“There are hundreds of companies that claim to offer consumers ways to erase bad credit, create a new credit identity, or even remove bankruptcies, judgments or liens from credit files. Many of these services are outright scams and should be avoided,” says Mike Long, executive vice president and chief credit officer at UW Credit Union in Wisconsin.
Both Freedom Debt Relief and National Debt Relief are well-established companies that have been debt settlement providers for several years. Freedom Debt Relief was founded in 2002, and National Debt Relief was founded in 2009. This is important because there’s potential for scams in the debt settlement business. Some companies claim to be debt settlement companies but are really just fronts for collecting debtors’ money and putting it in the company operative’s pockets. The longer a company has been in business, the more likely it is that it is legitimate.

How it works: Whether it’s at a bank, credit union office or online, the consumer must fill out an application and be approved for a loan. Your income and expenses are part of the decision, but credit score is usually the deciding factor. If approved, you receive a fixed-rate loan and use it to pay off your credit card balances. You then make a fixed monthly payment to the lender to pay off your loan.
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.

If you are currently serving or have served in the military, then you face a unique set of financial challenges. Consolidated Credit works closely with Southern Command, Army OneSource and the Department of Defense to help military Service Members and Veterans get the financial help they need. We also offer specialized debt help for military personnel.
The other approach is more efficient, though: Paying off your highest-interest-rate debts first. Remember that you compiled a list of your debts and their interest rates. Well, the ones with the highest rates are costing you the most, over time. So to minimize your interest expense, you should pay off a debt carrying a 21% interest rate before you tackle a debt with a 12% interest rate.
Addresses listed for internet and telephone credit counseling agencies may be outside the requested state or judicial district. In such cases, the credit counseling agency is physically located in another state or judicial district, but is approved to provide credit counseling in the requested state or judicial district. In some states and judicial districts, credit counseling may be available only by internet and telephone, and not in person.

There are big benefits to this approach. You don't have to go through an approval process -- the amount you can borrow is determined by your policy's value. You can use the money to repay any debt you want, because there's no explanation required for what you plan to do with it. And while you need to pay back the policy with interest, you're borrowing from yourself so you aren't fattening the pockets of a creditor. Furthermore, there's typically no mandatory minimum monthly payment, and interest rates are low. 
Chapter 7 bankruptcy allows you to discharge most debts, which means the debt disappears after bankruptcy proceedings. But there are strict income limits to be eligible -- generally your income must be below the median in your state -- and you might have to turn over some of assets to be sold so proceeds can be used to repay creditors. Your house, a very low-value automobile, and tools used for business are usually exempt from being sold. 
It depends — is your credit in enough shape to qualify for a lower interest rate on a consolidation loan? Will you be able to make the monthly payment associated with the loan? Unlike a credit card, where you can pay the minimum, an installment loan locks you into a payment each month for a set period of time. You can also consider a balance-transfer credit card, which could help you save on interest. More info on the pros and cons of all those options here:
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.

That being said, I do not believe that National Debt Relief is a scam. Debt settlement is not the right debt relief solution for everyone, but it is the right option for some. National Debt Relief is a member of the American Fair Credit Council, whose members strictly adhere to a code of conduct that includes not charging any fees for settling an account until that account has been settled. Anyone considering debt settlement should avoid any firm that charges advance fees.
How Long Will It Take To Get Out Of Debt? It depends on how quickly you can build up your settlement funds and save for the settlement offers. The program length varies between 24-48 months, the faster you can save, the quicker you can get out of debt. If you only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, you could be in debt for the next 10-20 years and pay back 2x, 3x, or even 4 times as much as you originally borrowed.
If you negotiate a payment plan or a settlement offer, get it in writing. And don't give creditors access to your bank account, as this could make it easier for them to get a court order to freeze your bank account or to put a lien on it -- and unscrupulous collectors could take out more money than you give permission for. Instead, send payments in the mail. 
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.
Find out how your personal information will be protected. When you enter a debt management program, you have to share some of your most sensitive financial information with the counseling agency. You'd better make sure they won't sell it to others or disclose the information to anyone except the creditors you've agreed to include in the plan. Get a written privacy policy from them, and ask what safeguards they have in place to protect your information.
This can be especially helpful for someone with serious debt (generally $7,500 or more), who is struggling to make minimum payments and who have suffered a financial hardship, such as job loss, medical expense and divorce. Regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, debt settlement companies work on a consumer’s behalf to lower the principal balances owed. It usually takes two to five years and is best for those who would otherwise need to consider bankruptcy. Check the American Fair Credit Council for reputable providers.
There are four debt consolidation programs that can eliminate credit card debt: debt management programs; debt consolidation loans; debt settlement; and bankruptcy. The first two are aimed at consumers who have enough income to handle their debt, but need help organizing and dealing with it. The other two apply to consumers in desperate situations where the debt has reached drastic levels.

Debt management is one of several debt-relief options for those who are struggling to keep up with a growing pile of bills each month. When you sign up for a debt management plan, you pay a single company every month instead of all of your creditors individually. The debt management company then pays off your creditors for you, usually after negotiating lower interest rates and payments.
On the flip side, the Debt Management Plan is designed to be paid off with regular monthly payments over approximately four years (our clients use an automated payment system so their consolidated debt payments are transferred electronically). These timely payments over the course of years have a very positive impact on the client’s payment history, which is the largest factor in calculating one’s FICO score. (That also means, of course, that if a client is late with their Debt Management Plan payments, there will be significant negative impact on his/her score.)
It makes me so sad when I hear people longingly say “I wish I could do that” because chances are THEY CAN. Maybe not the same way as me, or at the same speed (heck maybe they could even go faster!), or under the same circumstances, or using the same exact methods (except for the only spending money they already have part…) but they can certainly do more than just wish or feel bad about themselves.
The negative impact is due to the fact that you must close your accounts while in the program, and this can affect your debt-usage ratio. This factor accounts for about 15% of your credit scores. (On the flip side, paying down your debts will improve your overall debt levels. Some consumers see their scores improve during and after one of these programs.)
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Kevin – Let’s look at it this way. You’re paying roughly $3600 a year in interest on that debt. Over five years that’s a little over $18,000. The counseling agency can get that down to 0 (you won’t even find a debt consolidation loan for that rate) and you’ll be debt-free at the end of those five years. The damage to your credit won’t be anywhere near what it would be with debt settlement.

Watch out for common red flags. While good credit counseling agencies are transparent about their fees and services, unscrupulous ones can be evasive and pushy. Red flags include demands for payment before services start, failure to provide a contract, insisting on access to your bank account and promises of debt repair that sound too good to be true.
Sometimes debt can just be an unintended consequence of too much holiday spending — or overspending any time of year. Many people try to get out of debt, but life slaps them in the face hard enough that they give up. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are so many people who are getting out of debt every single day, and not only that, but they are getting out of debt in a short period of time.
Over time, bankruptcy might come back to bite you in unexpected ways. If your employer requires you to carry a security clearance, there's a chance that it could be rescinded. If you're applying for a mortgage or rental property, your brush with insolvency could disqualify you from consideration. Depending on your area of expertise, you might even find it difficult to find or keep a job.
They tell you to do something illegal. A certified credit counselor will never tell you to try and create a new identity to get away from your old debt. Companies that advise people to get new Social Security or Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) are scams! Credit counselors won’t even advise that you run or hide from creditors or collectors; they help you find ways to face your challenges directly.
Being deep in debt is a very stressful situation – especially if what you owe is more than what you are earning every month. Any breadwinner in the family feels this burden day in and day out. The pressure to make sure that the family is provided for is frustrating. While paying for the usual bills, you need to make sure your debts are paid on time and correctly. Not to mention having extra money to put aside so you will have emergency money for unexpected situations.
The company is clear about average fees ($40 for setup and $25 monthly, not to exceed $75 and $50, respectively) as well as average interest-rate and payment reductions on its website. They also publish detailed “transparency reports” that include debt management dropout rates, savings rates, and client satisfaction rates tracked over several years.
Went with National Debt Relief. One of my creditors Capital One decided to take me to court and sue me for $8880. Balance at my last payment was $7911. I borrowed $3500 and deposited it in my bank account at National Debt Relief hoping they could reach an agreement and avoid court. I was due in court on Monday. The Friday before court they notified me they had a verbal agreement with Capital One. I was required to take the agreement to court on Monday and have the Capital One Lawyer agree to it and the Judge to sign off and dismiss the case. The agreement was sighed by all parties. National Debt still charged me the full amount of there fees 22%. The agreement was for 70 Cents on the... Read More
InCharge is the only national credit counseling service that offers online counseling: enter your income, assets and debts and you’ll receive a personalized debt relief solution – all without having to talk to a person. Other reasons to choose InCharge for consumer credit counseling services: A+ rating from the BBB and we are certified by the NFCC.
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.
Bankruptcy can't solve your problems if you have substantial student loan debt. Student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy except in extreme cases where you can show severe hardship, such as becoming unable to ever work because of total permanent disability. You also can't get rid of mortgage or car loan debt if you hope to keep the assets; you'll need to become current and eventually repay these debts in full to avoid foreclosure or repossession of the vehicle. But for unsecured debt -- which is debt not guaranteed by your assets that you simply promised to repay -- bankruptcy could provide relief. 
Find information on credit counseling agencies in Texas near you. Numerous non-profit organizations operate in the state and can provide mortgage, debt, and various other forms of assistance to consumers and homeowners. The agencies deal with issues ranging from credit repair to debt management plans, bankruptcy filing, and other financial matters in Texas, and most services are free of charge. More information is below, including how to get help by county.

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.
If you are really unable to repay your debts because you have no source of income at the moment or if there is just no realistic way that you could repay them in two to three years the final option is to file for bankruptcy. However, this would tarnish your credit history very seriously. You will be unable to get new credit for at least two or three years after your bankruptcy and when you do it will come with a very high interest rate. You will be required to pay more for your auto insurance and may have a problem renting a house or apartment. The bankruptcy will stay in your credit reports for 10 years and in your personal file for the rest of your life. Many employers now routinely check the files of prospective employees and some may decide to not hire you if they see a bankruptcy in your history.

However, outside of these types of package services, there is little difference with the actual debt management service provided. If money is already tight and you can’t afford the bills you have now, there’s little reason to add another. You’re usually better off going through a nonprofit agency in order to keep fees low and ensure your plan is affordable.
As for your options, it doesn’t sound like your mortgage lender is interested in working with you. (I have no idea what “new laws” they are talking about but the last time I heard, Congress passes laws and the President can either sign or veto them!) I’d recommend you read my series: Underwater On Your Home? Your Six Options and then get some professional advice. In particular, you may want to look into whether bankruptcy or a short sale can help you.
If you negotiate a payment plan or a settlement offer, get it in writing. And don't give creditors access to your bank account, as this could make it easier for them to get a court order to freeze your bank account or to put a lien on it -- and unscrupulous collectors could take out more money than you give permission for. Instead, send payments in the mail. 
If you’re not sure where to start, track your spending for at least a day to see if you’re getting enough value from the things you buy. Just write it down as you spend and see how you feel. You’ll probably be amazed that you begin making changes immediately, cutting out the things that don’t really matter to you and getting more of the things that do instead.
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.
Companies like Consumer Credit Counseling Service can help you get better interest rates and lower payments, but at a price. When you use one of these companies and then try to get a Conventional, FHA, or VA loan, you will be treated the same as if you had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Mortgage underwriting guidelines for traditional mortgages will consider your credit trashed, so don't do it. Real debt help is found only in changing your behavior.
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