You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at the U.S. Trustee Program, the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Also, before you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you must satisfy a "means test." This test requires you to confirm that your income does not exceed a certain amount. The amount varies by state and is publicized by the U.S. Trustee Program.
Kalkowski recommends finding a nonprofit rather than a for-profit agency. Reputable companies may be accredited or certified by one of three organizations: The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the Financial Counseling Association of America or the Council on Accreditation. Consumers can also check the Better Business Bureau for company ratings and reviews or discuss the matter with trusted friends and family members who may be able to make a recommendation.
Depending on how serious are your financial woes your counselor may recommend a debt management plan (DMP). The way this would work in brief is your counselor will determine how much you can pay and then negotiate with the creditors on your behalf. The negotiation can be for longer terms or lower monthly amounts determined by what payments you could afford to make. In some cases your counselor may attempt to negotiate a reduction in your interest rates. If all or most all your creditors agree to your debt management plan you would stop paying them. Instead, you would send one payment a month to the credit-counseling agency and it will distribute the money to your creditors per your DMP. The biggest downside to one of these plans is that they typically take five years to complete. You would most likely be required to give up all the credit cards that are in your plan and would be strongly urged to not take on any new credit until you’ve completed your plan. These are the biggest reasons why nearly half of those debtors who sign up for DMP never successfully complete it.
There's also a substantial risk associated with taking out a loan on your home, because the house secures the loan. When you owe unsecured debt, such as credit card debt, personal loan debt, or medical debt, there's nothing guaranteeing the loan except your promise to repay it. While lenders could sue you for unpaid debt and perhaps get an order to garnish wages or put a lien on your house, it's very unlikely your home could ever be put at risk of a forced sale because of unpaid unsecured debt. But when you've borrowed against your home, the house is collateral, and if you don't pay, the lender will probably foreclose and take the house. Converting unsecured debt to debt secured by your home isn't typically advisable for that reason.
McClary advises following the 50-20-30 rule of budgeting: Allocate up to 50 percent of your budget to fixed expenses like mortgage, rent and car payments; 20 percent to savings; and 30 percent to variable expenses, especially discretionary spending for things like hobbies, recreation and dining out. That 30 percent zone is the first area to target for cutting back, McClary says.
If your expensive habit is smoking or drinking, that’s an easy one — quit. Alcohol and tobacco do nothing for you except stand between you and your long-term goals. If your expensive habit is slightly less incendiary – like a daily latte, restaurant lunches during work hours, or fast food — the best plan of attack is usually cutting way down with the goal of eliminating these behaviors or replacing them with something less expensive.
I am in my mid 50’s and am considering early retirement. It is very rewarding to be debt free. There were a couple rules I lived by. I would not charge something that would be gone before I got the bill. Such as meals, drinks, vacations, If I could not pay cash I waited until I could. I still refuse to to pay interest on anything that depreciates. Which is almost everything except a house. Why pay more (interest) for something that is going to be worth less? I am very fortunate that I have been able to pay off my home, have zero debt, and have enough in investments and savings that I will be able to retire about 10 years early. Keep up the work, it does pay off in the long run.
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.
Howard – The problem with Chapter 7s is that you must meet minimum income requirements (based on the minimum income threshold in your state). This means there’s a possibility that you may not qualify for a Chapter 7, so it may not be an option for wiping out credit card debt. Before you decide to go the bankruptcy route, have you considered a Debt Management Program? I know 45k is an huge burden and it’s stressful, but there are other options that may help. Before you decide on bankruptcy, we’d advise exploring all of your options. It’s worth contacting a consumer credit counseling service. They’ll be able to review your individual personal financial situation and debt load to determine whether or not you’d be a good candidate for a DMP. If you are a good fit, they’ll work with your creditors to lower you interest rate and lower your monthly payments to one monthly payment you can afford. If a DMP isn’t a good fit, and bankruptcy is your best option — they’ll be able to tell you that as well. A consultation is free, but make sure you choose a consumer credit counseling service that is accredited by the National Foundation for Consumer Credit Counseling.
Credit counseling is done largely over-the-phone or online, but can be done in-person at a home or office. Counselors conduct 30–40 minute interviews to gather information about your financial situation. They will ask questions about income, expenses, budgets and assets. It is best to have this information documented and available when you begin the process.
It’s crucial that you monitor the statements received from your creditors each month (The creditors will not disclose this information directly to us). You should compare that information to what’s in our monthly progress report and ensure that everything matches. If anything is different between the creditor statement and what we show in our paperwork, give us a call.
If you struggle with learning how to develop a good budget so you can get your debts paid on time each month, you may consider using a credit counselor to get back on track. Consumer credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that will help you find a workable solution to financial problems. However, some nonprofit credit agencies charge excessive fees that are not applied to debt reduction.
You’re ready to begin your debt snowball once you’ve saved your $1,000 starter emergency fund. That’s what we call Baby Step 1. An emergency fund covers those life events you can't plan for. Think busted hot water heater, dental emergency or flat tire. You get the drift. An emergency fund protects you from having to go further into debt to pay for an unexpected expense.
Look for a licensed, accredited, non-profit agency, and be sure to verify that they are currently licensed in your state (unless you're in a state that doesn't require licensing), have current accreditation and that they do indeed have non-profit status. Understand, however, that while these measures can help establish a firm's legitimacy, they are no guarantee, and you still need to research the agency. Note also that a non-profit company does not mean that they do not charge for their services, it only means that the company will distribute all profits to the corporate officers at the fiscal year end, thereby zeroing their profit.
Credit limitation: Like a balance transfer, a personal debt consolidation loan is usually only a viable solution for consumers who have a good credit score. The higher you score, the lower the interest rate you can qualify for on the loan. APR of 5% is ideal, but anything below 10% may be enough to provide the relief you need. If you can’t qualify for a rate below 10%, look for other options.
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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.
There are four other popular options that you could discuss with your creditors. The first is to have your interest rates reduced. If you have high interest debts of, say, 15% or higher and could get them reduced to maybe 12%, you would end up with much lower monthly payments, which could make it possible for you to meet your obligations. A second option worth discussing would be a timeout period of two or three months during which you would no longer be required to make any payments. This would give you time to get your finances reorganized and to save money that might allow you to catch up on your payments. A third possibility would be to have some or all of your credit card debts converted into repayment programs. You would likely be required to give up your credit cards but in turn you would have fixed payments for a fixed amount of time after which you would be completely debt-free.
Nice to hear from you Jai :) — we invested as well while paying off debt, so it doesn’t need to be an either-or proposition. To answer your question though, it would be way too time-consuming for me to figure out because of the variety of interest rates we had + other variables. (You may want to look at this post though if you want to see a related scenario: https://www.jackiebeck.com/why-you-should-worry-about-student-loan-interest/ ) That said, no one can see the future, but I KNOW that I no longer have all of that debt weighing me down, and I no longer have all that risk hanging out there.
The right debt relief solution will help you reach zero without creating additional risk or damaging your credit. When it comes to bad ways to seek debt relief, there may be some circumstances where using one of these solutions would be the best option. However, you should exhaust every other option first and only use the bad ways as a last resort to avoid bankruptcy.
In addition to using the free services from a non-profit, or working with the lender, there are steps that you can take yourself that can help you reduce your debt. It often combines budgeting as well as working out a solution with the lender. Some of those assistance programs range from payment plans to interest rate reductions or forbearance. It is also important for families to know the difference between bad debt and good debt, so when someone should borrow money or not. The fact is that families, no matter their income, need all the assistance they can get in order to become debt free and pay outstanding bills.
Look for a nonprofit credit counseling organization that belongs to either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). They ensure member agencies pass rigorous standards set forth by the Council on Accreditation or another approved third party, and that their counselors pass a comprehensive certification program. Even if they are members of such organizations, though, be picky.
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.
The average length of a DMP is 3-5 years, but is shorter for clients who decide to aggressively deal with their debt. Many clients pay down debt faster by using income tax returns, inheritance money or some other unexpected source of income. There is no penalty for paying the debt off early. You can make additional payments while on the plan and pay off your debt faster.