Debt Management vs. Debt Settlement

Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches to debt resolution to help determine which is right for you.

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The one constant in the U.S. economy over the last six years is debt. It keeps going up … and up … and further up.

Household debt rose $155 billion in the first quarter of 2020, the 23rd consecutive quarter it has gone up. The total household debt in the U.S. stands at a record-high $14.3 trillion.

Mortgage balances, up $156 billion, led the way, but only because the coronavirus and subsequent quarantine measures kept people – and their credit cards – at home during the month of March. Credit card balances declined $39 billion for the quarter and probably will take a dive when Q2 results emerge in August.

Still, American consumers owe $1.03 trillion on credit card accounts or about $9,333 for households that carry a balance. Add that to the $1.54 trillion owed in student loans, another $1.35 trillion in auto loans and a rapidly expanding appetite for personal loans – 20 million consumers owe an average of more of than $16,000 – and debt is a hot topic in the U.S.

The good news is that people are actually making an effort to pay off some debt. The delinquency rate (90 days past due) declined in all major categories with the exception of mortgages, where delinquencies went from 1.10% in Q4 of 2019 to 1.17% in Q 1 of 2020.

Two of the most effective methods for paying off debt are debt management and debt settlement, two solutions that share a first name, but little else.

What Is a Debt Management Program?

debt management program is designed to lower the interest rate and monthly payment on credit card debt to an affordable level.

A debt management program does not use credit scores as a qualifying factor, nor does it require the consumer to take out another loan. Instead, card companies provide reduced interest rates to nonprofit credit counseling agencies to assist them in developing an affordable budget for the consumer. The consumer makes a fixed monthly payment and eliminates the credit card debt in 3-5 years.

Debt management programs are designed for help with credit card debt, but some allow personal loans or medical bills to be included.

Debt Management Program Advantages

  • Debt management programs offer structured plans that enable you to repay debt faster thanks to benefits such as lower interest rates and waived fees.
  • You save time and money, and generally your credit score improves during the course of your program, as long as you make on-time payments.
  • Enrolling in a debt management program will get debt collectors off your back.
  • You no longer need to send monthly payments to each of your creditors listed on the debt management program. You just send one consolidated credit payment to your debt management provider and they send your payments to creditors on your behalf.
  • The debt management provider also sends you a monthly statement showing debt management account activity and balances, so you can monitor your progress.

Debt Management Program Disadvantages

  • A debt management program won’t work if you can’t make regular monthly payments. Once you miss or make late payments, your creditors will remove you from the program. This eliminates any benefits you’ve been granted, and you’re back in the same negative situation.
  • Debt management requires you to close all of your credit cards.
  • Some people simply have too much debt to benefit from a debt management program. These programs are designed to offer affordable monthly payment schedules that last 3-5 years. You may have so much debt that even with reduced interest rates and fees, you can’t afford to repay your total debt within that timeframe.
  • While many providers are nonprofit, some agencies charge high fees for a debt management plan and may not disclose that your full monthly payment is not applied to the repayment of your debt. Using a nonprofit provider can help you avoid paying unnecessary fees.

Debt Management vs Debt Settlement vs Debt Consolidation

What are differences between debt consolidation, debt settlement and debt management. Personal Finance expert Etta Money explains.

What Is a Debt Settlement Program?

Debt settlement is an attempt to convince a credit card company to accept only a portion of what you owe and forgive the rest of the debt.

Instead of paying your credit card company, you make monthly payments to a debt settlement company. When the company feels there is enough money in your account, it makes a lump-sum offer to the card company that if accepted, will settle the debt once and for all.

The popular notion is that you could get as much as 50% of your debt forgiven, which is certainly tempting for any consumer. However, there are pros and cons to debt settlement with some severe repercussions to your credit status and the net result is most likely a 25% reduction or less.

Debt Settlement Program Advantages

  • Debt settlement could significantly reduce the amount of debt you actually pay.
  • Debt settlement may help you avoid bankruptcy and asset liquidation.
  • An effective debt settlement program may eliminate your debt in 2-3 years.

Debt Settlement Program Disadvantages

  • A debt settlement program requires you to stop paying your creditors, which will add a significant amount to your debt because of late charges and the interest applied.
  • Debt settlement companies can charge a fee for each credit card debt they settle. If you have 4-5 cards, they may only settle three of them, but get rejected by the others. Thus you will have paid a fee and the problem is still unsolved.
  • Debt settlement is a stain on your credit report that will be there for seven years. You may have difficulty getting any other type of loan (home or auto) during that time. Learn More: How Long Does Debt Settlement Affect Your Credit?
  • Businesses are not required to accept settlement offers and some refuse to deal with debt settlement companies.
  • The fees for the service, plus the additional charges for late payments and interest, could wipe out any gain you expect to realize.
  • Any amount that has been forgiven may have to be claimed as income on your tax return.
  • Debt settlement is a gamble. If your creditors refuse to settle, you’ll be in an even worse financial situation.

Is Debt Management or Debt Settlement Right for You?

The accurate answer to this question is that it depends on how confident you are in your ability to deal with your amount of debt.

Debt management programs work for people who have enough income to handle their debts, but just haven’t learned to manage their money properly. A nonprofit credit counseling agency that offers debt management programs can help you set up a budget and advise you where to find the money needed to settle your debts.

But you have to be willing to demonstrate the discipline and commitment required to make the program work and you have to do it over the course of 3-5 years.

On the other hand, if you have reached the desperation point with your debt – “I can’t possible pay the amount I owe!” – debt settlement could be a suitable solution.

There are a lot of negatives associated with debt settlement programs, which is why it should be considered as the last option before bankruptcy. However, if you, or a company representing you, can convince a creditor to accept 50% of what you owe as payment – and you’re willing to accept the negative consequences that come with that – debt settlement could be a win.

Finding Credible Debt Management Services

The safest way to check the credibility of a nonprofit credit counseling service is to verify that they are accredited by the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (NFCC).

The NFCC is the oldest and largest nonprofit financial counseling organization in the country. It oversees a national network of member agencies, including InCharge Debt Solutions. The goal of member agencies is to help people find solutions to debt problems and understand how to manage their money so they can avoid debt.

The counselors at member agencies like InCharge, receive training and certification to offer advice on all forms of debt, including specific programs for dealing with credit card debt. Counselors offer free guidance on creating a household budget that helps you eliminate debt and regain control of your finances.

About The Author

Joey Johnston

Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.


  1. N.A. (2020, May 5) Pre-COVID-19 Data Shows total Household Debt Increased in Q1 2020, Though Growth in Non-housing Debt Slows. Retrieved from
  2. Long, H. (2019, November 21) Personal loans are ‘growing like a week,’ a potential warning sign for the U.S. economy. Retrieved from