Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Thursday, December 13, 2018
Credit card debt among U.S. consumers hit a record high last year, with the average credit card balance reaching $6,354, according to Experian. Average non-mortgage debt in the U.S. clocked in at $24,706.
With consumer debt rising, the credit counseling and debt relief industry is more necessary than ever. Organizations such as InCharge Debt Solutions may provide a lifeline for those who have borrowed more than they can repay.
What is InCharge Debt Solutions?
Launched in 1997, InCharge Debt Solutions is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides credit counseling, debt management services, bankruptcy education, housing counseling and financial literacy education. As a nonprofit, the organization pays for 37% of its expenses through contributions and grants, with the rest of the operating budget coming from fees for its services.
Breakdown of InCharge Debt Solutions
While the organization offers a range of services, the rubber meets the road in its debt management plans that help customers get out of debt within five years. The chart below offers an overview of the organization’s offerings, with specifics related to its debt management services.
Minimum debt required for debt management
Debt settlement timeline
3 - 5 years
Debt settlement average interest rate
Fees for debt management program
Types of debt accepted
Free tools and resources
Eligibility is based on the type of debt, the amount of debt and the debtor’s goals. InCharge works with people throughout the U.S. Most of its services are provided over the phone and processed remotely, so location is not a concern.
The types of debt that are eligible for debt management include:
What are the benefits and risks of InCharge Debt Solutions?
Member of NFCC
Not transparent with information such as eligibility requirements
A+ rating with BBB
Not everyone qualifies; your financial situation must indicate that debt management is appropriate for you
One monthly payment to pay down multiple accounts within five years
Secured debts such as mortgages and car loans are not eligible
Provides lots of free resources
Debt management will not fix an underlying overspending problem
How much does InCharge Debt Solutions cost?
The debt management program comes with a few fees, which fall well within the recommended limits for the industry. The Department of Justice recommends $50 a month as a reasonable fee for credit counseling, and InCharge Debt Solution’s average is half of that amount. The Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies agrees with that recommendation and also endorses a $75 limit on the setup fee, which is the maximum that InCharge Debt Solutions charges.
The fee is not the same for each borrower. Fees are decided on a case-by-case basis based on various factors such as the level of debt and the state in which the participant lives. The fee will be calculated at the point in the initial intake session at which the credit counselor decides that the caller is a good match for debt management.
This table lays out the average and the maximum that participants in the program pay:
Once borrowers sign on to a debt management plan, they pay a single interest rate to pay down all their combined debts, which is usually between 8% and 12%.
How long does the program take?
The debt management program’s payment plan is set up to pay down total debt in five years of equal installments, but participants can pay it down faster if they wish. The program typically gets participants out of debt in three to five years.
Because your debts are all being consolidated into one monthly payment, the average interest rate you’re paying could drop substantially, saving you a large amount over the five years. The average drop in the interest rate on debtors’ credit card accounts is around 9%.
Is InCharge Debt Solutions safe to use?
InCharge Debt Solutions has a good reputation and confidence-inspiring business credentials. The organization has an A-plus rating with the BBB despite some complaints against it on the site. There have been no complaints registered against the company with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And the company has overwhelmingly positive reviews on outside review sites.
InCharge Debt Solutions is a member of the NFCC and is accredited by the COA. This is a positive since nonprofit credit counselors are most likely to provide impartial financial advice that prioritizes the needs of the customer, and nonprofit debt management programs usually offer low fees and work to reduce participants’ credit card interest rates.
The organization presents a Client Bill of Rights to let its customers know what they can expect. These rights are (as directly stated on its website):
- Confidential, knowledgeable, professional and courteous service.
- Non-judgmental counseling by trained and experienced certified counselors.
- Prompt response to questions, requests and concerns.
- Statements of funds received from you and payments made to your creditors.
- Access to a library of online tools and educational materials.
- A Complaint Resolution Process should you have any dissatisfaction with InCharge services.
- Discontinue your relationship with InCharge at any time, for any reason.
How do I sign up for InCharge Debt Solutions?
The first step to signing up for debt management is to check if you’re eligible for the program. Doing so requires completing a credit counseling session (usually between 25 and 60 minutes) with the InCharge Debt Solutions team, which can be done online or over the phone.
Fill out this online form to start the process or contact the company by phone at 800-565-8953 to speak with a certified credit counselor.
What to expect after signing up for InCharge Debt Solutions
InCharge Debt Solutions’ credit management plan involves setting up a single monthly payment to cover all the borrowers’ debts, with an interest rate that usually falls between 8.00% and 12.00%.
This payment program is designed to repay the debts in five years, though some participants choose to contribute more and pay it down faster. The average participant in the program becomes debt-free in three to five years.
Alternative methods to pay down debt
A debt management plan like that offered by InCharge may not be the right option for you. If you’d prefer to try another method — or if your financial situation is so dire that you need a last resort — read on for some alternative methods of paying down debt.
Debt consolidation involves combining all your debt payments into one payment with a single interest rate, usually a lower one than the average of all your rates. You can do this by transferring all your credit card balances to another credit card that charges an intro 0% APR for balance transfers, or by taking out a debt consolidation loan.
The former option is best for people with high credit scores since you’re only likely to qualify for the necessary type of card if your credit score is excellent. One drawback is that cards that provide this option often charge a 3% to 4% fee to do the balance transfer. It also requires that you find a card with a limit high enough to accommodate all your debt, if possible.
The latter option, more likely to be available to those struggling with debt, involves getting a loan to pay off all your consumer debt so that you can service all of it as one lump sum. Most of the interest rates on these types of loans will fall between 6% and 36% — a large range that varies depending on factors including your credit score.
If you’d like to explore your personal loan options, try using this tool from LendingTree. After inputting some information, the tool could reveal loan offers for which you may qualify from up to five different lenders.
- Reduces your average interest rate
- Gives you a single monthly payment
- Won’t solve the underlying problem that got you into debt in the first place
- Credit counseling and other hand-holding not included in the process
As low as 2.49%
Minimum 500 FICO®
24 to 60
LendingTree is not a lender. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. Terms Apply. NMLS #1136.
As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 2.49% (2.49% APR) on a $20,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136
DIY debt settlement
Dealing with your debt on your own, DIY (do-it-yourself) style, is an option for those with the organization to oversee each step and the determination to see the process through. There are a series of steps you should take to set yourself up for DIY debt relief success: ask debt collectors to validate the debts, figure out exactly what you owe and to whom, triage your debt to keep from further damaging your credit, pay your debts in collections after your debt is in good standing and enlist the help of a lawyer when necessary.
The first step in this process is making sure that the debts you’re being asked to pay are your own. You are legally allowed to demand information about the debt from the debt collector — a process known as validation — and the debt collector is then barred from contacting you about the debt until that information has been supplied.
Once you’ve got a handle on which debts are yours and who you need to pay, look at your entire debt situation to figure out which debt to pay when.
It’s a good idea to focus on paying at least the minimum on debts that are in good standing so that you can keep them that way and avoid worsening your situation. There are various philosophies on what to pay next.
One popular approach is the debt snowball method, which involves paying off debts in order of size, starting with the smallest, to get early wins and build momentum. Another is the debt avalanche method, which prioritizes paying debt with the highest interest rates first. Try this handy calculator to see the difference between these two repayment methods.
- No third parties involved in your financial affairs
- You can try to protect what’s left of your credit score
- Requires a lot of organization and determination
- No relief on interest rates, as you often get in a debt consolidation or debt management plan
Bankruptcy is a last resort for debtors. The process allows those who owe debts they can’t pay to liquidate all nonexempt assets and pay their creditors using the proceeds (Chapter 7 bankruptcy), or to put in place a short-term repayment plan to pay off their debts (Chapter 13 bankruptcy). In the case of Chapter 7, after all proceeds from asset sales — if any — go to creditors, your debt is discharged and you are relieved of having to pay more. Chapter 13 is more focused on restructuring your debt on to a payment plan so that you can pay it off over a given period.
Those wishing to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy must meet certain criteria on their income and expenses. Either their income must be below the median level, or their income plus expenses must put them in the correct range to qualify. Chapter 13 is a good option for high-income earners who can’t proceed with Chapter 7 because they have too much discretionary income or want to protect their assets, such as a home, in the bankruptcy proceedings.
Not all assets will be liquidated in bankruptcy. Some assets — or portions of assets — are considered exempt from the process. It’s also important to be aware that certain types of debt, such as child support and student loans, cannot be discharged. There are strict eligibility requirements to prevent abuse, and going through this process pummels your credit score (if it isn’t low enough already).
- All your qualifying debts are relieved
- Collections activities stop once you enter bankruptcy proceedings
- You may give up most of your assets
- Your credit score is very badly affected