A debt settlement plan in which you repay less than you owe hurts your credit. If your score is around 680 at the time you settle your debt, you could lose between 45 and 65 points. If your score was around 780, you'd lose between 140 and 160 points. However, it won't hurt your score as much as bankruptcy. For a 680 score, bankruptcy could take off 130 to 150 points, and for a 780 score, bankruptcy would cause a drop between 220 and 240 points. While the drop to your score is dramatic and it could take several years to recover, debt settlement could provide much-needed relief if you're struggling to pay bills. 
To get out of debt using the ladder method, start by attacking the balance on the account that charges the highest interest rate, McClary says. While you’re ramping up payments on that account, you make minimum payments on the others. When your highest-interest balance is gone, you move down a rung of the ladder and apply all your extra payments to the account with the next highest rate. You repeat the process until all your debt is eliminated.
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.
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Instead of diving into debt settlement, a better option might be to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor. Credit counseling organizations can help you better understand tactics for managing and reducing your debt, including creating and following a budget. Credit counseling may not have the negative impact of debt settlement (though if you choose a Debt Management Plan, it could appear on your credit report).
Some creditors may report that a credit counseling agency is repaying the account. Don’t worry if they do. FICO, the data analytics corporation that calculates consumer credit risk, ignore such reports. An individual lender may care, but FICO doesn’t. Of course, any late payments or high balances on accounts will continue to impact your credit score.
Negotiate credit card debt as well as outstanding loans - While it is possible to contact a credit card card company and negotiate yourself, unfortunately getting the best deal you want or that you may need won't necessarily be easy, if it can be done at all. If you do try to negotiate yourself rather than using a professional counselor, find a do it yourself approach to negotiate and get out of debt.
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.
Many times, a credit counselor can offer insights into your financial situation that you may not see on your own. They may see obvious ways you can cut your spending that you may have overlooked, for example. Their extensive knowledge of debt relief options also makes them ideal mentors for consumers who need professional help when it comes to assessing their debts and figuring out a plan that will work.
If you’re struggling with finding the best way to get out of debt, my advice is this: Don’t waste your time reading arguments all over the internet. Just pick the one that resonates with you and get going. Most of the people who berate others for not paying off debt in the “right” order or way have never even been in debt themselves — let alone gotten OUT. Don’t listen to people who purport to know what’s best for you when they’ve never been in a remotely similar situation. You know your life best.
Try to manage your debt yourself. Even without the help of a credit agency, you can make a household budget, reduce unnecessary expenses, and prioritize your debts. You can also call your creditors to request them to waive late fees, reduce interest rates, and/or work with you on a payment schedule. You can also ask about debt re-aging, also known as rollback or curing. This process can report past-due accounts as current, which can help you avoid delinquent status.[3] Many times creditors will be happy to work with you if you make a good-faith effort to pay them.
We find that because our financial counseling is free, confidential, and carries no obligation, the best course of action if you may be interested in a Debt Management Plan is to call and speak directly to one of our certified coaches. In addition to the valuable budgeting assistance, we will help you assess whether a DMP is the right path for you.
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)

Debt settlement companies, also sometimes called "debt relief" or "debt adjusting" companies, often claim they can negotiate with your creditors to reduce the amount you owe. Consider all of your options, including working with a nonprofit credit counselor, and negotiating directly with the creditor or debt collector yourself. Before agreeing to work with a debt settlement company, there are risks that you should consider:

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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.

Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
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