Best Debt Management Companies for 2019
Debt management is a safe, effective solution for consumers struggling with credit card debt. Find out which nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer the best options for eliminating debt.
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Credit card debt is quietly – too quietly! – inching its way back into the financial news headlines and if you haven’t noticed, well, take a look at your bill!
Credit card debt has increased 33% over the last five years and the average American household has a balance of $8,284. Economists say that is only about $172 – or one outing in a clothing store – from being unsustainable.
So, what’s a free-spending consumer supposed to do?
Have you considered a debt management program?
Do you even know how a debt management program works?
Debt management is a way to eliminate “unsecured debt” without taking out a loan or risking collateral like your home or car. And for the record, “unsecured debt” is a code word for credit card debt, which is exactly what debt management programs are designed to handle.
Technically, you could include other unsecured debt like medical bills or student loans, but the real selling point of debt management programs is reducing the rate on “high-interest” loans – i.e. credit cards! – thus lowering the monthly payment.
Nonprofit credit counseling agencies are the home for debt management programs. It’s not unusual for them to help someone reduce the interest rate on their debt from 18%-30% to a manageable number like 8%-9%, or maybe even less. That lowers the monthly payment to an affordable number and, if the consumer sticks with it, eliminates debt in 3-5 years.
So, where you find a good debt management program?
Who Are the Best Debt Management Companies?
Ranking anything – whether it’s best college football teams, best restaurants or best debt management programs – is a subjective exercise. What is most appealing to us, may be second or third on your list and vice-versa.
Be aware that almost every company in this industry is a nonprofit agency accredited by national organizations and regulated by states, who impose restrictions on fees. So those aren’t really the decisive factors in choosing a company.
Acknowledging that, here are the areas we deemed important in rating credit counseling agencies and their debt management programs.
- Cost. You’re already in debt. No need to sink your wallet further in the sand by paying a lot for the monthly fees associated with a debt management program.
- Customer Service. How comfortable are you talking with credit counselors? When you have questions – and you will! – is the person on the other end of the phone friendly? Courteous? Helpful? This is going to be a 3-5 year relationship, so they better be.
- Education. The best companies do more than just help eliminate debt. They educate you on personal finance, how to budget and manage money so you don’t end up in this mess again.
- Tracking. If you can see progress, you will be more motivated to achieve your final goal. You need easy access to your account any time you call or go online.
Here are the five debt management programs Debt.org thinks delivers on those four points.
What to like: The best thing about InCharge is their credit counselors and website. Counselors are knowledgeable, compassionate and focused on budgeting, which is so important. The website is easy to navigate and full of informative, sometimes entertaining topics. You’ll see debt management discussed from all angles. Average monthly cost is $29 and the progress bar is visible any time you view your account.
What to question: They focus almost exclusively on helping with credit card debt. If your problem is with other unsecured debt or so severe that debt settlement or bankruptcy is a better solution, they will say so, but then pass you along to a partner agency.
Summary: InCharge’s counselors are a difference maker. They work hard to get clients an affordable monthly payment. They even direct clients in crisis situations to relief agencies for food, utilities and rent. If you’re embarrassed talking about finances, this is a good place to start. As one TrustPilot review said: “No judgment, just help.”
What to like: MMI has been at it since 1958 and is the largest company in the industry. The variety of choices available on the homepage of their website make it easy to get right at your problem and find solutions. They offer specialized service on subjects as diverse as home buying, understanding a credit report and bankruptcy. Webinars and online classes are free. Service is available 24-7 and website has an option for Spanish.
What to question: Couldn’t find specific information about fees on MMI’s website, though elsewhere it was quoted at $25. Also, in 2011, MMI paid $6.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit that claimed they were not honest with customers about their close relationship with financial institutions.
Summary: MMI seems equally focused on helping clients get out of debt, while educating them on the subject so they don’t return. That’s a huge benefit to clients. So is the 24-7 customer service availability and service in Spanish. If you’ve got debt-relief problems, this is a good place to find answers.
What to like: Plenty of educational material available online, including free webinars, budget tips and online chats. Counselors have won awards for treatment of clients. Greenpath University section on website is a great resource. The company will debut a financial wellness program in 2019 and provide personalized coaching for clients who enroll. If you prefer in-person counseling, Greenpath has 60 branch offices in 16 states.
What to question: Company’s website could do better job defining debt management programs. Some articles featured under GreenPath U. are way past dated. Monthly service fee of $36 is above average and some clients get charged for credit reports.
Summary: GreenPath has a noble goal – “guiding clients toward achieving financial dreams” – but it’s still developing the path to get them there. Credit counselors are solid and empathetic, but company could ease up on fees and should spend more time with GreenPath University to make it a better, more up-to-date tool for educating clients.
What to like: The company’s website says they typically reduce interest rate on debt to somewhere between 0% and 10%. Customer reviews on several sites are almost all complimentary of service they received. Credit counselor offer advice not just on credit cards, but housing and other personal finance topics. The website lists free seminars by date and time, making it easy to schedule a learning experience.
What to question: The cost -- $69 per month – is a little daunting for someone already in debt. Also, Consolidated Credit is not certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which is the largest financial counseling agency in the country.
Summary: There is a lot to like about Consolidated Credit, but you’re going to pay for liking it. Their monthly charges are at the very high end of the industry. Not sure what you’re getting for the extra $30-$35 a month because the website isn’t that specific. Still, lots of positive reviews indicates they must be doing something right.
What to like: Counselors average 14 years of employment with Cambridge, which is phenomenal in this industry. Cambridge’s website says to expect interest rate reductions on credit card debt from 22% down to 8%, which they say will save you $150 a month. There is an abundance of articles, guidebooks and newsletters available that educate clients on a wide range of topics.
What to question: Customer support is only open Monday-Friday and closes at 8 p.m. four of those days. There is no date on the articles, which means they may or may not be relevant at this time.
Summary: Their educational services are thorough and free. Though debt management is their main focus, they also have departments for housing and student loan issues. Review sites give Cambridge customer service high marks, which is good because they aren’t there on weekends or late a night. Still, a great choice for debt management.
What Is a Debt Management Program?
Debt management programs (or DMPs) are one of three popular solutions for financial problems – Debt Consolidation Loans and Debt Settlement are the others – and easily the least understood.
A debt management program consolidates all credit card debt into one monthly payment. It attempts to reduce the interest paid on that debt to around 8%, sometimes lower. The monthly payment is sent to a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which distributes an agreed upon amount to each card company.
The goal of debt management programs is to be the go-between for consumers trying to find a way to eliminate debt and credit card companies who want to get paid what they are owed.
DMP companies, mostly nonprofit credit counseling agencies, work with the credit card companies to come up with a monthly payment plan that the consumer can afford. That usually involves a significant concession on interest rates by the card companies, in return for the promise that the consumer will pay off the debt in a 3-5 year period.
Debt management programs are not a loan. Those come from banks or credit unions.
Debt management programs do not promise to reduce the amount owed. Those are debt settlement programs.
Debt management programs are a problem solver for consumers who need counseling on how to budget and manage your money. They educate consumers on how to cut expenses or raise income so they can gradually eliminate debt.
How to Enroll in a Debt Management Program
The easiest way to enroll in a debt management program is to call a nonprofit credit counseling agency, preferably one certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
You can find a list of nonprofit credit counseling agencies by typing the term debt management program into a search engine, but a word of caution about that: Make sure the response you choose is a nonprofit credit counseling agency and NOT a debt settlement company. The debt settlement companies often encroach on the debt management territory, but they are two completely different businesses.
When you call a nonprofit agency, be prepared to answer questions about your income and expenses from a certified credit counselor. The more detail you have about these two areas, the easier it will be for the counselors to offer a solution to the problem. It might be in your best interest to take a look at your credit report (which you can get free from annualcreditreport.com), before talking to a credit counselor so you have an accurate picture of who you owe and how much you owe.
The interview with the credit counselor should include a discussion on the root cause of your debt and you should be provided resources that will improve your overall financial situation.
If you don’t qualify for a debt management program – meaning you don’t have enough income to handle your expenses – counselors will direct you toward another solution, which could be debt settlement or bankruptcy.
How to Choose a Debt Management Company
We suggest you start by looking at nonprofit credit counseling agencies that are certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
When the subject involves money, there are no guarantees, but a big part of retaining nonprofit status is demonstrating that you care more about your clients than you do your bottom line.
That is where the NFCC comes in. They are the largest and longest serving nonprofit financial counseling agency in the U.S. They certify counselors at 57 agencies. Each one must complete a comprehensive training program that guarantees the counselor is qualified to educate and assist consumers with financial advice.
When you do research, you’re going to find out that most companies in the industry are certified and there isn’t a huge difference in the cost for the service, so the best gauge might be customer reviews, preferably those from independent sites like TrustPilot.com. People who take the time to write reviews for those sites generally are more honest and trustworthy about how a company operates.
In the end, what you should be looking for is not just a company that solves your immediate headache, but one that offers advice, guidance and recommendations on how to eliminate debt problems and properly manage money so there is no trouble in the future.
If the agency you’re considering can’t offer both, move on!
What If Debt Management Isn’t the Answer?
This is a really good question because not everyone qualifies for a debt management program. If you go over your budget with a credit counselor and there isn’t enough money available to handle expenses, the counselor should advise you that debt management won’t work.
It’s also possible that the counselor determines that you’ve just been careless about spending and can eliminate the debt yourself by doing a better job with budgeting. The DIY method (Do It Yourself) won’t cost you anything because budget counseling is free at most nonprofit agencies.
However, if you’re at the other end of spectrum and your income just can’t support your debt, you may be a candidate for a home equity loan, debt settlement or, if things are really down the drain, bankruptcy.
Again, the counselor’s job at nonprofit agencies is to arrive at a solution that suits your situation, not to sell you on one method over the other. If you disagree with the solution offered, ask why that is the best choice, or contact another counseling agency and see if they agree.
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