Mr. Heinemann said his typical client has about $10,000 in card debt, but he has seen much higher balances. It’s important, he said, that the borrowers are able to afford the agreed-upon monthly payment. If they miss two consecutive payments, he said, creditors typically drop them from the program.
Kristen Holt, chief executive of GreenPath Financial Wellness, a nonprofit debt counselor in Farmington Hills, Mich., that provides services nationally, said the agency had seen demand for debt management services rise this year. Often, she said, clients are referred to GreenPath by their creditors. GreenPath’s typical client has five different creditors, and an average debt of $20,000. The agency charges a one-time fee of up to $50 to set up a plan and monthly fees of up to $75.
Becky Willard, 73, said she had worked with GreenPath to pay off about $40,000 in credit card debt, mostly from medical bills after she learned she had breast cancer in 2002.
Ms. Willard, who had worked mainly part time, said she found herself struggling financially six years ago, after her partner died. “I had never been the primary earner,” she said. She sold her home in Orlando, Fla., and moved into a small condominium in Bradenton, about 100 miles away.
But, Ms. Willard said, her card debt seemed insurmountable. She learned online about GreenPath, and found its approach appealing. “They’d get the interest rates down,” Ms. Willard said, “so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ms. Willard found a full-time job caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Her earnings let her make twice-monthly payments of $475 toward her card debt. (Two of her major creditors, she said, reduced the rates on their cards to nearly zero percent.) “I worked my tail off,” she said.
She has just finished paying off the debt. Although it took her almost five years, she said, she is healthy and feels immense relief. “I am proud of myself,” she said.