While it seems to make sense to devote every dollar possible to eliminating debt today, in the long run, it’s a costly mistake. Remedy: Contribute at least 5%-10% of your income to retirement savings as soon as you begin working and don’t let eliminating debt cut into that. Time is the most powerful tool in retirement savings. The earlier you start contributing to a 401(k) or other retirement fund, the better off you’ll be at retirement. Find other places in your budget to pay down credit card accounts.
People are creatures of habits and spending money is no exception. We shop at the same stores, eat in the same restaurants and drive the same car, because it’s comfortable. It’s also costing you more than you can handle financially. Remedy: If you won’t change your spending habits, you won’t ever get out of debt. Start with your morning habits (have your coffee and breakfast at home). Go to lunch with a brown bag, not a wallet. In the evening, watch games or movies on TV, while eating a home cooked meal. You will see an immediate impact on your daily spending habits. You don’t have to do without. You just have to make better choices with what you do.
As a debt junkie for almost ten years, I ran up credit card after credit card living like my salary was about four times its actual size. Stupid things I bought on credit included flying lessons, weekends in Las Vegas, and a brand new pickup truck. Hey, I never said I wasn’t having fun. (Remember, I’m on the other side of 25 now, so I started college pre-recession… during the dot-com boom. Back then, I actually thought I could graduate with a sociology major and find a $75k a year job—because I knew people who did!)
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.
Are your credit cards reported as current now? (Paid on time?) If so, then settling them probably will hurt your scores as they will likely be reported as settled for less than the full balance, or as a partial payment. You can certainly talk with them and see whether they would be willing to settle without that, but in our experience that is typically how it works.
Report any problems you have with a debt collection company to your State Attorney General's Office, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your state Attorney General’s office can help you find out your rights under your state’s law.

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.
If you're interested in starting a debt management plan, you'll first need to find a credit counselor. The Federal Trade Commission recommends you never agree to any debt management plan until a reputable credit counselor has thoroughly reviewed your financial situation with you. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a state-by-state list of approved credit counseling agencies, so you can search for someone near you.
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If you enter a debt settlement program, you’re essentially hiring a company to negotiate with creditors on your behalf. In order to show creditors that you’re truly unable to repay your debts (and hopefully convince them to settle for less than what you owe), the debt relief company will ask you to not make payments on your outstanding debts. During this time, interest and late fees will accrue on your loans.
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.
Although there is variation from country to country and even in regions within country, consumer debt is primarily made up of home loans, credit card debt and car loans.[3] Credit counseling includes an array of services to address consumer debt that is not within the debtor's ability to pay, such as education about credi personal finance, budgeting and debt management. In addition to education, a popular credit counseling option is the ‘‘Debt management plan’’ (‘‘DMP’’, known in the United Kingdom as the Individual voluntary arrangement or "IVA"). In order to initiate a DMP, a consumer would authorize the credit counselor to contact each of the consumer’s unsecured creditors and negotiate with each creditor to lower the consumer’s monthly payment amount, to lower the interest rate, and to waive any outstanding late fees. The debt was then ‘‘consolidated’’ into a single payment.[1]
Settling your debts used to be a less than reputable practice but has recently gained prominence. It is basically where you hire a debt relief company to negotiate with the creditors on your behalf. The goal is to get them to agree to settlements where you make lump sum payments for a portion of your debts (this should much less than your total balances). In return the creditor agrees to forgive the rest of the debts.
Do yourself a favor, if you were ripped off like me by National Debt Relief, submit a complaint to ConsumerFinance.Gov. My lawyer counseled me on this. When I called from my job, they did not disclose they were a for profit agency, I had to ask them. They did not tell me the percentage that they would take as profit. I did not learn that until about 3 weeks ago when I demanded to know the profit they took. Their answer after a long time of questioning was they took 25% off the original debt for themselves. When I said that I did not know this. Their response was : “it is in page 3 of the contract.” I could not find this information anywhere nor it was said to me. The representative who enrolled me Berlinda C only said ” We take a small fee” but would not specify the amount. So far, they have taken from me $2,500 and my creditors have hardly seen any money. When a settlement is negotiated, they take everything they have taken from my account for themselves and on top of that charge about $60 monthly extra in order to make the payments to the creditors. I find this sum exorbitant. I now closed my account with them because I have realized the rip off that this company is. I have lost $2,500 for their profit.
On average, National Debt Relief can reduce enrolled debt by around 49 percent which is slightly higher than Freedom and New Era. You will pay fees of between 15 to 25 percent on the amount that is settled. This debt relief company doesn’t charge any upfront fees, so you’ll only pay on the debts that are settled. Keep in mind, though, that the fees are in addition to the settlement, so a 20 percent fee in addition to a 49 percent settlement ends up being 69 percent of the original amount.
Make sure the company requires complete information from current statements before giving you a quote. The debt counselor will need you to provide all your current credit card and loan statements before they can tell you how much your monthly payments will be or how long it will take to complete the program. Beware of anyone who gives you a quote without thoroughly researching the following first:
You’ll still need good credit to get a personal loan, but you may be able to get a loan when you wouldn’t be approved for a credit card. And if you’ve got excellent credit, you might even get a lower interest rate with a personal loan. Either way, the thing I love about personal loans is that you get a fixed term, usually three or five years, and monthly payment—you can’t be tempted to make minimum payments and you know your debt will be paid off at the end of the term.
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.
When it comes to student loan debt, you might consolidate federal student loans into one loan through the Department of Education's Direct Consolidation Loans. Also, or alternatively, you might take out a private loan to consolidate debts -- that's generally referred to as refinancing student loan debt. The advantages of consolidating can include lower monthly payments (if you extend your payment period) and getting out of default, while drawbacks can include less flexibility and a longer payback period -- which can mean more interest paid, overall.

Rachel Kampersal said debt management plans require you to change your habits dramatically since you will have to stop using credit. “Per requirements from creditors, any card that is entered into a debt management plan will be closed, meaning you can no longer make charges to these cards. While difficult, it’s important to stop incurring new debt.”

Debt consolidation loans are a well-known, well-advertised option for consumers who struggle with debt. These credit facilities exist for the express purpose of paying off outstanding unsecured debts and do their job quite well. When you take out a debt consolidation loan, your lender immediately pays off your existing creditors and starts billing you for the balance.
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. 
This really depends on the agency you work with and what they offer. In some cases, a company pairs credit counseling and credit repair. To do this legally, that means that they have both certified credit counselors and state-licensed credit repair attorneys on staff. In this case, they help you eliminate your debt, and then help you dispute any lingering mistakes in your report.

Making extra payments should allow more money to come off the principal -- so next month, you'd pay interest on a smaller principal balance and your interest cost would be lower. That's why paying extra can be so helpful in becoming debt free. Not only do you reduce the remaining balance owed, but you also reduce the interest cost that causes your balance to grow. 
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.
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