Monday, January 3, 2011

Credit Counseling's Debt Management Plan May Hurt Credit Scores

Jan 1, 2011 Candice Gillingwater

A Reputable Credit Counselor Helps You Manage Debt - Mikecco

A Reputable Credit Counselor Helps You Manage Debt - Mikecco

If you’re struggling to pay off your creditors and get out of debt, credit counseling may seem like a viable solution. Consumers are continually bombarded with ads for nonprofit credit counseling agencies on television, in magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Even the federal government recommends credit counseling as a debt management solution. Unfortunately, while a qualified counselor may help you escape your debts, your credit score could suffer in the process.

How Debt Management Plans Work

After a credit counselor reviews your debts and income, you will be enrolled in the company’s program via a debt management plan. Agreeing to a debt management plan gives the credit counseling agency the right to accept payments from you on a periodic basis and distribute those payments to your creditors. Debt management programs reduce your total debt load in one of the following ways:

  • Debt settlement
  • Reduced interest rates
  • Reduced fees
  • Lower payments

Credit Counseling Does Not Directly Affect Your Credit Score

A common misconception about credit counseling is that it damages your credit rating. In reality, credit counseling itself is not responsible for any damage your credit score may incur by enrolling in a debt management program. While some creditors will update your credit report to reflect the fact that you are paying your debts via a credit counseling program, others will not. Regardless of whether your participation in the program appears on your credit report, this fact does not in any way impact your FICO scores.

See: How Debt Management and Credit Counseling Affects Credit Score

Debt Management Plans and Debt Settlement

Although your participation in a credit counseling program does not impact your credit scores, the methods credit counseling agencies use when negotiating your debts can hurt your credit.

Debt settlement, for example, is a particular danger. Unless your creditor agrees to report the settled debt as “paid in full” rather than “settled,” your credit score will drop as soon as you settle the debt. This is because the credit scoring system serves as a risk indicator for lenders. Settling a debt for less than you originally agreed upon indicates that you will be likely to do so again in the future – making you a higher lending risk and adversely impacting your credit score. Settling a debt with a third-party creditor, such as a collection agency, however, does not have the same negative credit impact.

Missed Payments Impact FICO Scores

No law requires your creditors to cooperate with a credit counseling agency. Because of this, a credit counseling agency you have authorized to manage your account payments for you via a debt management plan may withhold payments from your creditors and allow your account to fall into default.

Once a debt you owe falls into default, the company will be more open to negotiating a favorable payment plan simply to receive payment. The downside to this is that your payment history significantly impacts your FICO scores. Each missed payment further damages your credit rating – even if, due to your enrollment in a debt management plan, you are not aware that your payments aren’t arriving at their intended destination.

Reputable Credit Counseling Programs

You can avoid the damaging consequences of some debt management plans by choosing a reputable credit counseling agency and asking the right questions beforehand. Some questions you may want to pose to your credit counselor are:

  • How do you negotiate with my creditors?
  • When do you send payments to my creditors?
  • Do you ever withhold payments?
  • Is debt settlement a goal of this program?

Obtaining the credit counseling agency’s guidelines and regulations in writing before signing a contract helps you avoid signing up for a service that may reduce your debts but decimate your credit scores in the process. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that all consumers considering credit counseling contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling for a list of licensed professionals in their area.

See: Government Approved Pre-Bankruptcy Credit Counseling Services


Federal Trade Commission: Knee Deep in Debt

  • A Reputable Credit Counselor Helps You Manage Debt - Mikecco

    A Reputable Credit Counselor Helps You Manage Debt - Mikecco

  • A Debt Management Plan Can Lower Credit Scores - Ambrozio

    A Debt Management Plan Can Lower Credit Scores - Ambrozio

  • Watch Out for Credit Counseling's High Fees - TALUDA

    Watch Out for Credit Counseling's High Fees - TALUDA

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