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.
Imagine, for example, that you have $20,000 in credit card debt and $10,000 in other non-mortgage debt. You might set yourself a goal of paying it all off in two years. (Set a specific time frame, too, lest you keep extending your deadline.) You can set sub-goals, too, such as having a quarter of it and half of it paid off by certain dates. Write down the goals and post them where you'll see them.
Under the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), you may qualify for a reduced interest rate on mortgage payments or credit card debt, protection from eviction, or a delay of all civil court actions, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, or divorce proceedings. To find out if you qualify, contact your local Armed Forces Legal Assistance office.
This should really only be explored a last resort for debt relief before you file for bankruptcy. If you’ve tried everything else and haven’t had any success, then you can consider a debt settlement plan where you settle your debts for less than the full amount owed. This can cause significant damage to your credit score and results may vary, but it may be your best option if your situation is truly critical.
The second thing that you can do is trim your expenses. Go over each line item on your budget and ask yourself, “how can I make this number smaller?” It may involve cancelling services that you rarely use like a gym membership, Netflix subscription, etc. It might even involve reducing the amount of times that you eat out at restaurants each month. The amount that you slash depends upon your commitment level to getting out of debt. The more committed you are, the easier it will be for you to give up some of the unnecessary amenities in life. You might not even need to sacrifice much if you can find these items or services for less. Check out Clark’s Free and Cheap List to help you with this process.
Seek the help of a psychologist or another mental health expert if your concerns about debt are negatively impacting your day-to-day life. A licensed health expert can help you confront your anxieties head on and offer strategies for dealing with them effectively. Also, reach out to your personal network and let those close to you know that you could use their support. It helps to know that you’re not in it alone.
Most nonprofit agencies are members of either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. Both of these groups have certification requirements to ensure a standard level of education and quality among counselors. They also require accreditation, in which an outside body checks that standards of practice are being met.
*Clients who are able to stay with the program and get all their debt settled realize approximate savings of 50% before fees, or 30% including our fees, over 24 to 48 months. All claims are based on enrolled debts. Not all debts are eligible for enrollment. Not all clients complete our program for various reasons, including their ability to save sufficient funds. Estimates based on prior results, which will vary based on specific circumstances. We do not guarantee that your debts will be lowered by a specific amount or percentage or that you will be debt-free within a specific period of time. We do not assume consumer debt, make monthly payments to creditors or provide tax, bankruptcy, accounting or legal advice or credit repair services. Not available in all states. Please contact a tax professional to discuss tax consequences of settlement. Please consult with a bankruptcy attorney for more information on bankruptcy. Depending on your state, we may be available to recommend a local tax professional and/or bankruptcy attorney. Read and understand all program materials prior to enrollment, including potential adverse impact on credit rating.
Gerri Detweiler focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of TalkCreditRadio.com.
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.
Contact your bank and stop payments to the agency servicing your debt management program as soon as you become aware the agency has shut down. You should immediately contact the creditors involved and ask if you could continue paying them directly or would they work out another payment plan. Also, ask for a credit report and verify that previous payments you made to the DMP agency were sent to your creditors. If payments were missed, there could be some negative consequences to your credit score. Finally, you could contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency and ask them to intervene on your behalf with your creditors.