Debt among U.S. consumers is escalating at a dangerous pace, putting younger generations at a financial risk that was never experienced by their parents. It usually starts with irresponsible use of credit cards and grows worse as unforeseen circumstances like unemployment, medical emergencies or unforeseen changes in a family situation come into the picture.
Debt management plans, or DMPs, will lower your interest rates and therefore monthly payments. These so called DMPs are available directly from a credit card issuer, lawyer, debt management company or a non-profit credit counseling agency. The company that you enter into a plan with will negotiate on your behalf with your creditors. This can help you get lower interest rates, waive fees, provide you additional time, and will reduce the total amount of your monthly payments. More on debt management plans.
The right debt relief solution will help you reach zero without creating additional risk or damaging your credit. When it comes to bad ways to seek debt relief, there may be some circumstances where using one of these solutions would be the best option. However, you should exhaust every other option first and only use the bad ways as a last resort to avoid bankruptcy.
People are reluctant to ask relatives or friends for help dealing with debt. Remedy: Call a nonprofit credit counseling agency and get free help from experts. Credit counselors are trained and certified by national organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They can suggest debt-relief solutions like debt management programs, credit consolidation, debt settlement or, if things are way over the edge, bankruptcy. The credit counselors advise you on creating budgets and recommend a solution that you can take or leave. And, it’s free! Take advantage of that.
For example, when you initiate a debt management plan, you may be asked to close credit card accounts. Doing so changes your credit utilization ratio — the comparison between the total amount of credit you have available versus the amount you're actually using. Closing accounts lowers the amount of credit you have available (your credit limit), which increases your credit utilization rate and negatively impacts your credit score.
Everyone with even a little bit of debt has to manage their debt. If you just have a little debt, you have to keep up your payments and make sure it doesn’t get out of control. On the other hand, when you have a large amount of debt, you have to put more effort into paying off your debt while juggling payments on the debts you’re not currently paying.
The most important first step to getting out of debt is to create a budget and take a hard look at your spending. This can be eye-opening for people who have never tracked their expenses. You have to get serious about reducing or eliminating certain unnecessary expenses. Be prepared to make sacrifices. This might mean a zero-dollar budget for things like date nights and new gadgets. Steer clear of temptations as much as possible, which might involve avoiding the mall or unsubscribing to emails from your favorite online retailer.
Credit limitation: Like a balance transfer, a personal debt consolidation loan is usually only a viable solution for consumers who have a good credit score. The higher you score, the lower the interest rate you can qualify for on the loan. APR of 5% is ideal, but anything below 10% may be enough to provide the relief you need. If you can’t qualify for a rate below 10%, look for other options.
Companies like Consumer Credit Counseling Service can help you get better interest rates and lower payments, but at a price. When you use one of these companies and then try to get a Conventional, FHA, or VA loan, you will be treated the same as if you had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Mortgage underwriting guidelines for traditional mortgages will consider your credit trashed, so don't do it. Real debt help is found only in changing your behavior.
People are creatures of habits and spending money is no exception. We shop at the same stores, eat in the same restaurants and drive the same car, because it’s comfortable. It’s also costing you more than you can handle financially. Remedy: If you won’t change your spending habits, you won’t ever get out of debt. Start with your morning habits (have your coffee and breakfast at home). Go to lunch with a brown bag, not a wallet. In the evening, watch games or movies on TV, while eating a home cooked meal. You will see an immediate impact on your daily spending habits. You don’t have to do without. You just have to make better choices with what you do.
We do not have a minimum debt requirement for the debt management program. Our goal is to create a payment plan that is affordable and enables you to pay off your debt within a three to five year period. Our clients have, on average, credit card debt of $15,000. Though we have enrolled clients with as little as $1000 in debt, and more than $100,000 in debt. Our clients have an average annual income of $36,000.
Unsecured debt such as credit cards and medical bills are, by far, the most common debts associated with debt management programs. Utilities, rent and cell phone services are other types of unsecured debt that could be part of a DMP. Some installment contracts, such as country club or gym memberships also could be eligible. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how far in debt you must be to get in a program, but most creditors and legitimate credit counseling agencies say your financial situation needs to be severe. In other words, you must owe more money than your income and savings can reasonably handle. Secured debts, such as a mortgage or auto loan, are not eligible for the program.