When Norm Bour was 24, credit was so hard to come by he couldn't get a gas station company credit card without begging.While it's important for you to get a handle on your debt, how you go about it is just as important.

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It drives Richard Musci, chief lending products officer at Schwab Bank, crazy to see teaser ads for low interest rates on home equity lines.

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Deciding to Enroll in a Debt Management Program Finding a Reputable Agency Making Sure You are Protected Community Q&A If your finances have taken a turn for the worse and you find yourself drowning in debt, a debt management program may help you keep your head above water.

These programs, also known as debt management plans or DMPs, are a form of debt relief in which a counseling agency works with your creditors to reduce your monthly payment to a level more suitable to your current situation.

If you are considering debt-consolidation options, avoid these misrepresentations: Credit counseling involves helping consumers develop a budget and the discipline to make steady payments to clear their debt loads. "Most of these individuals make a decent living, but at the end of the week don't have enough money and don't understand why," says Joel Greenberg, president of New Jersey-based Novadebt.

Debt-management programs -- or DMPs as insiders like to shorten it -- are one tool in the credit counselors' kit.

A DMP may be able to help you negotiate lower interest rates, get late fees waived, work out a payment schedule that's acceptable to you and your creditors, and consolidate your monthly payments into one.

However, keep in mind that all DMPs charge fees, and some can be excessively expensive or even fraudulent.

And most folks who walk through his doors haven't missed payments, says Greenberg.

These harried souls will see a bit of relief from an interest reduction, but by no means will they magically owe only half their bills.

It's code for "We're rolling our fees into your loan, where they are also subject to the interest rate."The truly unfortunate fall victim to flipping -- a process that ruined one of Musci's elderly clients.