Once you’ve signed up for a debt settlement program, you’ll get access to the client dashboard that allows you to track how much you’ve saved and which accounts have been settled. It also provides you with financial tools such as calculators and budget worksheets. You’ll also be given form letters to send to your creditors, informing them that you’re in financial hardship and requesting that they not contact you to collect.
Balance-transfer cards can help when trying to pay off credit card debt, because you can transfer thousands of dollars owed to a new card that offers a very low initial interest rate -- often 0%. That interest rate will be in effect for between six and 21 months, after which a more standard interest rate will apply. That standard rate will not necessarily be a great one, so you should seek cards that will charge you relatively low interest rate ranges following your teaser-rate period. Your credit score is likely to influence the interest rate you're given after the 0% rate expires, so this is another reason to get your score as high as you can.
While your credit score may suffer if you’re falling behind on monthly payments before you get your debt management plan set up, starting your plan should provide some relief. Your credit score should increase as you begin making regular monthly payments and your debt balances drop. Experian does note that you may see some negative side effects when accounts are closed, usually due to changes with your credit utilization rate or credit mix.
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.
Hi, I’m 28 and made a lot of bad decisions with credit cards when I was younger. I’ve been able to make at least the minimum payment on time until the 4 months or so, I’ve been late on a few bills trying to adjust to a new job and pay periods. I still have about $16k in debt, and am starting to really struggle to get by each month. Last year my score was around a 740, and I’d like to salvage as much as possible, but the payments are just getting too high now that they have raises my interest rates. What is my best option to resolve this without destroying my credit score?
Avoid outrageous upfront fees. A small initial fee (up to $50 or, in rare cases, as much as $100 if you have a lot of debt or high income) is normal, but large upfront fees are out of line. If any agency asks for a fee (or donation) make sure that you know what it will cover, and get it in writing. Find out if you'll have to pay any additional fees to start the program. Don't get tricked into paying one "consultation fee," and then an "application fee" or "an enrollment fee." If you're truly unable to pay, look for an agency that is willing to waive the fee or spread it out (without charging additional fees for doing so).
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.
A debt management program is different from debt consolidation in that it consolidates your payments but not your loan (you are not taking out a new loan as you would in debt consolidation). These programs enable debtors to work one-on-one with a financial professional to get your financial obligations under control and are created for consumers by nonprofit credit counseling agencies.
Unsecured debt such as credit cards and medical bills are, by far, the most common debts associated with debt management programs. Utilities, rent and cell phone services are other types of unsecured debt that could be part of a DMP. Some installment contracts, such as country club or gym memberships also could be eligible. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how far in debt you must be to get in a program, but most creditors and legitimate credit counseling agencies say your financial situation needs to be severe. In other words, you must owe more money than your income and savings can reasonably handle. Secured debts, such as a mortgage or auto loan, are not eligible for the program.