Will credit counseling hurt my credit?
Before we answer this question, let’s make sure we understand the difference between credit counseling, a debt management program, and debt settlement, as these three services are commonly mistaken for one another:
To help you understand the potential impact credit counseling may have on your credit score, please consider some facts about a Debt Management Program (DMP) and credit reporting.
1. Credit Counseling
This service typically consists of a nonprofit agency reviewing a list of your creditors, analyzing your monthly spending plan and income, providing financial education resources, and a list of possible solutions for you to pay back your debt.
2. Debt Management Program
This service is typically offered after the credit counseling session if the client qualifies.
The benefits of this program include:
- One, low monthly payment
- Reduced interest rates
- Becoming debt-free in three-to-five years.
The consumer makes payments to the agency each month, who then disburses all payments to the consumer’s creditors. Payments continue each month until 100 percent of the debt is paid back.
3. Debt Settlement or Debt Negotiation
This service is typically offered by for-profit companies.
The benefits of this program include:
- One, low monthly payment, paying roughly 50 percent of what you owe
- Becoming debt-free in typically two-to-three years.
The consumer makes a payment to the agency each month; however, no payments are disbursed until a settlement of the total balance is reached.
Most creditors will only settle the balance if the account is seriously past due (usually six months or more). Therefore, this service will have a negative effect on your credit as it requires you to become delinquent with your debt.
Is Debt Management & Credit Counseling Bad for Your Credit?
Now that we’ve defined those services, let’s return to the original question: “Will credit counseling hurt my credit?”
No. Participating in a credit counseling session, in and of itself, won’t negatively impact your credit.
Credit counseling agencies, like DebtWave, do what is considered a “soft pull,” which does not affect your credit. The question you’d really like to have answered is, “Will enrolling in a Debt Management Program (DMP) hurt my credit?
Credit Impact of a Debt Management Program:
1. A Footnote Does Not Affect Your Credit Score
According to Experian, participating in a Debt Management Program does not affect credit scores directly.
Some credit card companies will place a footnote on your credit report, stating that you are enrolled in a Debt Management Program, but it should not impact your credit scores in any way.
2. Closing Accounts Could Be Harmful
When enrolling in a Debt Management Program, the creditors require that each account is closed. When an account is closed, it may affect your FICO score because 30 percent of your FICO score is based on your debt-to-credit ratio.
Closing down lines of credit can increase this ratio, ultimately lowering your credit score. But, if you are already maxed out or close to being maxed out on your accounts, then this shouldn’t affect you as much.
If you are concerned with your credit score, it is recommended that one account with available credit remains off the program.
3. Payment History Remains Important
Since payment history is the most important factor in calculating your credit score (35 percent of FICO score), it is recommended to keep accounts current before, during, and after enrolling in a Debt Management Program.
If you are unable to keep your accounts current during this time frame, your creditors may report you past due. However, creditors typically only report you past due when you become more than 30 days late.
4. Credit Scores May Increase in the Long-Run
A recent study at DebtWave shows the average FICO score at the beginning of their program is 628. Upon successful completion of their program, the average score increases to 696.
There’s no guarantee that your score will increase. But, our research shows that most clients who have committed to making on-time, monthly payments for a three-to-four year period on our program have seen their credit score increase over time.
5. Put the Focus on Getting out of Debt, Not Your Credit Score
The primary purpose of a Debt Management Program is to help get you out of credit card debt, not to improve your credit rating so you can borrow more money. For most people with a lot of debt, borrowing more money is the last thing needed.
A quote from “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” explains it best:
“More money seldom solves someone’s money problems. Intelligence solves problems. There is a saying a friend of mine says over and over to people in debt. If you find you have dug yourself into a hole… stop digging.”