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.
Tip: If you are having trouble making payments on your debts, a credit counselor may be able to help you with advice or by organizing a “debt management plan” for all your debts. Typically, under a debt management plan you make a single payment to the credit counseling organization each month or pay period and the credit counseling organization makes monthly payments to each of your creditors. Under debt management plans, credit counselors usually do not negotiate any reduction in the amounts you owe–instead, they can lower your overall monthly payment. They do so by negotiating extensions of the periods over which you can repay a loan and by asking creditors to lower the interest rates and waive certain fees.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, requires companies that sell debt relief services to explain their fees and tell you about any conditions on their services before you sign up; it also prohibits companies that sell debt relief services by phone from charging a fee before they settle or reduce your debt. For credit counseling that promises to get you into a DMP, that means the company cannot collect a fee until you have entered the DMP and made at least one payment to your creditors using the DMP.
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.
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.
I’ve done some research on debt consolidation loans from financial institutions, and have found one for a $10,000 loan @ $197/month for 5 years, fixed rate of 6.99%. This will allow us to consolidate all of our credit card & medical bill debt (normally costing around $1000-1500/month) and allow us the cash to get her car fixed, paying one low monthly cost. Once we get her car fixed we are going to start paying more than the $197/month to pay the loan off quicker.
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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.