How to Manage Your Credit Card Bills, Which Experts Say Are Late More Often

She has just finished paying off the debt. Although it took her almost five years, she said, she is healthy and feels immense relief. “I am proud of myself,” she said.

GreenPath said Ms. Willard paid about $5,500 in interest and fees under her debt plan. If she had paid off the debt on her own, without the lower rates available under the management plan, she would have had to make payments for several years longer and paid about $30,000 in interest, the agency said.

Here are some questions and answers about credit card debt:

Will a debt management plan hurt my credit score?

A client’s credit score may fall initially. Most debt management plans require borrowers to close the card accounts enrolled in the plan, which may cause scores to drop, Ms. Holt said. But as participants make payments, scores typically stabilize and then begin to rebound.

How can I find a reputable credit counseling agency?

A good place to start is the list of nonprofit agencies that are certified by the Justice Department to provide mandatory counseling for people seeking personal bankruptcy protection. Such agencies often provide broader services, including debt management plans.

Nonprofit debt counseling agencies are different from debt “settlement” or relief agencies, which are considered riskier. Often, debt settlement agencies advise clients to stop paying their credit card bills and instead use the funds to build up a lump sum that can be used in negotiating a settlement. Some creditors, however, won’t negotiate with debt settlement firms, and borrowers may end up worse off, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Chris Peterson, director of financial services with the Consumer Federation of America, said consumers should ask detailed questions to be sure they are working with a legitimate counseling agency. They should confirm that the agency is licensed in their state, he said. They should also ask what fees will be charged and get a price quote in writing for the agency’s services.

What if I am getting calls from debt collectors?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets limits on what collectors can do. For instance, they can’t contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

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