be asked to avoid racking up any new charges for the duration even if the account is able to stay open. If creditors see any new charges pop up while you’re still enrolled in the debt management program, they will more than likely retract any interest reductions or waived fees they agreed to accept. There’s a chance you may be able to keep a card for emergencies or a certain usage (like business expenses) but it’s important to ask about these terms before enrolling.
If you go the debt management route, your success depends upon figuring out how to make things work financially without using credit. It’s important to think about how you’ll accomplish this before enrolling.
Here are a few helpful tips for living without a credit card from one Forbes personal finance contributor:
- Use a debit card linked to your checking account.
- Track your spending very closely — try a budgeting template or app.
- Build an emergency fund and make sure it’s easily accessible.
And, of course, you’ll want to re-evaluate your approach to credit after completing a DMP so you can avoid inadvertently getting caught in another cycle of debt. Think of it as a fresh start!
For the most part, you cannot use credit while taking part in a debt management program. But with a little strategizing, you can make it work.