If debt management doesn’t seem quite right for your situation, there are several other debt relief options. I start with the least drastic option, credit counseling, and end with what most may agree is the most drastic: bankruptcy. Of course, all of these methods have their own pros and cons, and only you can decide whether they are better or worse for your situation.

Debt settlement sounds like a sexy option to consolidate debt. Who wouldn’t want to pay half of what you owe on credit card debt? But this is considered a desperation measure for a reason. The ads boasting that settlement companies like National Debt Relief can get 50% of your debt forgiven, don’t tell the whole story. That figure doesn’t include the fees you will pay, the penalties you incur while settlement negotiations take place and whether a creditor will even accept the offers made. Do all the math before you choose this option.


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Get everything in writing. Before enrolling in a plan, make sure you get a contract. Get all verbal promises in writing, and read the contract very carefully to make sure the terms are the same as those you discussed. Watch very carefully for hidden fees. If a company won't send you a contract before you make your first monthly payment, don't pay them and go elsewhere for help.
Everyone with even a little bit of debt has to manage their debt. If you just have a little debt, you have to keep up your payments and make sure it doesn’t get out of control. On the other hand, when you have a large amount of debt, you have to put more effort into paying off your debt while juggling payments on the debts you’re not currently paying.
The internet has made it easier than ever to start a business with close to zero up-front costs. Set up shop as a freelance writer, proofreader, or virtual assistant, and offer your services to other companies who want outside help with hiring a permanent employee. You can work as many or as few hours as you want, with some people turning their businesses into six-figure full-time jobs.
Receiving automated refund checks is great, it’s like finding money on the ground. As it turns out, stores owe you money all the time, but they don’t pay if you don’t ask. That’s where Earny comes in. They automate everything. Price drop? Get cash back for the difference. Deliveries arrive later than advertised? Get cash back. Effort required? Zero, just how we like it.
A chance to start over. The anxiety of dealing with debt everyday crushes people’s spirits. Choosing the debt-relief option that gives you a way out of debt is a life-changing experience. Nothing feels better than second chance, an opportunity to right the wrongs and prove you’ve learned from experience. Bankruptcy, despite its reputation, will do that. A successful Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy breathes life back into consumers. It brings hope that the lessons you’ve learned about finances can take the stress out of your life.
For many consumers who realize "I need help with my debt" and who come to us with questions like "How do I manage credit card debt more effectively," we often suggest a debt management program. Under this approach, you'll make one payment each month to us and we'll pay all your creditors for you. This ensures timely payments, simplifies your finances and lets us work with your creditors to reduce interest rates and finance charges.
Debt management fees vary based on your state of residence and debt amount. GreenPath charges a one-time set up fee that ranges from $0 to $50. We also charge a monthly fee that ranges from $0 to $75. This is minimal considering the amount of money our clients typically save in waived late fees, waived over limit fees, and reduce credit card interest charges.
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.
We do not have a minimum debt requirement for the debt management program. Our goal is to create a payment plan that is affordable and enables you to pay off your debt within a three to five year period. Our clients have, on average, credit card debt of $15,000. Though we have enrolled clients with as little as $1000 in debt, and more than $100,000 in debt. Our clients have an average annual income of $36,000.
Personal loans. Personal loans are another solution to refinance debt. You can take out a personal loan to repay credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, or other types of high-interest debt. Many personal lenders do forbid you from using the proceeds of your loan to repay student debt, but otherwise you have almost endless flexibility in what you can use the borrowed money for. 
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.
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 you don’t own your home or if you don’t have much equity you might be able to get and unsecured or personal loan. If you were able to get this type of loan you would probably still have a lower monthly payment but not as low a one as with a home equity loan or HELOC because you would not be offering anything as collateral to offset your lender’s risk. The upside of these types of loans is that you would be rid of all those angry creditors or debt collection agencies that have been harassing you. The downside is that you would have a much longer term than if you were to simply repay your debts as a HELOC can be for seven or even 10 years and a home equity loan might be for 30 years. In either case you will end up paying more interest over the long run than if you were to just repay your debts short-term. And you would need to be very careful to not take on any new debt or you could end up back where you started – struggling to make your payments.

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.


If you choose to do your counseling over the telephone, we’ll connect you with a certified credit counselor who will do the following: collect information about your income, assets and expenses. They will then pull a copy of your credit report and review your debts with you. Based on your income, assets and debts, your credit counselor will make a debt relief recommendation to you which may include bankruptcy, a debt management program and/or recommendations for how to reduce items in your budget to help you pay off your debt faster.


This won’t be an option for everyone but if you’re paid hourly, speak to your boss and see if you can pick up a few extra hours. Or if you’re job has shifted, check if the less desirable shifts pay a bit more per hour. Working nights isn’t fun, but it could make you some extra money without doing any more work. Maybe less if there’s no one watching!
Participating in a credit counseling session will not be reflected on your credit report and it will not impact your credit score. However, changes in your financial behavior, especially after choosing a debt solution, may have a positive or negative impact on your score. For example, joining a debt management program and having your credit cards closed may initially lower your score. But making on-time payments you can afford over time, could raise your score. A study published by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that participants saw a 50 point average increase in their credit scores, 18 months after finishing the service. This gain applied to those in the bottom quartile of credit score.
One of the most effective ways to budget to eliminate debt is using the cash envelope system. This is where you place a predetermined amount of money in different envelopes labeled with different spending categories. Anytime you spend within a category, the money must come from the corresponding envelope. When the money is out, it’s all out, and you can’t overspend.
If you don’t own your home or if you don’t have much equity you might be able to get and unsecured or personal loan. If you were able to get this type of loan you would probably still have a lower monthly payment but not as low a one as with a home equity loan or HELOC because you would not be offering anything as collateral to offset your lender’s risk. The upside of these types of loans is that you would be rid of all those angry creditors or debt collection agencies that have been harassing you. The downside is that you would have a much longer term than if you were to simply repay your debts as a HELOC can be for seven or even 10 years and a home equity loan might be for 30 years. In either case you will end up paying more interest over the long run than if you were to just repay your debts short-term. And you would need to be very careful to not take on any new debt or you could end up back where you started – struggling to make your payments.
Start paying into your settlement fund. National Debt Relief asks you to make monthly payments into an escrow account that it can eventually use to pay your debt settlement costs. This monthly payment is typically lower than monthly payments on your debt. While you can stop making payments on your debt if it’s unaffordable, you’ll end up paying more in the end.
For example, when you initiate a debt management plan, you may be asked to close credit card accounts. Doing so changes your credit utilization ratio — the comparison between the total amount of credit you have available versus the amount you're actually using. Closing accounts lowers the amount of credit you have available (your credit limit), which increases your credit utilization rate and negatively impacts your credit score.
Everyone has bills and most everyone wants to get out of debt, but some people simply can’t get a focused. It’s not a priority for them. Remedy: The best solution could be to consolidate your debts and make just one payment every month. Another way to get focused would be to take a piece of paper the size of a credit card and write down the five debts you want to get rid of. Tape that piece of paper to your credit card. Every time you reach for that card, you’ll be reminded that you’re adding, not subtracting to the problems on that page.
Bankruptcy lets you resolve your debt under protection from a federal court. Chapter 7 bankruptcy erases most debts in three to six months and wipes the slate clean, and you may get to keep certain assets. It’ll stop calls from collectors and prevent lawsuits against you. Like debt settlement, your credit will suffer, but research shows credit scores rebound quickly.
If you enter a debt settlement program, you’re essentially hiring a company to negotiate with creditors on your behalf. In order to show creditors that you’re truly unable to repay your debts (and hopefully convince them to settle for less than what you owe), the debt relief company will ask you to not make payments on your outstanding debts. During this time, interest and late fees will accrue on your loans.
Make sure the company requires complete information from current statements before giving you a quote. The debt counselor will need you to provide all your current credit card and loan statements before they can tell you how much your monthly payments will be or how long it will take to complete the program. Beware of anyone who gives you a quote without thoroughly researching the following first:
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. 
Instead of diving into debt settlement, a better option might be to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor. Credit counseling organizations can help you better understand tactics for managing and reducing your debt, including creating and following a budget. Credit counseling may not have the negative impact of debt settlement (though if you choose a Debt Management Plan, it could appear on your credit report).
And yes, it’s not always that simple. There are people who deal with some scary, painful, and expensive health issues in a broken system that just makes it harder. It’s all too easy to become one of them. And there are people who’ve been dealt a bad hand in other ways, by growing up in generational poverty, starting out behind, and/or being thwarted at every turn by a lack of access to the advantages others take for granted or don’t even notice.
Take advantage of free credit counseling. The best kept secret in the debt management industry is that you can do most of the things debt management agencies do and avoid paying their fees. Credit counseling is a mandatory prerequisite to enrolling in a DMP. Credit.org offers credit counseling at no charge. Many debtors find that credit counseling alone can help set them on the path to being debt free.[2]
Happily, consumer protection laws now require credit card issuers to disclose the precise length of time that the "minimum payment plan" takes to work for each customer. When you get your next credit card bill, look for the box that says something like "If you make only the minimum payment on this balance, you will pay a total of 'X' dollars and take 'Y' years to pay off your balance."
Home equity. Another way to refinance your debt is to tap into your home equity to repay what you owe. If you have equity in your home -- that is, you owe less than your mortgage balance -- you can get money out of your home using a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit. You could also refinance your entire mortgage and do a cash-out refi wherein you get a new loan to repay your old mortgage and give you extra cash in the process.
When we were getting out of debt, there were several times where extra money fell in our laps that we had not factored into our debt elimination originally. We decided to take this cash and use it to tackle our debt. Some good examples would be a tax refund, selling a car, an inheritance, winning a bet, etc. The more cash you can put towards your debt, the faster it will disappear.
It couldn’t hurt to talk to a credit counselor, particularly because this is affecting your health. Here’s how to find a counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Depending on your amount of debt and income, it may or may not be the right answer for you. From your question, it’s hard to know whether you should be talking with a bankruptcy attorney, credit counselor or simply someone who can help you with a realistic budget you can stick to. But we hope a counselor, with more information about your specific situation, can offer guidance.
Throughout all the years I carried this debt around with me, I never wanted to be in debt. But it wasn’t until I met the three criteria above that I was able to do something about it. First, I had to stop living in denial, telling myself my debt “wasn’t that bad.” I needed a reality check and to stare down exactly how much debt I had and what it would take to get out.

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Look into the fine print of any balance-transfer card you're considering to find out what your credit limit will be with the card. Many times, you won't be able to know until you get approved for the card. You won't be able to transfer more than that limit, less the balance transfer fee, if there is one, and if you exceed the limit you might face a fee.
Also, there are many not for profit credit counseling organizations who offer services at local offices, online, and on the phone. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Local financial institutions and consumer protection agencies may also be good sources of information and referrals.
Fees for services. Regardless of which form of debt relief you choose, there will be a fee to the company providing that service. The fees for debt management are part of your monthly payment. The fees for debt settlement are based on the amount of debt you have. Lawyers’ fees for bankruptcy vary. That just adds another layer of debt that you will have overcome.

Nearly 50% of all college graduates leave school with private or federal loans, and the average US student leaves with at least $10,000 to repay. This can be a substantial burden for recent graduates, which makes student loan consolidation a smart - and sometimes necessary - choice for any graduate in need of debt help. Consolidation of federal loans is easy, and might save you hundreds of dollars by lowering your interest rate. Read our guide to federal and private student loans, browse our articles on the topic.

Although a debt settlement company may be able to settle one or more of your debts, these programs can be very risky and have serious negative financial consequences for consumers. Additionally, some debt settlement companies deceive consumers by making promises they do not keep and engaging in other illegal conduct (like charging fees before obtaining any settlements, in violation of the TSR). For information, read Coping with Debt and Settling Credit Card Debts.
Once you've got a list of counseling agencies you might do business with, check each one out with your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. They can tell you if consumers have filed complaints about any one of them. (If there are no complaints about them, don't consider it a guarantee that they're legitimate.) The United States Trustee Program also keeps a list of credit counseling agencies approved to provide pre-bankruptcy counseling. After you've done your background investigation, you will want to  interview the final "candidates."

Financial education. You'll have access to a wide variety of educational resources for help getting out of debt. These include newsletters, articles and tools on our website that can help you manage credit card debt, budget your finances more effectively, learn about how to stay out of debt, and get answers to questions like "How can I improve my credit score?" and "What is debt consolidation?"


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.

Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
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