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.
Credit counseling works because it provides people with the time and tools to focus on their financial situation. The nonprofit version of this service provides a holistic, high-level view of an individual or family’s debts, assets, income and expenses before recommending a debt relief strategy. These services work because the solutions provided are personalized and specific, and because counselors are well-trained and non-biased.
“When someone meets with a certified credit counselor, they get expert advice for overcoming their most urgent financial challenges,” Bruce McClary, Vice President of Communications at the NFCC said. “Consumers benefit from a comprehensive review of their entire financial situation. Every counseling session is completely confidential with advice that is uniquely designed for each individual.”
It definitely sounds like you are in a tough spot. Can you make minimum payments until you get a place to rent and then try to resolve your debt? In addition, it would be a good idea for you to check out credit counseling as that may allow you to lower your payments, pay your debt in full, and avoid the kind of damage to your credit that settlement will do. (I am not opposed to settlement – it can be helpful in certain situations. But it definitely will affect your credit scores for some time.)
Nobody wants to declare bankruptcy, and it is true debt management provides a viable alternative to becoming legally destitute. However, enrolling in debt management or credit counseling is actually a prerequisite to filing bankruptcy. So even if you find yourself still unable to pay all of your creditors, bankruptcy is then an option for you after you have tried debt management.
Having said that, the other posters are correct. You can settle debt on your own without the help of a debt settlement company. It does take a lot of time and energy though. That is why some people choose to use a company to do it for them. Due your due diligence and search for reviews of the companies you are interested in and see what others have to say.
If you struggle with learning how to develop a good budget so you can get your debts paid on time each month, you may consider using a credit counselor to get back on track. Consumer credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that will help you find a workable solution to financial problems. However, some nonprofit credit agencies charge excessive fees that are not applied to debt reduction.
Choose your lender. With debt consolidation, you can choose the lender you work with. And you have plenty of options to choose from. You can compare lenders here at our debt consolidation loan marketplace. You may get to explore loan offers after inputting some basic information. You can also use our widget below and compare offers from up to five different lenders on LendingTree.
You could consolidate your debts by getting a loan from a bank, credit union or some other source of funds. If you own your home and have some equity you could most probably get a home equity loan or homeowner equity line of credit (HELOC) and use the funds to pay off all of your other debts. These are called secured loans because you’re required to secure them by using the equity in your home as collateral. In fact, home equity loans are often called second mortgages. Whichever you choose you should end up with a much lower monthly payment than the sum of the payments you been making.

Having said that, the other posters are correct. You can settle debt on your own without the help of a debt settlement company. It does take a lot of time and energy though. That is why some people choose to use a company to do it for them. Due your due diligence and search for reviews of the companies you are interested in and see what others have to say.
Find a good credit counselor. Almost all DMPs are administered by consumer credit counseling agencies--so much so, in fact, that the terms "credit counseling" and "debt management" are often used interchangeably. Thoroughly researching the agency is the most important thing to do before deciding to enroll in their debt management program. The FTC has put together a simple guide to help you get started and choose the right plan.
They say you can opt out at anytime. After 2 years of payments and in between any ongoing negotiations I sent a written statement to opt out. They called me to verify which I answered, then put me on hold several times for 5 to 10 minutes each time and then said my supervisor would like to speak with you. I hung up frustrated and since then they blow up my phone daily with phone calls!!! I opted out, leave me alone!
In addition to using the free services from a non-profit, or working with the lender, there are steps that you can take yourself that can help you reduce your debt. It often combines budgeting as well as working out a solution with the lender. Some of those assistance programs range from payment plans to interest rate reductions or forbearance. It is also important for families to know the difference between bad debt and good debt, so when someone should borrow money or not. The fact is that families, no matter their income, need all the assistance they can get in order to become debt free and pay outstanding bills.
However, outside of these types of package services, there is little difference with the actual debt management service provided. If money is already tight and you can’t afford the bills you have now, there’s little reason to add another. You’re usually better off going through a nonprofit agency in order to keep fees low and ensure your plan is affordable.
National Debt Relief is proud to be reviewed and ranked as a Top Provider by these independent review websites. National Debt Relief does not compensate these providers to apply their objective criteria to our company and rank us compared to our peers. We do, however, advertise on their websites because we are proud of our independent rankings. We have confirmed that each independent review is subject to its own criteria and not influenced by our advertising.
This can be especially helpful for someone with serious debt (generally $7,500 or more), who is struggling to make minimum payments and who have suffered a financial hardship, such as job loss, medical expense and divorce. Regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, debt settlement companies work on a consumer’s behalf to lower the principal balances owed. It usually takes two to five years and is best for those who would otherwise need to consider bankruptcy. Check the American Fair Credit Council for reputable providers.
Another gray area involves paying to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card. Winkfield says he's heard of people paying $1,500 a month for this service. Credit repair companies solicit people to "rent" their good credit score to others by adding authorized users to their credit cards. The credit repair agency gets a cut of the monthly payment in exchange for setting up the arrangement. The credit account will appear on the report of an authorized user and factor into an improved credit score. Known as piggybacking, the practice isn't illegal, but may violate the terms of service for card issuers.
I have a creditor that has reported my account as a charge off bad debt. Two years ago I had made an agreement with the creditors third party collection agency to pay the bad debt on a monthly basis. I have paid each month on time to the creditor, but they have not reported this, and now my credit score is sinking because of this. Is this right? I have made my payments on time and they refuse to have this changed. I had requested the creditor to please change the repoting, but they have refused. Is this right? By law are they able to do this?
I had credit card debt and I used Credit Advocates to help with the solution. Now that I am at the end of paying off the debt I just wanted to cry when I saw how much I was charged in fees – it was a fee for everything including phone calls made for me. At least between a forth and half of the monies sent went to them. If I had it to do over again I would call the credit card companies and try to repay the lesser amount over time. It seems to me that the companies that say they can help are only there to take your monies at a very high rate of fees, etc.
Another gray area involves paying to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card. Winkfield says he's heard of people paying $1,500 a month for this service. Credit repair companies solicit people to "rent" their good credit score to others by adding authorized users to their credit cards. The credit repair agency gets a cut of the monthly payment in exchange for setting up the arrangement. The credit account will appear on the report of an authorized user and factor into an improved credit score. Known as piggybacking, the practice isn't illegal, but may violate the terms of service for card issuers.

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.
They say you can opt out at anytime. After 2 years of payments and in between any ongoing negotiations I sent a written statement to opt out. They called me to verify which I answered, then put me on hold several times for 5 to 10 minutes each time and then said my supervisor would like to speak with you. I hung up frustrated and since then they blow up my phone daily with phone calls!!! I opted out, leave me alone!
Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance student loans, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.
Debt settlement companies, also sometimes called "debt relief" or "debt adjusting" companies, often claim they can negotiate with your creditors to reduce the amount you owe. Consider all of your options, including working with a nonprofit credit counselor, and negotiating directly with the creditor or debt collector yourself. Before agreeing to work with a debt settlement company, there are risks that you should consider:
DISCLAIMER - Debt.com does not provide direct debt adjustment services, but, upon request, acts as a locator service for BBB registered companies. It is ultimately up to you to determine whether the companies that we may introduce you to are appropriate for your situation. For debt consolidation programs, where permissible by law, companies may charge a one-time enrollment fee typically from $25 up to $75 for account establishment and for debt relief proposals submitted on your behalf to each of your creditors. Monthly program administration fees will vary from $5 but no greater than $75 depending on your state of residence and/or the number of creditors who agree to accept proposals and become enrolled in the program. Fees subject to change if permissible by law. For debt settlement programs, by law, you may not be charged any fee until a debt settlement is arranged on your behalf, you approve the settlement, and at least one payment is made towards the settlement. Each program offered by independent financial service providers is unique so ask them for their complete details of the program and fees.
They start by reviewing your income, expenses and credit score to determine whether how creditworthy you are. Your credit score is the key number in that equation. The higher, the better. Anything above 700 and you should get an affordable interest rate on your loan. Anything below that and you will pay a much higher interest rate or possibly not qualify for a loan at all if your score has dipped below 620.

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.
NDR is a great place to turn to if you find yourself deep in financial woes. In my case it occurred via hardships but I can see where I was fiscally irresponsible before the hardships. No judgment from the employees, just good advice and definitely help. They are familiar with and have worked with most financial organizations. Got me a deal with my highest creditor within months of joining. Definitely recommend
I really liked your article! It was well timed for me today! I have faced a little bit more my financial situation, I have paid some bills today and got a vision of the other ones coming in the next weeks and started an excel spreadsheet of my financial situation. So thanks for the swift kick in the situation! I allready have brought my lifestyle to a more aligned position I am currently in! Now for the rest! Now to face the fears of managing the money!
Credit card programs from various banks and card companies - Find a comprehensive list of credit card issuers and the assistance programs they offer their customers. Locate their contact information and phone numbers. While not everyone will qualify for the solutions they offer, there is no harm in applying and at least trying. It just takes a little of your time and a phone call. Between the programs they offer and the other resources you will find on this site, your chances of getting out of debt in a fairly reasonable timeframe are improved. Find programs that provide credit card help.
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.

While maybe not as widely known, this may be the leading non-profit organization to call for debt management plans, help for paying loans, and other credit counseling in western Texas. They can help qualified individuals refinance their debts and pay off outstanding bills over a period of time using DMPs, consolidation, or so called hardship programs. Services are offered in Spanish too.

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.
Over time, bankruptcy might come back to bite you in unexpected ways. If your employer requires you to carry a security clearance, there's a chance that it could be rescinded. If you're applying for a mortgage or rental property, your brush with insolvency could disqualify you from consideration. Depending on your area of expertise, you might even find it difficult to find or keep a job.
I know it’s fab to live in New York City or Los Angeles or San Francisco but if you’re going to be forever in debt and never able to retire, it’s not worth it. I know it takes money to move so you can choose from our other options; finding a cheaper place, getting a roommate, moving back in with your parents until you’ve saved enough to make a move.
Our experience with Clearpoint Credit Counseling is remarkable as they have helped us understand how to remove that overwhelming and disastrous financial burden from our lives. Our Clearpoint counselor is always welcoming, empathetic, professional and experienced and he has allowed us to live our lives as we had dreamed—free from the nightmare of the intimidating phone calls, the threatening letters and the guilt we felt.
The fact is, more than half of Americans actually spend more than they earn each month, according to a Pew Research study, and use credit to bridge the gap. So it’s easy to see how so many people are struggling with debt — and why some choose to bury their heads in the sand. For many in debt, the reality of owing so much money is too much to face — so they simply choose not to.
You cannot use your existing credit cards while you’re on a debt management plan, nor can you open new accounts. McClary also said that if you do manage to open new credit card accounts during your debt management plan, existing creditors who find out may stop participating in your debt management plan and reset your account to its original terms and interest rate.

There are big benefits to this approach. You don't have to go through an approval process -- the amount you can borrow is determined by your policy's value. You can use the money to repay any debt you want, because there's no explanation required for what you plan to do with it. And while you need to pay back the policy with interest, you're borrowing from yourself so you aren't fattening the pockets of a creditor. Furthermore, there's typically no mandatory minimum monthly payment, and interest rates are low. 
Credit counseling. Most businesses in the debt-relief industry offer free credit counseling services. Certified credit counselors help consumers build an affordable budget and learn how to live with it. Counselors teach them the debt-relief options available and offer advice on which one best suits their situation. This is an overlooked aspect of many debt-relief services. It increases the financial literacy of consumers by leaps and bounds.
They charge you 18% of all the debt you enroll with them as a fee which means if you owe 15k in debt, you pay them $2700 in fees. But the catch is you pay nothing up front. Your money goes into a savings account monthly but once your first debt is settled, they collect that entire fee from your dedicate savings account. So you then have minimal saved cash available for the next debt that you owe to be settled. So that debt can end up going to a law firm and you get sued.
Even better, when you refinance to a lower-rate loan, it lowers your monthly payment. You could continue to pay the higher payments you were making before the refinance to get debt paid off on an accelerated timeline. That $10,000 at 18% over seven years would have monthly payments of around $210 monthly. If you refinanced to a 9% loan with a seven-year repayment period, the required payment would drop to $161. But if you kept paying the $210 you were paying before, you could repay the loan in just five years and pay only $2,418 in interest. You'd make payments for two years less and save yourself $5,252 in interest. 
Eliminate and consolidate medical debt to deal with health care costs that are continuing to escalate and that are really out of control. There are ways to consolidate medical debt using assistance programs that are offered by directly hospitals, medical providers, doctors and counselors. These plans are becoming more common in today’s challenging economy and when also considering the aging population. A health care provider will want to find some type of solution for the patient, as in some cases if they do not work with them it can lead to bad public relations. Learn more on how to eliminate medical debt.
DMP: The fact that you’re participating in a DMP isn’t calculated into your credit score, although it will be noted on your credit report. That said, other consequences of the DMP will have an effect. For instance, closing your accounts will affect the amount of credit you have available and could impact your credit history, both of which figure into the credit score algorithm. To learn more about how credit scores are calculated, visit Learn How Debt Affects Your Credit Score.

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.
Avoid outrageous upfront fees. A small initial fee (up to $50 or, in rare cases, as much as $100 if you have a lot of debt or high income) is normal, but large upfront fees are out of line. If any agency asks for a fee (or donation) make sure that you know what it will cover, and get it in writing. Find out if you'll have to pay any additional fees to start the program. Don't get tricked into paying one "consultation fee," and then an "application fee" or "an enrollment fee." If you're truly unable to pay, look for an agency that is willing to waive the fee or spread it out (without charging additional fees for doing so).
Instead of diving into debt settlement, a better option might be to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor. Credit counseling organizations can help you better understand tactics for managing and reducing your debt, including creating and following a budget. Credit counseling may not have the negative impact of debt settlement (though if you choose a Debt Management Plan, it could appear on your credit report).

“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.”
Consolidate with a home equity loan. If your total debt load, including credit card, medical, and other unsecured borrowing seem insurmountable for you to pay off, then you can use a home equity loan to consolidate and even pay off these bills. While there are some potentially major risks if you do not do this correctly, the approach is an option. A home equity loan can help you eliminate your higher interest, unsecured debt and improve your financial situation.
Great article. We are in the process of paying down debt, and the freedom we feel in watching that number decrease is a beautiful thing! Doing something RIGHT AWAY is key because, as your chart above shows, the greater the amount of money going into paying debt, the less you have to spend (even on the things you truly need!), so the debt pile increases and you never get out from under it. Everyone can do something NOW to see a shift in that picture. It all starts with an earnest desire to confront and change. Thanks for sharing.
The most important message is to DO SOMETHING. I would encourage folks to do the reverse of taking on the larger balances first and paying more on them. Pick a smaller balance, high interest card and pay it off. This gives motivation to get the next one up the ladder in your payoff plans. For the sake of your credit score, remember length of history and pay history go together to determine your score so closing that account may actually lower your score over time. If you cannot trust yourself not to use it, close it anyway.
That being said, I do not believe that National Debt Relief is a scam. Debt settlement is not the right debt relief solution for everyone, but it is the right option for some. National Debt Relief is a member of the American Fair Credit Council, whose members strictly adhere to a code of conduct that includes not charging any fees for settling an account until that account has been settled. Anyone considering debt settlement should avoid any firm that charges advance fees.
Credit counseling (known in the United Kingdom as Debt counselling) is commonly a process that is used to help individual debtors with debt settlement through education, budgeting and the use of a variety of tools with the goal to reduce and ultimately eliminate debt.[1] Credit counseling is most often done by Credit counseling agencies that are empowered by contract to act on behalf of the debtor to negotiate with creditors to resolve debt that is beyond a debtor's ability to pay. Some of the agencies are non-profits that charge at no or non-fee rates, while others can be for-profit and include high fees. Regulations on credit counseling and Credit counseling agencies varies by country and sometimes within regions of the countries themselves.[1] In the United States, individuals filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy are required to receive counseling.
Take advantage of free credit counseling. The best kept secret in the debt management industry is that you can do most of the things debt management agencies do and avoid paying their fees. Credit counseling is a mandatory prerequisite to enrolling in a DMP. Credit.org offers credit counseling at no charge. Many debtors find that credit counseling alone can help set them on the path to being debt free.[2]

While National Debt Relief claims that people who finish its debt relief program save on average 30% off their original debt, it’s important to consider the interest and fees you’ll accrue during the time you’re enrolled in the program. Furthermore, If you don’t finish the program, or if National Debt Relief is unsuccessful at negotiating the terms, you can end up stuck with a higher balance than you started off with.
Start online credit counseling to see if you qualify for our debt consolidation alternative. During your free counseling session, we’ll help you identify the root cause of your financial problems. We’ll also help you develop a budget that minimizes your monthly expenses. Finally, based on your income, assets and budgets, we’ll recommend a debt relief solution tailored to your personal situation. This solution may be the debt management plan which consolidates your monthly payments. Other solutions include bankruptcy and referrals to other nonprofit organizations who can help you save money and eliminate debt. If you’d prefer to speak with a live counselor, call the number on the right.

Second, there's no guarantee that creditors will accept a partial payment. They may refuse any terms that a bankruptcy alternative proposes, leaving you potentially in worse shape than when you began. Finally, late fees and interest accrue on unpaid balances. That's money you'd have to pay, on top of any exorbitant fees the credit agency itself may be charging. 
I’ve done some research on debt consolidation loans from financial institutions, and have found one for a $10,000 loan @ $197/month for 5 years, fixed rate of 6.99%. This will allow us to consolidate all of our credit card & medical bill debt (normally costing around $1000-1500/month) and allow us the cash to get her car fixed, paying one low monthly cost. Once we get her car fixed we are going to start paying more than the $197/month to pay the loan off quicker.
Gerri Detweiler focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of TalkCreditRadio.com.
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.
You didn’t get into debt quickly, and you won’t get out of debt quickly. If you aren’t willing to devote three to five years to wipe out your credit card debt, then you might as well hire a attorney and file for bankruptcy, Ulzheimer says. Just keep in mind that hiring a bankruptcy attorney is expensive, and a bankruptcy will stay on your credit record for seven or 10 years (depending on the type of bankruptcy).

The other approach is more efficient, though: Paying off your highest-interest-rate debts first. Remember that you compiled a list of your debts and their interest rates. Well, the ones with the highest rates are costing you the most, over time. So to minimize your interest expense, you should pay off a debt carrying a 21% interest rate before you tackle a debt with a 12% interest rate.
Look for a nonprofit credit counseling organization that belongs to either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). They ensure member agencies pass rigorous standards set forth by the Council on Accreditation or another approved third party, and that their counselors pass a comprehensive certification program. Even if they are members of such organizations, though, be picky.
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