Credit counseling programs do not work for most people with debt problems
The statistics do not lie. About 70% of people who enroll in credit counseling programs drop out before they finish. Debt settlement programs produce even worse results. One report we reviewed showed that a mere 3% of people who enter into debt settlement programs have all their debts resolved. While there is a big difference in how debt settlement and credit counseling programs work, they do share one common problem: most people who sign up for them simply do not have enough income to pay back their unsecured debts. What people really need is the debt forgiveness that chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy offers.
We know that a lot of people reading this will conclude that we are simply bashing the credit counseling process because we would rather see people file bankruptcy. It is true we believe that most people with debt problems should file bankruptcy. However, this is not because we are against the credit counseling process in theory. In fact, we know that there are some credit counselors who excellent at what they do, and if you want to speak with a legitimate credit counseling organization before making a decision about bankruptcy, we strongly encourage you to speak with Rethinking Debt (formerly Consumer Credit Counseling of Rochester). We trust this organization because we know that they will not accept you as a client if they do not think that you can complete the program. They will tell you directly if you are better off filing bankruptcy. Most credit counseling agencies will not be that honest with you.
Most people tend to underestimate their monthly expenses when speaking with credit counselors
The real problem with the credit counseling process is that people greatly underestimate their monthly expenses when speaking with the credit counselors, and this results in repayment plans that look great on paper but fail when the first unexpected expense comes along. For example, we have spoken with hundreds of people over the years who fall behind on their regular monthly bills because of the following “unexpected expenses”:
- Car repairs
- furnace repairs
- roof replacements
- medical bills
- vet bills
- winter heating bills
While these types of bills do not occur every month, almost everyone is going to face them at one time or another. Let’s face it: if you are driving a 10 year old car, at some point you are going to either spend a few thousand dollars repairing or replacing it. So when you prepare your monthly budget, you must include estimates for these types of expenses. For example, if you tell us that your roof is 15 years old, we are going to budget $200 per month or more for roof replacement costs to ensure that you are accumulating money for this expense when it inevitably arrives.
We are also going to review all the expenses in the household using realistic numbers for your family size. If a single mother with three children tells us that she can make do on $350 per month for a food budget, we are likely to double that number. That’s because very few families with four people (especially with growing kids) can live on that type of food budget for long, and if that’s all you have left each month after paying installment debt, then clearly you cannot afford credit counseling. For a list of all monthly expenses that you be reviewing as you prepare your monthly budget, follow this household budget link