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.
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.
For example, let’s say Credit Card A has a balance of $1,000 and a 12% interest rate, and Credit Card B has $1,500 at 6% interest. You put down $150 total every month, paying the minimum payment (3%) on one and whatever’s left on the other. You’re going to save more money by eliminating Credit Card A first ($147 in total interest) vs Card B ($188).

Yep, you read that right. And yes, we even mean stop contributing to your 401(k). Right now, you want all your income to go toward getting out of debt. Once you’re debt-free and have saved three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund, then you can resume your contributions. By then you’ll be on Baby Step 4 and can start putting 15% of your income toward retirement.
Another obstacle that trip up so many is thinking you'll make progress on debt repayment by making your minimum payments. Yes, it minimizes inconvenience and will seem easier than other strategies, but it's costly. Imagine, for example, you owe $20,000 on your credit card(s) and that you're being charged a 25% interest rate. If your minimum payments are 3% of your balance, you'll be starting out paying a whopping $600 per month, meaning you'll have to come up with $150 per week. If you can't, your balance will be growing, digging you deeper in debt. In that situation, it can take more than 30 years to pay the debt off, with your total payments exceeding $63,000 -- all for a $20,000 balance owed.
Throughout all the years I carried this debt around with me, I never wanted to be in debt. But it wasn’t until I met the three criteria above that I was able to do something about it. First, I had to stop living in denial, telling myself my debt “wasn’t that bad.” I needed a reality check and to stare down exactly how much debt I had and what it would take to get out.
It makes me so sad when I hear people longingly say “I wish I could do that” because chances are THEY CAN. Maybe not the same way as me, or at the same speed (heck maybe they could even go faster!), or under the same circumstances, or using the same exact methods (except for the only spending money they already have part…) but they can certainly do more than just wish or feel bad about themselves.
Finally, if you or the credit counseling agency fail to make payments on time under the debt management plan, those late or missed payments will appear on your credit report. Because your DMP can cover many debts, one late payment to the credit counseling agency may be reflected as a late payment for each account that is part of the DMP on your credit report. A late payment will also harm your credit scores.

Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
The non-profits are a great place to call for access to various services, including credit, budget, debt, and general financial counseling. After applying, a certified, highly trained counselor will explore with you all of the options available that can help you get back on track with paying various bills you may be responsible for making. Assistance will be offered in various languages, including Spanish. They help with home loans, credit card, and medical debts among other needs. Also receive assistance in eliminating or consolidating payday loans.
When evaluating whether a credit agency is legitimate, Kalkowski cautions against being too trusting of promises made by company representatives. "A lot of these people are so nice," she says. They may pressure people to sign up immediately, if for no other reason than to get peace of mind. While they may seem caring, Kalkowski stresses, "These people are not your friends. They are out to make a buck."
Getting out of debt is a long-term commitment; there’s not an overnight solution. The most important step you can take is to develop a realistic plan and set a time-bound goal for paying down your debts. For example, you plan to pay off your $10,000 in credit card debt in three years by paying $280 toward your debt every month. However, make sure your goal is realistic for your budget. If you can’t afford that $280 per month, then you’ve set yourself up for failure and may need to consider extending your timeline to five years for a more affordable payment. Having your goal planned out and written down can go a long way to helping you successfully get out of debt.

Finally, you should know there’s a chance your credit can still suffer. Technically, entering a debt management plan shouldn’t hurt your credit score. But if your debt management company ever misses a payment on your behalf, your score will take a hit. Also, prospective lenders may shy away from making loans if they see a notation on your credit report that you’re in a debt management program.
The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.
In a DMP, you deposit money each month with the credit counseling organization. It uses your deposits to pay your unsecured debts, like your credit card bills, student loans, and medical bills, according to a payment schedule the counselor develops with you and your creditors. Your creditors may agree to lower your interest rates or waive certain fees. But it’s a good idea to check with all your creditors to be sure they offer the concessions that a credit counseling organization describes to you. A successful DMP requires you to make regular, timely payments; it could take 48 months or more to complete your DMP. Ask the credit counselor to estimate how long it will take for you to complete the plan. You may have to agree not to apply for — or use — any additional credit while you’re participating in the plan.
I’m about 70k in debt (which includes a car loan and student loans). I was very naive in thinking that earning a Bachelor’s degree would award me with a high paying job and I would be able to take care of this mountain of debt no problem. Of course, that’s not reality, and I make 25k a year. I’ve been working at this job for about a year and a half now, and I have FINALLY found a better paying job after a year of active searching. Although it’s not much, I’ll be moving up to 29k a year. While I pay off my 10k car loan at 250 a month, I’ve been completely avoiding my student loan debt, I don’t even look at it. Right now my loans are in deferment but I owe my first payment in August. I’m really starting to panick. I appreciated your article and found a lot of useful advice in it. I think my first step to paying off my loans will be to work as hard as possible at my new job so maybe after another year or so I can increase my salary more substantially…. Other than that I’m really at a loss for what to do. Any specific advice regarding such a high amount of student loans? (That honestly, I’m almost too embarassed to admit to in this post)
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC)[8] advises Canadians to do their research and find a trustworthy organization and a qualified counsellor. They suggest making sure an agency is in good standing with a provincial or national association. They recommend looking carefully at the agency's advertising to see if it sounds too good to be true. Claims or misrepresentations to look out for can include repaying only a fraction of your debt, quickly fixing your credit score, or claiming to be part of a government program. They also suggest consumers inquire about an agency's services, costs, and counsellor qualifications.[9] The FCAC has also warns Canadians to be careful of companies offering to help them pay off their debt or repair their credit. Things to watch out for include guarantees to solve debt problems and using high interest loans to pay off debt. Some of these companies also claim that they can file a consumer proposal on behalf of a consumer. However, the FCAC points out that only a qualified licensed insolvency trustee can help someone with a consumer proposal or bankruptcy.[10]
Put extra money toward the credit card or debt with the smallest balance. You'll be able to pay it off quickly, reducing the total number of accounts you have to deal with, and giving yourself the mental boost of successfully eliminating part of your debt (though you'll pay more interest in the long run than if you were to pay off debt with the highest interest rate first.)
The good news is that, by choosing a nonprofit credit counseling agency, you can end up with an affordable option that will leave you better off. Despite the monthly fees these plans charge, debt management can help you save thousands of dollars through reduced interest rates and creditor concessions. Plus, you get valuable advice and financial guidance all along the way when you choose to work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency versus a for-profit agency who is “not directed to provide coaching or advice,” said McClary.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC)[8] advises Canadians to do their research and find a trustworthy organization and a qualified counsellor. They suggest making sure an agency is in good standing with a provincial or national association. They recommend looking carefully at the agency's advertising to see if it sounds too good to be true. Claims or misrepresentations to look out for can include repaying only a fraction of your debt, quickly fixing your credit score, or claiming to be part of a government program. They also suggest consumers inquire about an agency's services, costs, and counsellor qualifications.[9] The FCAC has also warns Canadians to be careful of companies offering to help them pay off their debt or repair their credit. Things to watch out for include guarantees to solve debt problems and using high interest loans to pay off debt. Some of these companies also claim that they can file a consumer proposal on behalf of a consumer. However, the FCAC points out that only a qualified licensed insolvency trustee can help someone with a consumer proposal or bankruptcy.[10]
The top benefit is that you are on a plan that should eliminate debts in 3-to-5 years and you will stop receiving harassing calls from debt collection agencies. Convenience is another plus. You make only one payment a month for your debt payment plan as opposed to numerous payments with numerous deadlines. You receive free educational material that should help you better understand how to manage debt. Finally, you can always call a credit counselor and receive free advice should your situation change.
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