However, not all credit counseling agencies are created equal. While some are accredited nonprofits, others are for-profit ventures that charge high fees and use questionable tactics, such as asking clients to dispute legitimate debts on credit reports or pay to become an authorized user on a stranger's credit card. Unscrupulous agencies may drain the wallets of already cash-strapped families and fail to address the underlying issues like budgeting, which are needed to ensure long-lasting financial success.
Consumers can apply for a debt management plan regardless of their credit score. Once they set up an initial consultation with a credit counseling agency, they will go over the details of their debts and their income with their agency who will come up with an action plan on their behalf. If the consumer decides to move forward with a debt management plan, it can take a few hours or a few weeks to get started. “Once the recommendation for a debt management plan is made, it’s up to you to decide how quickly to enroll,” said McClary.
Consumers with multiple sources of debt – credit cards, mortgage, student loans, etc. – often try and address each one every month. Bad move! Remedy: Go back to your budget, trim spending to bare bones on everything but essentials, and create a $100 (or preferably $1,000) surplus that goes directly at the credit card with the highest interest rate. When that’s paid off, go after the card with the next highest interest rate and keep going until all credit card debt is eliminated.
The federal government allows you to consolidate eligible federal student loan debt from multiple loans into one big loan for convenience. Doing so will not lower your interest rate -- the new rate on the consolidation loan is determined by a weighted average of debt you're consolidating -- but it makes sense if you have many loans from multiple years of school and keeping track of all of them is difficult.
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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.
If you want to get out of debt fast, you have to stop using debt to fund your lifestyle. This means no more financing furniture, no more signing up for credit cards, no more test driving brand new cars that you don’t have the cash to pay for. This will help you focus solely on the debt that you currently do have so that you can develop a game plan to pay it off quickly.
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.
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.
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.
The negative impact is due to the fact that you must close your accounts while in the program, and this can affect your debt-usage ratio. This factor accounts for about 15% of your credit scores. (On the flip side, paying down your debts will improve your overall debt levels. Some consumers see their scores improve during and after one of these programs.)
The second thing that you can do is trim your expenses. Go over each line item on your budget and ask yourself, “how can I make this number smaller?” It may involve cancelling services that you rarely use like a gym membership, Netflix subscription, etc. It might even involve reducing the amount of times that you eat out at restaurants each month. The amount that you slash depends upon your commitment level to getting out of debt. The more committed you are, the easier it will be for you to give up some of the unnecessary amenities in life. You might not even need to sacrifice much if you can find these items or services for less. Check out Clark’s Free and Cheap List to help you with this process.
Even outside of the holidays, plenty of seasonal jobs may be available. Springtime brings the need for seasonal greenhouse workers and farm jobs, while summer calls for tour operators and all types of outdoor, temporary workers from lifeguards to landscapers. Fall brings seasonal work for haunted house attractions, pumpkin patches, and fall harvest.
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 you negotiate a payment plan or a settlement offer, get it in writing. And don't give creditors access to your bank account, as this could make it easier for them to get a court order to freeze your bank account or to put a lien on it -- and unscrupulous collectors could take out more money than you give permission for. Instead, send payments in the mail.
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.
At this point, you will need to continue following the advice of the credit counseling agency you hired to help and remember the benefits of being debt-free. Life is a lot more difficult when you’re juggling credit card bills and other payments each month. If you want to avoid winding up back in debt, it’s crucial to remember how far you’ve come and how wonderful freedom feels.
Companies like Consumer Credit Counseling Service can help you get better interest rates and lower payments, but at a price. When you use one of these companies and then try to get a Conventional, FHA, or VA loan, you will be treated the same as if you had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Mortgage underwriting guidelines for traditional mortgages will consider your credit trashed, so don't do it. Real debt help is found only in changing your behavior.
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:
They also have a wider range of customer-friendly features than the average debt management company. These include a clear, intuitively designed website, online chat, Saturday credit counseling hours, and dozens of branches nationwide for those who want to do business face to face. Fees range from $0 to $50 for setup, and $0 to $75 monthly, depending on your state.
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.
With debt settlement, your attorney will ask you to stop making payments to your creditors and instead, contribute money on a regular basis to a fund. When the fund reaches a certain level, the attorney will approach creditors and seek an agreement to settle for that amount. If the creditor accepts the agreement, the debt is considered settled. Read more about debt management vs. debt settlement.