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.

It sounds like you have done what you can to protect yourself (credit freeze, law enforcement etc.) I am not sure what your bank will do but I can’t imagine they will pursue you for a crime committed against you. Have you changed the bank account you deposit your Social Security check into? If not, talk with your bank. It would seem to be a reasonable precaution.


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.
Personal loans. Personal loans are another solution to refinance debt. You can take out a personal loan to repay credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, or other types of high-interest debt. Many personal lenders do forbid you from using the proceeds of your loan to repay student debt, but otherwise you have almost endless flexibility in what you can use the borrowed money for. 
You’ll pay a nonprofit credit counseling agency to consolidate your debts into one monthly payment, while also reducing your interest rate, in an effort to pay off your debt faster. This is a good option for consumers in credit card debt who have a steady income to repay the debt within three to five years. Unlike debt settlement, a debt management plan should help improve your credit score.
If you are working with a credit counselor and think you’ll miss a payment, they can take proactive steps to mitigate consequences and create a plan to get you back on track. They can even negotiate to have additional late payments or late fees reduced or waived if you miss a payment. The key to making this work is being completely open and honest about your situation and speaking with your credit counselor as soon as you realize your payment will be late.
No guarantees. Lenders usually want to work with you, but they can choose not to. This is especially true with debt settlement. You may contribute to the fund used to make a settlement offer for 6-8 months and then find out the lender won’t accept the offer. If you choose this route, be sure to get a written agreement from the lender that they will work with you.

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.
A DMP is a payment plan that helps you repay your debts. Under the plan, you deposit funds with us each month, which we disburse to your creditors. We also handle calls from your creditors to ensure everything is going smoothly. The vast majority of our payment processing is electronic, so funds are transferred directly to the creditors without delay. Creditors may also offer to reduce or waive fees, finances charges, or interest rates to help lower your DMP payments and ensure your success on the plan. Learn More
Debt settlement: This is what National Debt Relief is best at. National Debt Relief has been doing debt settlements for years and knows the ins and outs of the laws around debt settlements. While debt settlement is a good option for people who are drowning in debt, it does have some downsides, including wrecking your credit score. Be sure to know the risks surrounding debt settlement before you start the process. National Debt Relief has all the information you need to know about debt settlement on its website.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article – I’m planning to share it with my husband tonight. Your approach and honestly in the article is so freshing since I myself was in a crazy amount of debt as of last year ($22K at the peak). Essentially, I followed all the steps you mentioned (took a hard look at my total debt, got a higher ($7K more) paying job, transferred balances to a 0% card and paid off a load of consumer debt. I’m scheduled to pay off all my consumer debt by April 2011.

“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.”
Those who enroll make monthly deposits with a credit counseling organization, which then is used to pay the debts according to a predetermined payment schedule developed by the counselor and creditors. Your monthly payment is tailored to what the customer can afford, and you know before agreeing to take part in the program what that monthly amount is. An analysis of household income vs. expenditures determines the monthly payment.
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