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.
In the United States, Credit counseling agencies are loosely regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, which can sue companies that have deceived consumers about the cost, nature, or benefits of their services.[1] Different states may regulate DMPs individually and Attorneys General are empowered to protect state citizens from fraud.[4] Two professional associations represent Credit counselors: the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.[6]
The big downside is, if you need to leave your job for any reason, including if you're terminated, you must pay back the 401(k) loan quickly -- often within 60 days. If you don't, the unpaid loan is treated as a taxable distribution and you'd have to pay a 10% penalty. Not only can a 401(k) loan trap you in your job, but you could also hurt your retirement savings goals, because you'll have less money invested and growing. 
Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows you to discharge most debts, which means the debt disappears after bankruptcy proceedings. But there are strict income limits to be eligible -- generally your income must be below the median in your state -- and you might have to turn over some of assets to be sold so proceeds can be used to repay creditors. Your house, a very low-value automobile, and tools used for business are usually exempt from being sold. 
Contact your bank and stop payments to the agency servicing your debt management program as soon as you become aware the agency has shut down. You should immediately contact the creditors involved and ask if you could continue paying them directly or would they work out another payment plan. Also, ask for a credit report and verify that previous payments you made to the DMP agency were sent to your creditors. If payments were missed, there could be some negative consequences to your credit score. Finally, you could contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency and ask them to intervene on your behalf with your creditors.
You cannot sign up for new credit cards, nor can you use the ones you have. While it may sound unreasonable to bar you from using credit, the point of your debt management plan is helping you dig your way out. “The last thing you want to be doing is running up more high-interest debt on the side,” said McClary. “You’re not doing yourself any favors in that situation.”
With debt management, you’re also paying for something you can do yourself. Even if you have tarnished credit, you may be able to get a debt consolidation loan yourself and pay off your debt without the aid of a debt management company. You can also try to negotiate lower interest rates and payments with your creditors on your own. But either solution would require more self-control than debt management, since the burden would be completely on you to stop acquiring new debt.
Participating in a credit counseling session will not be reflected on your credit report and it will not impact your credit score. However, changes in your financial behavior, especially after choosing a debt solution, may have a positive or negative impact on your score. For example, joining a debt management program and having your credit cards closed may initially lower your score. But making on-time payments you can afford over time, could raise your score. A study published by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that participants saw a 50 point average increase in their credit scores, 18 months after finishing the service. This gain applied to those in the bottom quartile of credit score.
One of the most effective ways to budget to eliminate debt is using the cash envelope system. This is where you place a predetermined amount of money in different envelopes labeled with different spending categories. Anytime you spend within a category, the money must come from the corresponding envelope. When the money is out, it’s all out, and you can’t overspend.
Ask for a rate reduction. If you haven’t looked at the interest rates you’re paying, especially on credit cards, take a look at your statement and find out. If you have been a consistent, on-time payer, your card company will want to retain your business. Tell them they can, if they drop your interest rate to the lowest levels. This is one area where “Ask and ye shall receive” should actually work.
But with the help of her credit counselor, she worked out a plan that got her out of debt in just 3 years. When she saw her credit card balances going down, she knew she made the right decision. With the money she’s saving, she plans to make a great down payment for a brand new car. And she looks forward to not stressing about how she’ll be able to afford the payments.
Bankruptcy lets you resolve your debt under protection from a federal court. Chapter 7 bankruptcy erases most debts in three to six months and wipes the slate clean, and you may get to keep certain assets. It’ll stop calls from collectors and prevent lawsuits against you. Like debt settlement, your credit will suffer, but research shows credit scores rebound quickly.
Went with National Debt Relief. One of my creditors Capital One decided to take me to court and sue me for $8880. Balance at my last payment was $7911. I borrowed $3500 and deposited it in my bank account at National Debt Relief hoping they could reach an agreement and avoid court. I was due in court on Monday. The Friday before court they notified me they had a verbal agreement with Capital One. I was required to take the agreement to court on Monday and have the Capital One Lawyer agree to it and the Judge to sign off and dismiss the case. The agreement was sighed by all parties. National Debt still charged me the full amount of there fees 22%. The agreement was for 70 Cents on the... Read More
Fortunately, there are several methods to reduce debt – and maybe even eliminate it – in a consistent and logical manner. This can be done on your own, if you have discipline, but it’s often beneficial to partner with financial professionals, who can negotiate lower rates with lenders, refinance homes or create budgets that keep you on the right course.
“There are hundreds of companies that claim to offer consumers ways to erase bad credit, create a new credit identity, or even remove bankruptcies, judgments or liens from credit files. Many of these services are outright scams and should be avoided,” says Mike Long, executive vice president and chief credit officer at UW Credit Union in Wisconsin.
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 card forbearance programs are offered by companies. Once again, the major lenders including Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Discover Card, and others offer credit card forbearance programs that may allow consumers to delay monthly payments from six months to over a year. These programs may also lower interest rates, reduce a customer’s minimum monthly payment, or waive all fees.
Reducing the term of your loans, even with a lower interest rate, will likely increase your current monthly payment. But with fewer years of payments to handle, you can save a bundle over time. SoFi, a top student loan refinancing provider, offers one such service. With no prepayment penalties and no hidden fees, it’s an easy way to save thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of your loan.

This isn't good news for the millions of American consumers who struggle with mounting debts and less-than-perfect credit scores. Since carrying long-term debts increases your chances of missing a payment, running up excessive balances or damaging your credit in either ways, debt consolidation lenders don't have a very big pool of potential applicants at their disposal. Unless you've been fortunate enough to maintain a stellar credit score during your debt struggles, you might have to look elsewhere for help.
Afterward, a National Debt Relief specialist will contact you to discuss options and require that you provide proof of your debt balance, income, assets and basic necessity expenses. Any proof that you are struggling with financial hardship needs to be provided during the initial financial review to assess whether a debt settlement program is right for you.
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.
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.
The internet has made it easier than ever to start a business with close to zero up-front costs. Set up shop as a freelance writer, proofreader, or virtual assistant, and offer your services to other companies who want outside help with hiring a permanent employee. You can work as many or as few hours as you want, with some people turning their businesses into six-figure full-time jobs.
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.
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.

Howard – The problem with Chapter 7s is that you must meet minimum income requirements (based on the minimum income threshold in your state). This means there’s a possibility that you may not qualify for a Chapter 7, so it may not be an option for wiping out credit card debt. Before you decide to go the bankruptcy route, have you considered a Debt Management Program? I know 45k is an huge burden and it’s stressful, but there are other options that may help. Before you decide on bankruptcy, we’d advise exploring all of your options. It’s worth contacting a consumer credit counseling service. They’ll be able to review your individual personal financial situation and debt load to determine whether or not you’d be a good candidate for a DMP. If you are a good fit, they’ll work with your creditors to lower you interest rate and lower your monthly payments to one monthly payment you can afford. If a DMP isn’t a good fit, and bankruptcy is your best option — they’ll be able to tell you that as well. A consultation is free, but make sure you choose a consumer credit counseling service that is accredited by the National Foundation for Consumer Credit Counseling.
The Federal Reserve says that the average household debt is up to $132,529 (including mortgages) a jump of 11% in the past decade. Credit card debt and auto loans are climbing over the $1 trillion mark. Student-loan debt has hit a staggering $1.3 trillion with 44.7 million borrowers, who owe an average of $37,172. That figure alone is up 186% in the past decade!
The rule also specifies that the consumers’ money set aside to pay debts be maintained in an account at an insured financial institution; that the consumer owns the funds and any interest accrued; that the debt settlement company does not own, control or have any affiliation with the company administering the account; and that the provider does not exchange any referral fees with the company administering the account, the FTC says.
“Clients who are able to stay with the program and get all their debt settled realize approximate savings of 50% before fees, or 30% including our fees, over 24 to 48 months. All claims are based on enrolled debts. Not all debts are eligible for enrollment. Not all clients complete our program for various reasons, including their ability to save sufficient funds. Estimates based on prior results, which will vary based on specific circumstances. We do not guarantee that your debts will be lowered by a specific amount or percentage or that you will be debt-free within a specific period of time. We do not assume consumer debt, make monthly payments to creditors or provide tax, bankruptcy, accounting or legal advice or credit repair services. Not available in all states. Please contact a tax professional to discuss tax consequences of settlement. Please consult with a bankruptcy attorney for more information on bankruptcy. Read and understand all program materials prior to enrollment, including potential adverse impact on credit rating.”

The sad fact is that usually only the wealthiest kids are taught good financial practices and habits, so they have advantages throughout their entire working lives. Those of us less fortunate have to figure out (too late – if ever) that creating/establishing multiple streams of income is one of the most certain methods to ensure a better life. Sure, many people think opening a business will make them plenty of money, but the reality is more like plenty of headaches before plenty of money. Many people start a family early in life, and this also can be an obstacle to financial success.
If the monthly payment on your debt isn't enough to pay off the interest that accrued during the month, you will literally be in debt forever. All the money you pay would go toward interest, and your principal balance would never go down. That's why it's important to make sure your payments reduce your principal each month as much as possible if you hope to become debt free.
Step 1: Open a dedicated savings account. At the start of your debt settlement program, National Debt Relief requires that you open a savings account where you will begin making monthly payments. The amount you pay each month is decided on by National Debt Relief, and is generally lower than the total payments you’re currently making to creditors. You are in total control of the funds in your account, which is only disbursed once a settlement is reached between National Debt Relief (on your behalf) and your creditors.
Over time, the debt reductions that we're able to secure could enable you to begin building up a store of savings or adding to your existing retirement account. For many past clients, our program was a turning point: Before enrolling, they lived paycheck to paycheck and could still barely afford to make ends meet. After successfully completing our debt settlement plan, they finally had the means to prepare and save for the future. It's the least we can do to help.
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.
Who’s it best for? If you can’t part with your smartphone, InCharge has a mobile app that lets you manage your account on the go. You can add creditors, change payment due dates, and even see whether creditors have accepted proposals regarding reduced monthly payments or interest rates. They even have a fully online credit counseling option if you prefer that over phone or in-person counseling.
Look into the fine print of any balance-transfer card you're considering to find out what your credit limit will be with the card. Many times, you won't be able to know until you get approved for the card. You won't be able to transfer more than that limit, less the balance transfer fee, if there is one, and if you exceed the limit you might face a fee.
In most cases, medical debt has no interest rate attached to it so there really is no gain by including it in a debt consolidation program. Remember the key elements of debt consolidation are: a) a reduced interest rate; and b) lower monthly payment. The one advantage to medical debt consolidation is that it becomes part of your single, monthly payment and could help you pay off the debt faster.
My first week of training was taught by the Chief Sales Officer. That set the tone for how leadership operates. They care and are involved. All my coworkers and leadership are willing to help regardless of what team you are on and who you report to. There is A LOT of recognition for all kinds of successes. There are plenty of spiffs throughout the week/month. The money potential is real. If you are a worker, willing...
Debt consolidation: This is a safer option to lower your debt costs. While debt settlement forces your lenders to settle your debts for a lower cost, debt consolidation does just what it says: it consolidates your debts into one loan with a lower interest rate. That helps you stop paying high interest. While debt consolidation might not save you as much money, it can keep your credit score intact and is less risky than debt settlement or bankruptcy.
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