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.
Understand the basics of good credit counseling. Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer both free and paid services, Kalkowski says. They may offer complimentary consultations, financial literacy workshops or even one-on-one budgeting sessions free of charge. However, if you sign up for a debt management plan, expect to pay for the service. Debt management plans through nonprofits often have a startup fee of $30 to $40 and monthly fees of $20 to $40.
When you have a small emergency fund, you won't have to reach for your credit cards when disaster strikes. You can use the saved money and not slide back into debt. Of course, when you use the money in your emergency fund, you may need to pause debt payment to rebuild it again. But at least you won't have gone deeper into debt when trying to climb out of the hole.
To get out of debt quickly, you have to look closely at your assets. Real estate assets that are expensive to maintain, life insurance policies that are no longer necessary but have expensive premiums and investments with returns lower than the interest rate on debt should all be converted into cash right away. Be aware of the tax implications of liquidating assets. Typically, proceeds from a life settlement and money from the sale of a primary home aren’t taxable. Check with a certified public accountant before making any big moves.
It could also help to reach out to a debt counselor or financial planner to take steps toward getting your finances in order, or at least developing a game plan for getting back on track, McClanahan said. “If the debt is beyond your means, you might also want to explore bankruptcy or whatever it might take to turn your situation around,” she said. A professional can help you weigh the pros and cons of different options.
Note: Federal regulations require credit card issuers to disclose on your credit card statement how long it will take to pay off your estimated balance if you make minimum monthly payments. Estimates may be rounded up to the next $100. This debt calculator uses your actual credit card balance, so the results may vary from the estimate shown in your credit card statement.
Those who are overwhelmed by debt often turn to credit counseling agencies to find help. They offer a variety of services, such as workshops, one-on-one coaching and debt management plans, all with a common objective. "The No. 1 goal is to leave people in a better financial situation," says Julie Kalkowski, executive director of the Financial Hope Collaborative at Creighton University. The Financial Hope Collaborative is a financial education and counseling program for low- to moderate-income families living in Omaha, Nebraska.
Freedom Debt Relief charges customers an average of 20 percent of their total enrolled debt. If you owe enroll $20,000 in debt, Freedom Debt Relief could cut your debt in half. Add on the 20 percent average fees and you could save between $5,000 and $6,000 (25-30 percent average savings AFTER fees). So with a $20,000 debt, you end up paying only $14,000 or $15,000 of your original debt.
Take one more look around the house. Do you really need a $100 a month worth of cable TV? Does paying $50-$75 for a round of golf make sense? Can you mow the yard and clean the house yourself? How about exercising without a gym membership? All those things are nice to have … if you’re not in debt. Dump them until you’ve paid off the last of your credit cards.
A debt management program consolidates your debt without you having to take out a loan. In other words, you don’t need a loan to pay off a loan. It is administered by a nonprofit credit counseling agency like InCharge Debt Solutions, which offers financial education alongside the program so that consumers learn from the experience and aren’t likely to repeat it again.
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.
Not sure where to find this information? Check your credit report for a complete listing of creditors. You can obtain a copy for free from annualcreditreport.com from each of three major credit reporting agencies. You're entitled to one report a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- so you can space out your requests and get a report once every four months. Sign into online accounts for each creditor if you have them, look back at your most recent statement, or give your creditors a call to get the info you need.
Speaking with consumer credit counseling agencies is just the beginning. Next, you have to determine whether the services are actually what you need, or if you can accomplish more on your own. Remember, credit counseling doesn't do anything that you can't do; they simply provide guidance for the best approach to managing your debt. You can contact creditors and negotiate the payment terms of your account. Anybody can do this on their own, but sometimes people need a little extra help staying on track.
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.
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.
I believe that YOU get to choose what’s right for your life, because you’re the one who lives it. That includes how to get out of debt. On a related note, I hope that everyone gets out of debt, but I recognize that there are people who don’t want to, and that there are people who think debt it is the greatest tool in the world. That’s ok, because they’re not here.
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.
If you’re not eligible for any of the above, call up your credit card companies and ask for a reduced interest rate. Be honest, tell them you’re struggling with the payments, but you have a plan to pay off your debts but could use some help in the way of a lower interest rate. Not all of them will agree, but you might get lucky, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Start paying into your settlement fund. National Debt Relief asks you to make monthly payments into an escrow account that it can eventually use to pay your debt settlement costs. This monthly payment is typically lower than monthly payments on your debt. While you can stop making payments on your debt if it’s unaffordable, you’ll end up paying more in the end.
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:
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.
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.
A second option is consumer credit counseling. There is any number of consumer credit counseling agencies available on the Internet or you may be able to find one locally. The best of these are nonprofits. When you contact one of these agencies either via a website or in person you will have a counselor that will spend from 45 minutes to an hour with you discussing your finances. The best of these agencies charge nothing for that service.
Another obstacle that trip up so many is thinking you'll make progress on debt repayment by making your minimum payments. Yes, it minimizes inconvenience and will seem easier than other strategies, but it's costly. Imagine, for example, you owe $20,000 on your credit card(s) and that you're being charged a 25% interest rate. If your minimum payments are 3% of your balance, you'll be starting out paying a whopping $600 per month, meaning you'll have to come up with $150 per week. If you can't, your balance will be growing, digging you deeper in debt. In that situation, it can take more than 30 years to pay the debt off, with your total payments exceeding $63,000 -- all for a $20,000 balance owed.
Credit card debt is not the only type of debt that you can include in a debt management program. You can consolidate almost any type of unsecured debt, not including student loans. This includes debt consolidation loans, unpaid medical bills that have gone to collections, and even some payday loans. If you’re struggling with student loans, then you will need a specialized type of debt relief.
The top benefit is that you are on a plan that should eliminate debts in 3-to-5 years and you will stop receiving harassing calls from debt collection agencies. Convenience is another plus. You make only one payment a month for your debt payment plan as opposed to numerous payments with numerous deadlines. You receive free educational material that should help you better understand how to manage debt. Finally, you can always call a credit counselor and receive free advice should your situation change.