Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for a decade, it costs money, and it's emotionally difficult. It's a last resort -- but it is an option you should often turn to before liquidating retirement savings (which is protected during bankruptcy) or before struggling for years to make payments on debt that doesn't go down because all the money goes to interest. 
Today, I have no consumer debt. By choice, I’m not debt-free. I do have a mortgage on my primary residence even though I could pay it off. I also did not pay off my student loans early. In these cases, I’m using debt conservatively and consciously to advance my financial goals. But all the nasty stuff—credit cards, personal loans, and an auto loan—is long gone.
Chapter 13: Most debts are discharged. Some debts that are not dischargeable in a Chapter 7 case have to be paid in full in a Chapter 13 plan. To keep your secured debts like a car loan or mortgage, you have to continue making monthly payments. There are circumstances in which you can add your car into your plan payment. You can also use the plan payment to catch up past due house payments and prevent a foreclosure.
When it comes to paying off credit card debt, many consumers take the path of least resistance: the so-called "minimum payment plan." By law, credit card issuers are required to set a minimum monthly payment amount for each cardholder. These payments are calculated on the basis of the cardholder's total balance, interest rate and certain other factors.
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.
InCharge Debt Solutions boasts one of the most polished websites of the companies I evaluated. The company’s debt management FAQs and financial education resources are very thorough. They are clear about fees ($50 to enroll and $49 monthly). They are also among the few companies that give you an idea of how much your interest rates might drop under a debt management plan (6% to 9%). InCharge is accredited by the BBB with A+ rating; other certifications include the NFCC and COA.
Does This Affect My Credit? Yes, debt negotiation will negatively affect your credit temporarily and it can be improved after you have completed the program and you are debt free. The effects are not as severe as bankruptcy. If you are already behind on your bills, your credit score will already be lower so the effects of our program may not be as severe. You have to decide if it’s better to resolve your debt now at a lower cost and then rebuild your credit.

You must be able to demonstrate financial hardship, so that the company can negotiate with your creditors and show you are eligible for debt relief. Some examples of financial hardships, according to the company’s website, are a recent job loss, a separation or divorce which has led to a reduction in income, death of a spouse, unexpected medical bills, student loans or IRS taxes.
Contact your bank and stop payments to the agency servicing your debt management program as soon as you become aware the agency has shut down. You should immediately contact the creditors involved and ask if you could continue paying them directly or would they work out another payment plan. Also, ask for a credit report and verify that previous payments you made to the DMP agency were sent to your creditors. If payments were missed, there could be some negative consequences to your credit score. Finally, you could contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency and ask them to intervene on your behalf with your creditors.
Ok, so what if I DID max out all my credit cards and couldn’t get another loan? I’d have piles of debt, with little or nothing to show for all my hard work, and payments like crazy. In short, I’d be desperate, but…I’d find another way to solve the immediate problem facing me. So why not just find another way NOW and save myself a world of hurt and a pile of debt…
Debt management programs serve the dual role of helping you repay your debts while creditors receive the money owed to them. These debt management plans are a systematic way to pay down your outstanding debt through monthly payments to your credit counseling agency. Your creditor accounts will always be credited with 100 percent of the amount you pay through an NFCC agency. By participating in this type of debt management program, you may benefit from reduced or waived finance charges or fees, and experience fewer collection calls. When you have completed your payments-which typically takes 36-60 months- it may help you reestablish credit.
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