But debt consolidation is not for everyone. If you have a lot of debt, you may not be able to secure the low debt consolidation rates that this approach depends on. And consolidating debt doesn't necessarily help you reduce it — consumers taking out consolidation loans often find their debt remains the same or actually increases over a period of a couple years. Your ACCC credit counselor can help you decide if debt consolidation makes sense for you.
Those who are overwhelmed by debt often turn to credit counseling agencies to find help. They offer a variety of services, such as workshops, one-on-one coaching and debt management plans, all with a common objective. "The No. 1 goal is to leave people in a better financial situation," says Julie Kalkowski, executive director of the Financial Hope Collaborative at Creighton University. The Financial Hope Collaborative is a financial education and counseling program for low- to moderate-income families living in Omaha, Nebraska.
You’ll pay a nonprofit credit counseling agency to consolidate your debts into one monthly payment, while also reducing your interest rate, in an effort to pay off your debt faster. This is a good option for consumers in credit card debt who have a steady income to repay the debt within three to five years. Unlike debt settlement, a debt management plan should help improve your credit score.
They also have a wider range of customer-friendly features than the average debt management company. These include a clear, intuitively designed website, online chat, Saturday credit counseling hours, and dozens of branches nationwide for those who want to do business face to face. Fees range from $0 to $50 for setup, and $0 to $75 monthly, depending on your state.
Debt avalanche. The debt avalanche is a twist on the debt snowball. Instead of paying extra on your lowest debt to get that paid off ASAP, you pay extra on the loan with the highest interest rate. When that loan is paid off, pay more on the debt with the next highest rate, and so on until all debt is paid. The big benefit: You save a lot of money by getting rid of high-interest debt first. The downside is, it may take you much longer to pay off your highest-interest debt than your loan with the lowest balance. And it's harder to stay motivated if you don't see debt disappear.
Who’s it best for? If you can’t part with your smartphone, InCharge has a mobile app that lets you manage your account on the go. You can add creditors, change payment due dates, and even see whether creditors have accepted proposals regarding reduced monthly payments or interest rates. They even have a fully online credit counseling option if you prefer that over phone or in-person counseling.
Debt education: National Debt Relief has one of the best collections of debt relief information available to anyone on its site. National Debt Relief has common FAQs about debt, a detailed explanation of every debt relief option from consolidation to settlement to bankruptcy, and gives you tips to help you manage and deal with your debt all by yourself, for free. Most debt relief programs only offer this information if you sign up for their service. However, National Debt Relief makes it all available to anyone who is interested.
When you start a debt management program, you’re adjusting the payment schedule for your credit cards. So it’s important to note that your creditors may report that you’ve missed a payment on your credit reports in the first month your plan starts. Basically, this happens because there can be a gap between when a payment was supposed to be made on your previous payment schedule and the payments you’re making now.
What if I have $60k+ student loans, $14k credit cards spent on medical bills, etc., from the last few years of waiting on disability? What do I do? I will never be able to do the job that my degree holds or most likely any job for that matter. My ss Will be around $1250/month. I don’t even know how I will live on that. I have never been able to get a mortgage to the student loans. Thank you.
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No guarantees. Lenders usually want to work with you, but they can choose not to. This is especially true with debt settlement. You may contribute to the fund used to make a settlement offer for 6-8 months and then find out the lender won’t accept the offer. If you choose this route, be sure to get a written agreement from the lender that they will work with you.
Most debt management plans have participants send a monthly payment to the credit counseling agency. The agency then distributes it to creditors. They also negotiate lower interest rates, and may be able to have fees waived and can help reduce or eliminate the number of collection calls a person receives. Keep in mind, most plans take 36 to 60 months to complete. Credit counseling agencies may also help consumers review credit reports and dispute errors.
Here’s how balance transfers work: As a way of attracting new customers, credit card companies will let you transfer a balance—in other words, a debt—from one credit card to a new credit card at 0 percent interest for a certain number of months. For example, if you were to transfer a $2,000 balance from one card (15 percent APR) to a new card (0 percent APR for 12 months), you could save up to $300 in interest.
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.
As far as options go, I’d recommend you start by talking with a reputable credit counseling agency – one of the options I mentioned in the story. That will give you a baseline to start with. If they can help you with DMP, it’s likely to do the least damage to your credit (with the exception of just paying the debt off) over the long run. If you/they determine a DMP isn’t feasible then you’ll know you have to look at more drastic options like negotiation or bankruptcy.
Keeping a budget helps ensure you have enough money to cover your monthly expenses. Plan far enough in advance and you can take early action if it looks like you won't have enough money for your bills this month or next. A budget also helps you plan to spend any extra money you have left after expenses are covered. You can use this extra money to pay off debt faster.
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.
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.
McClary says the best time to go to creditors for help is before the situation is out of control. Don’t wait until an account is about to be closed because you’ve had several months of late or missed payments. Tell the creditor you’d like to pay down your balance faster and want to know what services are available to help you manage your debt better.
Learn about other types of assistance programs from credit card companies. While it is true that many are increasing fees and in general turning up the pressure on credit card holders, there are also an increasing number of companies that are creating assistance programs to take a more pro-active approach in an effort to truly help people. They are more willing to reduce and cancel unpaid debt, reduce interest rates, allow payment plans, and offer other assistance.
The convenient answer is: When your debt is so small that you can handle it yourself by doing a better job of budgeting; or when your debt is so large that there isn’t enough income to pay for basic living needs AND make a payment toward your debt. The truth is that everyone’s circumstances are so different that an interview with a credit counselor is the only way to know whether you qualify for a DMP.