You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at the U.S. Trustee Program, the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Also, before you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you must satisfy a "means test." This test requires you to confirm that your income does not exceed a certain amount. The amount varies by state and is publicized by the U.S. Trustee Program.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies lists affiliated legitimate credit counseling services across the United States. Also, consumers can check with their state's attorney general’s office and the local consumer protection agency to determine if consumers have filed complaints about a credit counseling organization. As another resource, the United States Trustee Program keeps a list of credit counseling agencies approved to provide pre-bankruptcy counseling. Bankruptcy law mandates that anyone filing for bankruptcy must first undergo credit counseling.
“The first thing a person needs to do is take a close look at how they got into debt in the first place,” advised Carolyn McClanahan, M.D., CFP, who began her career as a physician and is now founder of a financial planning group called Life Planning Partners LLC, based in Jacksonville, Fla. “They should identify what triggered the situation or any bad habits that might have led to their debt, so that they don’t repeat those things going forward. Then, they need to make an actionable plan to figure out how to get out of debt.”
It is rare to get a quick-fix solution to debt problems. If that is one of the promises you hear, start looking elsewhere. Remedy: The first thing to understand is that debt-relief programs typically take 3-5 years, so be patient. Second, check up on the whatever company you choose for debt relief. The Better Business Bureau or local state attorney’s office are good places to start. Credit unions, universities and military bases should be reliable sources for recommendations. Be sure whatever organization you choose is licensed and doesn’t have a record of consumer complaints.
Credit card balance transfers. One of the simplest and easiest ways to lower the interest rate on credit card debt is to make credit card balance transfers. When you transfer a balance, you take advantage of a credit card offer that provides a low promotional rate for a limited period. It's common for credit cards to offer 0% interest on balance transfers for anywhere from 12 to 18 months. Balance-transfer cards sometimes charge a fee, such as 3% of the amount transferred, but there are some cards that don't impose charges, and those can be an especially good deal.
Kevin – Let’s look at it this way. You’re paying roughly $3600 a year in interest on that debt. Over five years that’s a little over $18,000. The counseling agency can get that down to 0 (you won’t even find a debt consolidation loan for that rate) and you’ll be debt-free at the end of those five years. The damage to your credit won’t be anywhere near what it would be with debt settlement.
This should really only be explored a last resort for debt relief before you file for bankruptcy. If you’ve tried everything else and haven’t had any success, then you can consider a debt settlement plan where you settle your debts for less than the full amount owed. This can cause significant damage to your credit score and results may vary, but it may be your best option if your situation is truly critical.
Bankruptcy. Declaring bankruptcy has serious consequences, including lowering your credit score, but credit counselors and other experts say that in some cases, it may make the most sense. Filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 allows people with a steady income to keep property, like a mortgaged house or a car, that they might otherwise lose through the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to pay off your debts over a three to five year period, without surrendering any property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, your debts are discharged. As part of the Chapter 13 process, you will have to pay a lawyer, and you must get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for any bankruptcy relief.
But it’s more than a method for paying off bills. The debt snowball is designed to help you change how you behave with money so you never go into debt again. It forces you to stay intentional about paying one bill at a time until you’re debt-free. And it gives you power over your debt. When you pay off that first bill and move on to the next, you’ll see that debt is not the boss of your money. You are.
A recent credit counseling study has produced significant research findings for the debt relief industry, showing that it is effective in helping people pay off more debt and faster. Researchers at Ohio State University compared two groups of financially distressed people with similar characteristics. The first group received credit counseling and the second did not. Those who received the service reduced their credit card debt by nearly $6,000 within 18 months of counseling. Those who had not received counseling, reduced their debt by only $3,600. Additionally, counseled participants’ available credit ratio was 19% higher than non-counseled available credit. Download the NFCC OSU Credit Counseling Statistics Final Report – 2016.
Chapter 7: Bankruptcy has a dramatic affect on your score, and depending on where you started from, you’ll probably end up somewhere between 520 and 550. But, if you’re careful you can raise that score dramatically so that in about two to three years, you’re in the very good to excellent range. Chapter 7 will stay on your credit record for ten years. Check out How to Get New Credit to Survive and Thrive After Bankruptcy.
It is also important to know that National Debt Relief uses a company called Global Client Solutions to manage your payments as a third party processor and trust account servicer. This company has a history of working with many debt settlement companies who have been sued in the state of Washington and across the country for violating various debt adjusting and consumer protection laws. Global Client Solutions has also been sued itself on a national level by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and in the state of Washington.
A debt collector generally is a person or company that regularly collects debts owed to others, usually when those debts are past-due. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts as part of their business, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.
When it comes to paying off credit card debt, many consumers take the path of least resistance: the so-called "minimum payment plan." By law, credit card issuers are required to set a minimum monthly payment amount for each cardholder. These payments are calculated on the basis of the cardholder's total balance, interest rate and certain other factors.
Consolidated credit programs allow you to consolidate debt, regardless of how much debt you have or your credit score. You work with a certified credit consolidation agency to develop a consolidated debt repayment plan that fits your budget. The program freezes your accounts while you’re enrolled, which helps you break your credit habit and learn better ways to budget for everyday expenses.
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.
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