It is difficult, if not impossible to gain control of your finances unless you have a budget. People think it’s too much work … until they get $20,000 in credit card debt and wonder how in the world that happened! Remedy: Develop a realistic budget that addresses financial needs like housing, food, health care, insurance and education, but still creates room to make payments on debt. Put away the credit cards and only pay with cash. That might mean reducing (or eliminating) things like dining out, entertainment, shopping for new clothes, cars or electronics, but if you’re serious about eliminating debt, operating with a budget and paying cash is a great start.
Also, there are many not for profit credit counseling organizations who offer services at local offices, online, and on the phone. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Local financial institutions and consumer protection agencies may also be good sources of information and referrals.
Finally, if you do want to proceed with a debt settlement program I would always advise using somebody local or a debt settlement attorney who can help you in a similar fashion as National Debt Relief and likely save you on fees associated with the settling of your debts without the worry of thinking about whether you are being taken advantage of as attorneys are regulated by their states bar association and are subject to rules of professional conduct in order to maintain their bar license. Additionally a local attorney can take creditor calls and assist with defending a debt collection lawsuit and settling the case prior to any judgment as part of services offered.
However, carrying a large amount of debt that is difficult to repay also negatively impacts your credit score. For example, debt from student loans can accumulate and increase over many years of nonpayment. So, you have two choices in such desperate situations: pay off your debt from student loans slowly, missing minimum payments and taking damage to your credit score or hire a debt relief company, settling the debt from your student loans faster while taking a hit to your credit score.
Avoid high monthly fees. Most debt management plans charge a nominal monthly fee to cover the administrative expenses. Depending on the number of creditors you have, the monthly fee may vary, but it generally should be between $2-5 per creditor or, at most, not more than $50 per month. Make sure the agency doesn't charge any other maintenance fees (i.e. an annual fee) in addition to monthly fees.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, American Consumer Credit Counseling is impressively detailed with their FAQs and discussion of debt management. They offer a debt management calculator that allows potential clients to input their creditors and outstanding balances to get an idea of the savings they may realize. Established in 1991, the company does business in all 50 states and is accredited by the BBB, AICCCA, and ISO. Their fees are also low ($39 to enroll, and from $5 to $35 monthly). However, they will only deal with unsecured debt, and the site pushes the debt management plan a bit more heavily than other competitors.
Weigh the pros and cons of signing up for a DMP. While credit counseling is free and does not affect your credit score, enrolling in a DMP may be expensive in the long run and negatively your credit if debts are settled for less than their original value. You will also not be able to use your credit cards for the duration of your time enrolled in the DMP. However, you also need to keep in mind that working with a credit counselor or debt management company can provide some unique benefits. There are plenty of creditors who won't work with you directly but will work with you through a DMP. Similarly, the "concessions" given to you by the creditor (lower interest rates and waived fees) might be better and help you save more money in the long-term if you opt to go through a credit counseling agency.
Find out if there's a penalty APR, too. That's when the card company jacks your interest rate up to 25% or even 30% if you pay a bill late or commit some other transgression. Many cards don't feature them, and that's preferable. Remember that any time you apply for a new credit card, even for a balance transfer, your credit score may be affected negatively as a result.
But debt consolidation is not for everyone. If you have a lot of debt, you may not be able to secure the low debt consolidation rates that this approach depends on. And consolidating debt doesn't necessarily help you reduce it — consumers taking out consolidation loans often find their debt remains the same or actually increases over a period of a couple years. Your ACCC credit counselor can help you decide if debt consolidation makes sense for you.
The debt consolidation loan interest rate is usually set at the discretion of the lender or creditor and depends on your past payment behavior and credit score. Even if you qualify for a loan with low interest, there’s no guarantee the rate will stay low. But let’s be honest: Your interest rate isn’t the main problem. Your spending habits are the problem.
Chapter 13 is a three- or five-year court-approved repayment plan, based on your income and debts. If you are able to stick with the plan for its full term, the remaining unsecured debt is discharged. It will take longer than a Chapter 7 — but if you are able to keep up with payments (a majority of people are not), you will get to keep your property. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years from the filing date.
Do yourself a favor, if you were ripped off like me by National Debt Relief, submit a complaint to ConsumerFinance.Gov. My lawyer counseled me on this. When I called from my job, they did not disclose they were a for profit agency, I had to ask them. They did not tell me the percentage that they would take as profit. I did not learn that until about 3 weeks ago when I demanded to know the profit they took. Their answer after a long time of questioning was they took 25% off the original debt for themselves. When I said that I did not know this. Their response was : “it is in page 3 of the contract.” I could not find this information anywhere nor it was said to me. The representative who enrolled me Berlinda C only said ” We take a small fee” but would not specify the amount. So far, they have taken from me $2,500 and my creditors have hardly seen any money. When a settlement is negotiated, they take everything they have taken from my account for themselves and on top of that charge about $60 monthly extra in order to make the payments to the creditors. I find this sum exorbitant. I now closed my account with them because I have realized the rip off that this company is. I have lost $2,500 for their profit.
A debt management program consolidates your debt without you having to take out a loan. In other words, you don’t need a loan to pay off a loan. It is administered by a nonprofit credit counseling agency like InCharge Debt Solutions, which offers financial education alongside the program so that consumers learn from the experience and aren’t likely to repeat it again.
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