Credit counseling. Most businesses in the debt-relief industry offer free credit counseling services. Certified credit counselors help consumers build an affordable budget and learn how to live with it. Counselors teach them the debt-relief options available and offer advice on which one best suits their situation. This is an overlooked aspect of many debt-relief services. It increases the financial literacy of consumers by leaps and bounds.
It’s also worth noting that working with debt counselors doesn’t negatively impact your ability to qualify for new financing. Even if you enroll in a debt management program, you can still get approved for loans, such as a mortgage or an auto loan. You can’t open new credit accounts during enrollment. However, you can get approved for major financing to purchase a home or car or to fund a higher education. This way, you don’t have to put your life on hold while you pay off your credit card debt.
But having this mini-emergency fund before devoting extra to your debt is vital to breaking the debt cycle. If you don't have some savings, you might find yourself trapped in a cycle you can never escape. You'll start paying off debt, and then your car breaks down, and you'll end up right back where you started with the same level of debt or more. This is discouraging, can cause you to get off track on repayment, and can make it impossible to ever make real progress.
We value transparency in a debt settlement company, and National Debt Relief was one of the most forthcoming with information. When we spoke on the phone with a customer service rep, they explained the program in detail, spelling out the benefits and drawbacks and offering recommendations on alternatives. They were quick to respond to our follow-ups and provided some of their onboarding information for us to look over.
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.
Of course, $800 a month in credit-card bills is a lot to handle, which is where debt management comes in. One of the companies I profile further down, InCharge, can help reduce interest rates by an average of 6% to 9%. Assuming the best scenario (a 9% interest rate drop) and a four-year plan, your monthly payment could shrink to $576 (this includes a monthly fee of $49, which could be lower or dropped completely, depending on your situation) and your total interest paid would shrink to $5,276.
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.
InCharge Debt Solutions boasts one of the most polished websites of the companies I evaluated. The company’s debt management FAQs and financial education resources are very thorough. They are clear about fees ($50 to enroll and $49 monthly). They are also among the few companies that give you an idea of how much your interest rates might drop under a debt management plan (6% to 9%). InCharge is accredited by the BBB with A+ rating; other certifications include the NFCC and COA.
Because we are a non-profit counseling agency, Advantage Credit Counseling Service (CCS) is 100% focused on helping you achieve debt relief. With more than 50 years of experience and the industry’s best Online Credit Counseling system, you can rest assured that not only will our certified counselors understand what you’re going through, they’ll also know how to help you uncover truly personalized solutions to improve your financial future.
If your credit card interest rates are so high it feels almost impossible to make headway on your balances, it’s worth calling your card issuer to negotiate. Believe it or not, asking for lower interest rates is actually quite commonplace. And if you have a solid history of paying your bills on time, there’s a good possibility of getting a lower interest rate.
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.
You might be wondering, “Why is having an emergency fund important”? Well, if you don’t have any money in the bank and an emergency does happen, how are you going to pay for it? For most people, credit cards become the funding source for those emergencies. If you are trying to get out of debt then you need to put a buffer between you and debt; that is exactly what an emergency fund does.
A debt management program consolidates your debt without you having to take out a loan. In other words, you don’t need a loan to pay off a loan. It is administered by a nonprofit credit counseling agency like InCharge Debt Solutions, which offers financial education alongside the program so that consumers learn from the experience and aren’t likely to repeat it again.
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.
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.
Debt management plans from Consumer Credit Counseling Services and other third party organizations exist that can help you find solutions to debt problems. They help with mortgages, loans from banks, credit cards, and much more. These not for profit credit counseling agencies offer a host of solutions, including debt management plans, assistance with negotiating, and information on other programs that may aid you. Consumer Credit Counseling Services are often free to use.
This is the last-ditch solution if your financial situation has become so overwhelming that there doesn’t appear to be a way out. Bankruptcy offers a “fresh start” though with lots of restrictive conditions. You can file for either a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which cancels your debts, or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which sets up a 3-5 year repayment plan to eliminate your debts.
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Asking for help with debt can be difficult. Those in trouble may be hesitant to let others know, but Kalkowski says there should be no shame in reaching out for a lifeline if finances become unmanageable. "There are a lot of Americans in this sinking boat," she says. Rather than going it alone, use the resources available to keep your finances afloat.
Whether you’re worried about being able to make ends meet, considering filing for bankruptcy, or just totally lost about the debt relief process, give us a call. Our specialty is connecting you with trained experts who are able to help you get the debt relief you want regardless of your specific situation. Better yet, the advice we give is always 100% free!
Global criticism of credit counseling comes primarily from predatory practices that take advantage of debtors that are already struggling. These practices include failing to meet required standards, charging unlawful or unreasonable fees, failing to provide affordable solutions for consumers, and neglecting to make customers aware of free debt services available elsewhere.
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.
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Unsecured debt such as credit cards and medical bills are, by far, the most common debts associated with debt management programs. Utilities, rent and cell phone services are other types of unsecured debt that could be part of a DMP. Some installment contracts, such as country club or gym memberships also could be eligible. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how far in debt you must be to get in a program, but most creditors and legitimate credit counseling agencies say your financial situation needs to be severe. In other words, you must owe more money than your income and savings can reasonably handle. Secured debts, such as a mortgage or auto loan, are not eligible for the program.