Indeed, accumulating debt can certainly take an emotional toll and negatively impact your overall life satisfaction. However, you can take simple steps to pay down debt and turn your financial situation around. No financial situation is permanent, and with some patience, persistence and implementing of best practices, you can find yourself back on the path to financial recovery. So take a deep breath, keep your emotions at bay and work on tackling your debt in a practical manner.
A debt-settlement firm is typically a private company that works to settle your debt with a creditor. They may charge fees upfront and promise to help you pay off debt. Beware of debt settlement companies, and if you’re unsure of the difference between a debt settlement company and credit counselor, review this chart by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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.
Generally my view is if you can afford to pay your debt through a DMP, go for it. But if the payment plan they are proposing is a stretch and you’re not sure that you can keep up with those monthly payments, then consider settlement or bankruptcy. Of course, it’s impossible for me to say exactly what you should do since I don’t know your entire financial situation, but I wouldn’t rule it out for fear of the impact on your credit.
If you don’t own your home or if you don’t have much equity you might be able to get and unsecured or personal loan. If you were able to get this type of loan you would probably still have a lower monthly payment but not as low a one as with a home equity loan or HELOC because you would not be offering anything as collateral to offset your lender’s risk. The upside of these types of loans is that you would be rid of all those angry creditors or debt collection agencies that have been harassing you. The downside is that you would have a much longer term than if you were to simply repay your debts as a HELOC can be for seven or even 10 years and a home equity loan might be for 30 years. In either case you will end up paying more interest over the long run than if you were to just repay your debts short-term. And you would need to be very careful to not take on any new debt or you could end up back where you started – struggling to make your payments.
Chapter 13 is a three- or five-year court-approved repayment plan, based on your income and debts. If you are able to stick with the plan for its full term, the remaining unsecured debt is discharged. It will take longer than a Chapter 7 — but if you are able to keep up with payments (a majority of people are not), you will get to keep your property. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years from the filing date.
ClearPoint Credit Counseling has been in business for 50 years, and their wide range of educational offerings includes “ClearPoint U,” a series of free, on-demand online courses on personal finance topics. The company has 50 branches across the U.S. and is accredited by the BBB, NFCC, and COA. Their website is polished and easy to navigate, but is a bit less transparent about fees and potential reductions in interest rates than their competitors.
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InCharge Debt Solutions clients have access to a Debt Management App that makes managing your accounts, checking your balances, and rescheduling payments easy and convenient. The Debt Management App also allows you to check your up-to-the-minute “debt free” percentage: “You Are 55 percent Debt Free.” Research shows that tracking a goal makes you more likely to stay motivated and accomplish it. With the Debt Management App, InCharge strives to be the “Fitbit” of the personal finance world.
DMPs for consumers are often negotiated by a credit counseling agency on behalf of the debtor. Credit counseling agencies often address the debt by working with the debtor to set a budget based on their regular income and expenditures that will then include one regular bill payment that is allocated across the creditor(s). Agencies will negotiate on behalf of the debtor to lower payments and interest rates with creditors. Some of the agencies are non-profits that charge no or non-fee rates, while others can be for-profit and include high fees. The effect on the debtor's overall credit score will vary. In the United Kingdom, as well as DMPs, residents can also apply for an Individual voluntary arrangement (IVAs), which can give the debtor a discount on their debt.