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. 
How it works: Settlement companies ask you to stop paying the credit card companies and instead, send regular payments to an escrow account. When the balance in that account has reached a sufficient level, the settlement company negotiates with the card company for a reduced, lump-sum payment. If the creditor agrees, money is sent from the escrow account. If there is not enough money in the account, a payment schedule is agreed upon.
Both Freedom Debt Relief and National Debt Relief are well-established companies that have been debt settlement providers for several years. Freedom Debt Relief was founded in 2002, and National Debt Relief was founded in 2009. This is important because there’s potential for scams in the debt settlement business. Some companies claim to be debt settlement companies but are really just fronts for collecting debtors’ money and putting it in the company operative’s pockets. The longer a company has been in business, the more likely it is that it is legitimate.
Let’s be real: Kids grow out of clothes at the speed of light. It’s not worth it to go into debt for your two-year-old’s wardrobe. Check out consignment stores that sell pre-loved outfits in good condition. If you’d rather shop online, no problem. Sites like thredUP and Swap.com are great resources to get adult and children’s clothing at a fraction of the cost.

Receiving automated refund checks is great, it’s like finding money on the ground. As it turns out, stores owe you money all the time, but they don’t pay if you don’t ask. That’s where Earny comes in. They automate everything. Price drop? Get cash back for the difference. Deliveries arrive later than advertised? Get cash back. Effort required? Zero, just how we like it.


National Debt Relief is a debt settlement service. For a fee, it will negotiate with your creditors to reduce the amount of debt you owe. It’s among the most recognized debt settlement services in the country, with high rankings from the BBB and Trustpilot reviewers. It’s also accredited with top industry associations, including the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC).
Military credit and debt counseling is offered to active service members as part of the Military OneSource Program. The federal government created this program in partnership with non-profits such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Any member of the military, whether active duty or a reserve, may qualify for free advice and counseling. Clients can have a number of financial issues addressed, including excessive credit card or medical debts, sign up for budgeting workshops, credit repair and more. Read Military OneSource Program.
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.
If you choose laddering, put as much money as you can each month toward the card with the highest interest rate, while still paying the minimums on the other cards. Once that debt is paid off, move on to the card with the second highest rate and so on. But this is very important: Do not close the account once the balance is paid off. That will damage your credit. Just let the account sit at a balance of $0.

Pay more than the minimum on your accounts. See examples of how you can save thousands of dollars in interest costs and potentially late fees by paying more than the minimum balance on your credit cards. This is arguably one of the best ways to reduce your debts over a reasonable period of time, and it works for credit cards, medical bills, car loans, and really anything. You need to start with your higher interest rate commitments first. Find the benefits of making more than minimum payments.
Even better, when you refinance to a lower-rate loan, it lowers your monthly payment. You could continue to pay the higher payments you were making before the refinance to get debt paid off on an accelerated timeline. That $10,000 at 18% over seven years would have monthly payments of around $210 monthly. If you refinanced to a 9% loan with a seven-year repayment period, the required payment would drop to $161. But if you kept paying the $210 you were paying before, you could repay the loan in just five years and pay only $2,418 in interest. You'd make payments for two years less and save yourself $5,252 in interest. 

Bankruptcy can't solve your problems if you have substantial student loan debt. Student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy except in extreme cases where you can show severe hardship, such as becoming unable to ever work because of total permanent disability. You also can't get rid of mortgage or car loan debt if you hope to keep the assets; you'll need to become current and eventually repay these debts in full to avoid foreclosure or repossession of the vehicle. But for unsecured debt -- which is debt not guaranteed by your assets that you simply promised to repay -- bankruptcy could provide relief. 


A recent credit counseling study has produced significant research findings for the debt relief industry, showing that it is effective in helping people pay off more debt and faster. Researchers at Ohio State University compared two groups of financially distressed people with similar characteristics. The first group received credit counseling and the second did not. Those who received the service reduced their credit card debt by nearly $6,000 within 18 months of counseling. Those who had not received counseling, reduced their debt by only $3,600. Additionally, counseled participants’ available credit ratio was 19% higher than non-counseled available credit. Download the NFCC OSU Credit Counseling Statistics Final Report – 2016.
As you begin to work this system, keep in mind that it’s not easy. Just like losing weight, losing your debt takes work, but if you genuinely want to slough of that stressful debt, your perseverance can make it happen. And don’t fret if you need to make adjustments along the way. This isn’t about a quick fix, it’s about changing your habits and behaviors so you can achieve your financial goals.

It may not be the right option if you would have to give up property you want to keep. The rules vary by state. Typically, certain kinds of property are exempt from bankruptcy, such as motor vehicles up to a given value and part of the equity in your home, but you usually have to give up a second car or truck, family heirlooms, vacation homes and any valuable collections.
If the monthly payment on your debt isn't enough to pay off the interest that accrued during the month, you will literally be in debt forever. All the money you pay would go toward interest, and your principal balance would never go down. That's why it's important to make sure your payments reduce your principal each month as much as possible if you hope to become debt free.
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. 
*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. Depending on your state, we may be available to recommend a local tax professional and/or bankruptcy attorney. Read and understand all program materials prior to enrollment, including potential adverse impact on credit rating.

Tip: Before you do business with any debt settlement company, contact your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency . They can tell you if any consumer complaints are on file about the firm you're considering doing business with. Some states require debt settlement companies to be licensed. You can check with your state regulator or ask your state Attorney General if the company is required to be licensed to work in your state and, if so, whether it is. You can also view the Federal Trade Commission's page on "Coping with Debt " for more information.
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.
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.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, American Consumer Credit Counseling is impressively detailed with their FAQs and discussion of debt management. They offer a debt management calculator that allows potential clients to input their creditors and outstanding balances to get an idea of the savings they may realize. Established in 1991, the company does business in all 50 states and is accredited by the BBB, AICCCA, and ISO. Their fees are also low ($39 to enroll, and from $5 to $35 monthly). However, they will only deal with unsecured debt, and the site pushes the debt management plan a bit more heavily than other competitors.


This is where it helps to talk to a professional. Consumer credit counselors understand all the options available to pay off credit card debt. They can impartially evaluate your debt, credit and budget to help you identify the best solution for your needs. You get an unbiased, expert opinion on your best course of action so you can move forward with confidence.
If you've already fallen behind on your monthly payments or can no longer afford your minimum payments, we want to talk to you. If can't see any way to improve your financial situation without taking a drastic step like declaring bankruptcy, we may be able to help. What's more, we have years of experience with clients who face exacerbating circumstances like divorce, death in the family, unemployment, long-term medical issues and other problems.
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
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC)[8] advises Canadians to do their research and find a trustworthy organization and a qualified counsellor. They suggest making sure an agency is in good standing with a provincial or national association. They recommend looking carefully at the agency's advertising to see if it sounds too good to be true. Claims or misrepresentations to look out for can include repaying only a fraction of your debt, quickly fixing your credit score, or claiming to be part of a government program. They also suggest consumers inquire about an agency's services, costs, and counsellor qualifications.[9] The FCAC has also warns Canadians to be careful of companies offering to help them pay off their debt or repair their credit. Things to watch out for include guarantees to solve debt problems and using high interest loans to pay off debt. Some of these companies also claim that they can file a consumer proposal on behalf of a consumer. However, the FCAC points out that only a qualified licensed insolvency trustee can help someone with a consumer proposal or bankruptcy.[10]

Take steps to rebuild your credit and improve your credit score, which in turn, could give you access to more credit in the future. For starters, focus on implementing a plan for paying off debt, and work to keep your balances low on credit cards. Keep in mind that improving your credit score requires small, responsible actions over time, so be patient and set long-term objectives. For more tips on how to improve your FICO score, take a look here.


Should I Keep Paying My Credit Card Bills? Due to your legitimate financial hardship, you are able to participate in this savings program in order to help pay your debts in the future. We are not here to advise you not to pay your debts now, however if you continue to make payments to your creditors, there may be less debt or possibly none left at all for us to settle. If you are able to save money in this program & make payments to your creditors at the same time, then you probably don’t actually have a legitimate financial hardship.
The convenient answer is: When your debt is so small that you can handle it yourself by doing a better job of budgeting; or when your debt is so large that there isn’t enough income to pay for basic living needs AND make a payment toward your debt. The truth is that everyone’s circumstances are so different that an interview with a credit counselor is the only way to know whether you qualify for a DMP.
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