NerdWallet recommends the 50/30/20 budget: Keep essential expenses, like housing, to 50% of your income. Then allocate 30% for wants, and use 20% for savings and debt pay-down. Since you’re focused on paying off your debt, you may decide to use money from your wants category to make extra debt payments. That will wipe out debt faster and help you save on interest.

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.
Refinance your car loan - Many people do not know that they can refinance their existing car loan, and there is usually not a fee involved. With today’s historically low interest rates, even on automobile loans, individuals can potentially save thousands of dollars in interest. It is free to submit an application for this service. Learn how to refinance your car loan.

You may think that while paying off debt, you don’t have money to save, but this is essential. Life happens, so if anything comes up, like a job loss, medical bill, or car repair, you’re covered. The suggested amount is three to six months’ worth of expenses, but if that’s not immediately possible, aim for one months’ worth – that’s a great starting point.
I entered a DMP (Money Management Intl) 4 years ago with a pile of debt and am now a month away from being debt free. I will say the service wasn’t exactly what I expected going into it – the DMP was very hands off and didn’t provide much in the way of real conselling. They don’t even explain the process very well, so it’s worth doing a little research on your own. That said, I’m not sure I could have tackled my debt without the reduced interest rates and the one-payment structure.
Once you have enrolled in a debt management plan, and if you let your debt management plan pay all of your creditors each month, you may never have to worry about your debt again. Your payment is auto-debited from your bank account, and your debt will be gone in just a couple of years. Of course, it is smart to allocate more money to your payments whenever you are able, but that is just a matter of logging onto your debt management company account page and increasing your payment.

Don’t be afraid to have many budget categories. It will help you have a greater understanding of where things are going. Some regular expenses include internet, cell phone, household goods, medical costs, pets, haircuts, car repair, and home repair. Not every item will have an expense every month, but by setting some money aside for those irregular expenses, you’ll be ready when they hit.


On the flip side, the Debt Management Plan is designed to be paid off with regular monthly payments over approximately four years (our clients use an automated payment system so their consolidated debt payments are transferred electronically). These timely payments over the course of years have a very positive impact on the client’s payment history, which is the largest factor in calculating one’s FICO score. (That also means, of course, that if a client is late with their Debt Management Plan payments, there will be significant negative impact on his/her score.)
Many people fail to recognize that there are many instances where you can negotiate and in turn, lower your debt. Take medical bills, for example. “It can really help to negotiate with the medical provider,” said McClanahan. “If you’re willing to pay them real money over time, you can end up paying pennies on the dollar of what you own,” she said. In addition to negotiating, McClanahan suggested asking hospitals or health centers whether they have any financial assistance programs that you might qualify for.

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. 


Much of what debt management companies do involves simply contacting your creditors and negotiating alternative repayment plans, hopefully with reduced interest rates and fees. If you are struggling to make payments, you can usually do this yourself. Most creditors will be eager to help you meet your debt obligations because they want to help you avoid bankruptcy, which sucks for them. Talking to your creditors directly isn’t pleasant, and it may not be easy, but it can be done.
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.

If you enroll with National Debt Relief they state that you can expect to save potentially 30% on average and that does not include paying taxes on debt forgiven over $600.  Additionally what they don’t mention is that to obtain a favorable settlement you will need to stop making payments on your debts which will increase you total debt in the short term, hurt your credit, and open you up to potential lawsuits and debt collection phone calls due to non payment.
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.
If you have a good salary and have established income/tax returns, there are lending companies like SoFi, Lending Tree and Lightstream that offer loans at competitive interest rates. Thus, you can take a low-interest loan and use it to pay off your high-interest debts but make sure to stick to your monthly budget so you won’t be spending beyond your limit, and you will be paying off the low-interest loan.

Yes, National Debt Relief is a legit company. It’s been accredited with the BBB since 2013 and has an A+ rating based on factors like transparency and time in business. While it has over 80 complaints filed against it with the BBB as of December 2018, it earns an average 4 out of 5 stars based on 340 mostly positive customer reviews. Meanwhile, more than 11,000 customers have reviewed it on Trustpilot, earning it an average 9.5 out of 10.
If you’re interested in a debt management program, you’ll first consult a Clearpoint certified credit counselor in a free, basic credit counseling session, which is offered online, via phone, or in person. Your counselor will review your total financial situation and discuss your credit report, income, and expenses. You and your counselor will take inventory of your outstanding debts and creditors, and your counselor will explain how a DMP may work for your specific situation, including how your interest rates and monthly payments may change on the program.

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.
Borrowers also have protections from predatory lenders. Much of these is legal in nature. Many states and the federal government have created laws and rules that payday lenders need to follow. The regulations can cap interest rates, limit the number of times funds can be issued, and offer additional assistance. Read more on the payday laws in your state.
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I am literally financially devastated. I have paid them thousands of dollars 90% of it went to them. When I asked them why they continually drained my account and caused the loss of my settlements they stated that they wanted to get our fee out of the way. WTF if I can’t make these large payments to my creditors each month what makes them think that I can make them humongous payments that was far more than what I was paying each month to all my creditors.
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.
Who Is Holding My Money While I’m Waiting On A Settlement? Your funds will be held at Global Client Solutions, which is an FDIC insured trust account. This account will be opened in your name with you having ultimate control over its funds. The monies collected in this account get disbursed only at the time a negotiation is reached with the creditor and you agree with the settlement offer.
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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.”
NerdWallet recommends the 50/30/20 budget: Keep essential expenses, like housing, to 50% of your income. Then allocate 30% for wants, and use 20% for savings and debt pay-down. Since you’re focused on paying off your debt, you may decide to use money from your wants category to make extra debt payments. That will wipe out debt faster and help you save on interest.

Debt management is one of several debt-relief options for those who are struggling to keep up with a growing pile of bills each month. When you sign up for a debt management plan, you pay a single company every month instead of all of your creditors individually. The debt management company then pays off your creditors for you, usually after negotiating lower interest rates and payments.


How Long Will It Take To Get Out Of Debt? It depends on how quickly you can build up your settlement funds and save for the settlement offers. The program length varies between 24-48 months, the faster you can save, the quicker you can get out of debt. If you only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, you could be in debt for the next 10-20 years and pay back 2x, 3x, or even 4 times as much as you originally borrowed.

Find out how payments will be disbursed to your creditors. Fraudulent debt management companies are notorious for sending payments late and getting their clients into trouble with creditors. Make sure the agency will send your payments to creditors on time and within the correct billing cycle. Ask how soon they will disburse your payment after they receive it, and find out how you can track the payments made. They should send you a statement each month or have some way for you to look it up online.
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A Credit Counseling Session is an overview of your total financial situation, which will uncover ways to provide you with debt relief. It can be done on the telephone, online utilizing our industry-leading tool, or in-person. A certified credit counselor will review all of your income, expenses, and debts. Your counselor will then make recommendations to help you get back on track financially (one of which may be a debt management program). For additional information about our credit counseling program, click here.
2 years ago my husband & I cut up all of our credit cards and contacted each Credit Card company to come up with a reasonable monthly pay plan and close out the account. We have been doing this fine ever since as it comes directly out of our checking account. However, we have recently come into enough money to settle all of our debt for probably 50%-75% of the amount originally owed. Because we are already in “payment mode” with these companies, it cannot hurt our credit anymore to go with a settlement offer, correct? Our goal is to pay off as many as possible with the money we have.

The benefit of professional help: A debt management program is the solution you use if you can’t make progress on your own. If you don’t have good credit or you’ve missed some payments, your creditors may be resistant to working with you. Having the help of a credit counseling agency means you get a team of negotiators on your side. That makes it easier to craft a repayment plan that your creditors will actually accept.
Yes, National Debt Relief is a legit company. It’s been accredited with the BBB since 2013 and has an A+ rating based on factors like transparency and time in business. While it has over 80 complaints filed against it with the BBB as of December 2018, it earns an average 4 out of 5 stars based on 340 mostly positive customer reviews. Meanwhile, more than 11,000 customers have reviewed it on Trustpilot, earning it an average 9.5 out of 10.
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.

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Settlement has big risks, though, including steep fees (15% to 20% of what the company is able to save you is typical). You may also sustain damage to your credit score and receive harassing calls from creditors while you’re saving up for the program. You’ll also have to pay taxes on forgiven debt. Most debt settlement companies are for-profit companies, while most debt management companies are nonprofits.
Finally, you should know there’s a chance your credit can still suffer. Technically, entering a debt management plan shouldn’t hurt your credit score. But if your debt management company ever misses a payment on your behalf, your score will take a hit. Also, prospective lenders may shy away from making loans if they see a notation on your credit report that you’re in a debt management program.

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:
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.
It’s hard at first, because most of us aren’t used to doing that. (Especially if we’re living on a low income.) But it’s absolutely doable, and gets easier with practice. And once you start paying stuff off, it becomes even easier because your money isn’t flying out the door to service debt. You have MORE money available, which makes things easier still. It’s the exact opposite of a vicious circle.

Such a scam, they make you believe they’re helping you but in reality they are ripping you off. They are charging you for something you can do on your own. There is nothing special about this company, please don’t waste your time and money. Wish someone told me this before I signed up. I never write reviews but I feel so strongly about this that I had to try to stop someone else from making the same mistake and sign up with National Debt Relief.
I’m about 70k in debt (which includes a car loan and student loans). I was very naive in thinking that earning a Bachelor’s degree would award me with a high paying job and I would be able to take care of this mountain of debt no problem. Of course, that’s not reality, and I make 25k a year. I’ve been working at this job for about a year and a half now, and I have FINALLY found a better paying job after a year of active searching. Although it’s not much, I’ll be moving up to 29k a year. While I pay off my 10k car loan at 250 a month, I’ve been completely avoiding my student loan debt, I don’t even look at it. Right now my loans are in deferment but I owe my first payment in August. I’m really starting to panick. I appreciated your article and found a lot of useful advice in it. I think my first step to paying off my loans will be to work as hard as possible at my new job so maybe after another year or so I can increase my salary more substantially…. Other than that I’m really at a loss for what to do. Any specific advice regarding such a high amount of student loans? (That honestly, I’m almost too embarassed to admit to in this post)
Here’s how balance transfers work: As a way of attracting new customers, credit card companies will let you transfer a balance—in other words, a debt—from one credit card to a new credit card at 0 percent interest for a certain number of months. For example, if you were to transfer a $2,000 balance from one card (15 percent APR) to a new card (0 percent APR for 12 months), you could save up to $300 in interest.
Finding debt relief means that you identify a solution that minimizes the burden of debt repayment. The goal is to reduce or eliminate interest charges and fees so you can pay off your debt faster. In many cases, you can pay less each month and still get out of debt faster than with traditional payments. Essentially, you find a better way to pay back what you owe that works for your finances.
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. 
Guy who signed me up was professional BUT dealing with the company afterwards was a complete run-around. Transferred 5 times and not given an honest answer. Had to call back and confirm my exit from the program. Then asked personal questions in a resell attempt. Mailing address given to submit cancellation request to is NOT a valid mailing address. Percentage higher than advertised – 23%. Customer service transfers you immediately somewhere else – couldn’t even finish my sentence. Very shady.
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.
Pay off any past due debts first so that you’re current on all accounts, which prevents late fees or continuing damage to your credit. When deciding how to prioritize debt, you can also consider which ones present a greater “risk” or cost to you than others. If you suddenly were unable to make your loan payments on a car, for example, your vehicle might be repossessed. This could have far-reaching effects if you became unable to get to work on time, or at all. So, while they aren’t always the most expensive debt, paying off a car loan can provide greater security.

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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. 
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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. 
If your financial problems stem from too much debt or your inability to repay your debts, a credit counseling agency may recommend that you enroll in a debt management plan (DMP). A DMP alone is not credit counseling, and DMPs are not for everyone. Don’t sign up for one of these plans unless and until a certified credit counselor has spent time thoroughly reviewing your financial situation, and has offered you customized advice on managing your money. Even if a DMP is appropriate for you, a reputable credit counseling organization still can help you create a budget and teach you money management skills.
When evaluating whether a credit agency is legitimate, Kalkowski cautions against being too trusting of promises made by company representatives. "A lot of these people are so nice," she says. They may pressure people to sign up immediately, if for no other reason than to get peace of mind. While they may seem caring, Kalkowski stresses, "These people are not your friends. They are out to make a buck."
Credit card balance transfers. One of the simplest and easiest ways to lower the interest rate on credit card debt is to make credit card balance transfers. When you transfer a balance, you take advantage of a credit card offer that provides a low promotional rate for a limited period. It's common for credit cards to offer 0% interest on balance transfers for anywhere from 12 to 18 months. Balance-transfer cards sometimes charge a fee, such as 3% of the amount transferred, but there are some cards that don't impose charges, and those can be an especially good deal. 

Checking your credit report for inaccuracies is an important step in your journey to reduce your debt. Remedy: You are allowed a free credit report from each of the major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Split them up, one every four months. Check them closely for incorrect delinquencies and/or balances that hurt your credit score and could make a difference in your ability to buy a house or car, or obtain more credit.
On the flip side, the Debt Management Plan is designed to be paid off with regular monthly payments over approximately four years (our clients use an automated payment system so their consolidated debt payments are transferred electronically). These timely payments over the course of years have a very positive impact on the client’s payment history, which is the largest factor in calculating one’s FICO score. (That also means, of course, that if a client is late with their Debt Management Plan payments, there will be significant negative impact on his/her score.)
Eliminate and consolidate medical debt to deal with health care costs that are continuing to escalate and that are really out of control. There are ways to consolidate medical debt using assistance programs that are offered by directly hospitals, medical providers, doctors and counselors. These plans are becoming more common in today’s challenging economy and when also considering the aging population. A health care provider will want to find some type of solution for the patient, as in some cases if they do not work with them it can lead to bad public relations. Learn more on how to eliminate medical debt.
“The first thing a person needs to do is take a close look at how they got into debt in the first place,” advised Carolyn McClanahan, M.D., CFP, who began her career as a physician and is now founder of a financial planning group called Life Planning Partners LLC, based in Jacksonville, Fla. “They should identify what triggered the situation or any bad habits that might have led to their debt, so that they don’t repeat those things going forward. Then, they need to make an actionable plan to figure out how to get out of debt.”

I know it’s fab to live in New York City or Los Angeles or San Francisco but if you’re going to be forever in debt and never able to retire, it’s not worth it. I know it takes money to move so you can choose from our other options; finding a cheaper place, getting a roommate, moving back in with your parents until you’ve saved enough to make a move.
National Debt Relief uses debt settlement as a way to lower its clients’ debt. Settlement lets the company’s debt lawyers negotiate lower outstanding balances with creditors. Settlements can also lead to lower interest rates and waived fees. National Debt Relief, however, acknowledges that some debtors will not negotiate in good faith, which makes it difficult or impossible for settlements to work.
If you struggle with learning how to develop a good budget so you can get your debts paid on time each month, you may consider using a credit counselor to get back on track. Consumer credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that will help you find a workable solution to financial problems. However, some nonprofit credit agencies charge excessive fees that are not applied to debt reduction.
In order to qualify for either type of these bankruptcies you will need to show proof that you are simply unable to repay your debts. You will be required to get credit counseling from an agency that has been approved by the U.S. Trustee’s office and this must be within 180 days before you file for bankruptcy. When you complete your counseling the credit-counseling agency will provide you with a certificate of completion and you must file this no later than 15 days after the date of your bankruptcy filing. If you have worked out a repayment plan with the agency you will also be given a copy of it.
The other method is called laddering, which is Clark’s preferred method because it will save you the most money over time. The way it works is you list your debts, starting with the highest interest rate card first and end with the debt with the lowest interest rate. This method makes the most mathematical sense, because you will save the most money in interest over time.  Regardless of which process you choose, the key is to stick with it.
Shady. I have to work with these ” yahoos” daily as I am a debt collector. They will not accept the guidelines set by the creditors to provide settlement options to their clients. They INSIST that I take very low and unreasonable offers to creditors and even if I manage to get them approved then say THEY have to get them approved before paying out. I feel if you are making an offer to settle, it is only fair that you can fund the settlement instead of jerking around. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and is unethical. You can’t make offers to creditors that you can’t fund!
When we were getting out of debt, there were several times where extra money fell in our laps that we had not factored into our debt elimination originally. We decided to take this cash and use it to tackle our debt. Some good examples would be a tax refund, selling a car, an inheritance, winning a bet, etc. The more cash you can put towards your debt, the faster it will disappear.
Experian, one of the three major credit bureau companies in the U.S., said the impact on your score should be minimal if you and the agency making payments for you, are on-time every month. If lenders look at your full credit report while you are in a DMP, they will see that you are repaying the debt at a reduced rate and it may affect their final decision on whether to grant you a loan.
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