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Debt Relief Programs Compared

Reviewed by:
Director of Education and Corporate Communications

Understanding the pros and cons of different debt relief programs, to find the best solution for your needs and budget.

Debt relief programs refer to any method that helps solve debt problems when traditional monthly payments aren’t working. These are the solutions you use when you can’t afford to make your monthly payments OR when your monthly payments aren’t effective at eliminating a debt. While there are eight different programs that can provide debt relief, only four of them generally apply to credit cards. We’ll look at those first.

4 credit card debt relief programs


This type of debt relief delays or suspends the monthly payments on a specific debt for a set period of time. You call your loan servicer and let them know that you can’t make your payments. They agree to either reduce your payments or suspend them entirely for a period of time. That way, you have time to get back on your feet without missing debt payments, which would negatively impact your credit.

Workout arrangement

With this type of credit card debt relief, you call your creditor to a plan to pay off your account. The creditor will typically agree to lower or eliminate the interest applied to your account. However, they will typically freeze the account so you can not make any new charges and the account may be closed once it is paid off.

You agree to a monthly payment that you can afford that allows you to pay off the balance and catch up on any past-due amount that you owe.

Debt consolidation

Debt consolidation takes multiple debts and rolls them into a single monthly payment at the lowest interest rate possible. There are several ways to do this. Debt consolidation loans take out a new loan to pay off your existing debts. Debt consolidation programs are repayment plans that you set up through a debt relief service. For credit card debt, you can consolidate multiple balances using a debt management program.

Debt settlement

With debt settlement, you get out of debt for less than the amount you owe. You pay back a percentage of your outstanding balance, then the creditor agrees to discharge the remaining balance owed. Each debt you settle creates a negative item on your credit report that sticks around for seven years. This will decrease your credit score, but it can be a good solution for debts that are already in collections.

Get a free debt evaluation from a certified credit counselor to find the best credit card debt relief option for your needs and budget.

Which option is right for you?

Find a credit card debt relief program that's right for you
  • If you’re having temporary budget challenges and just can’t afford your payments for a limited time, forbearance is usually the best option.
  • If you have one account that’s behind, then a workout arrangement will help you catch up and pay it off without affecting your other accounts.
  • When you’re having trouble keeping up with your payments but want to avoid credit damage, consolidation is generally the best choice.
  • If you don’t care about credit damage and just want a fast exit, debt settlement is often the right option to use.

Relief plans for other types of debt


Refinancing refers to the practice of reducing the interest rate on your loan. You generally take out a new loan at a lower interest rate and use the funds to pay off the existing loan. This may also provide other benefits, such as reducing your monthly payments.

Loan modification

This debt relief option for loans permanently changes the terms of your loan. There are several things you can change:

  • Changing the loan amount to reflect the real value of a piece of property, such as a mortgage that’s upside down; that’s where you owe more than the home is actually worth.
  • Moving from an adjustable interest rate to a fixed interest rate
  • Changing the term of the loan, which adjusts the number of months you have to repay a loan.
    • A longer term will lower your monthly payments but increase total interest charges
    • A shorter term will increase your monthly payments but reduce total interest charges

Debt relief programs compared side by side

QuestionDeferment / ForbearanceRefinancingLoan ModificationDebt ConsolidationDebt Settlement
What does it do?Suspend or reduce monthly payments temporarilyReduce APR (interest rate) applied to your debtModify loan terms to make them more favorableRolls multiple debts into one paymentEliminate debt for part of what you owe
Does it work for mortgages?Forbearance onlyYesYesNoCalled a short sale, during the sale of the property
Does it work for auto loans?Yes, although the number of deferments may be limitedYesPossible, but rareYes, if you have multiple car loans out at onceDuring the sale if you’re trading the vehicle in but haven’t paid the loan off
Does it work for credit cards?Forbearance only, usually a reduction in paymentsYes, commonly known as interest rate negotiationNoYes; you can also include other unsecured debts, like medical collectionsYes
Does it work for student loans?YesYes, but only with a private student loan companyNoYes, federal loans can be consolidated using government programsUsually only applies to private student loans
Does it cause credit damage?As long as you start paying again at the end of the deferment or forbearance periodNoNoNoYes
Is there a cost to do it?NoMay be fees applied; for mortgages, you may pay additional closing costsMay be fees applied; for mortgages, you may pay additional closing costsMay be fees applied; for mortgages, you may pay additional closing costsFees typically applied for every debt settled; may have to pay taxes on unpaid amount