Settlement has big risks, though, including steep fees (15% to 20% of what the company is able to save you is typical). You may also sustain damage to your credit score and receive harassing calls from creditors while you’re saving up for the program. You’ll also have to pay taxes on forgiven debt. Most debt settlement companies are for-profit companies, while most debt management companies are nonprofits.
Finally, if you or the credit counseling agency fail to make payments on time under the debt management plan, those late or missed payments will appear on your credit report. Because your DMP can cover many debts, one late payment to the credit counseling agency may be reflected as a late payment for each account that is part of the DMP on your credit report. A late payment will also harm your credit scores.
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.
Credit score is not a factor with credit counseling. The initial consultation, even with a credit check, won’t affect your score. There is no minimum score requirement to enroll in a debt management program. In addition, when done correctly the program has either a neutral or positive effect on your credit. In other words, if you still have good or excellent credit, this program won’t set you back.
With debt management, you’re also paying for something you can do yourself. Even if you have tarnished credit, you may be able to get a debt consolidation loan yourself and pay off your debt without the aid of a debt management company. You can also try to negotiate lower interest rates and payments with your creditors on your own. But either solution would require more self-control than debt management, since the burden would be completely on you to stop acquiring new debt.
Some creditors may report that a credit counseling agency is repaying the account. Don’t worry if they do. FICO, the data analytics corporation that calculates consumer credit risk, ignore such reports. An individual lender may care, but FICO doesn’t. Of course, any late payments or high balances on accounts will continue to impact your credit score.
SoFi has taken a radical new approach when it comes to the online finance industry, not only with student loans but in the personal loan, wealth management and mortgage markets as well. With their career development programs and networking events, SoFi shows that they have a lot to offer, not only in the lending space but in other aspects of their customers lives as well.
Put extra money toward the credit card or debt with the smallest balance. You'll be able to pay it off quickly, reducing the total number of accounts you have to deal with, and giving yourself the mental boost of successfully eliminating part of your debt (though you'll pay more interest in the long run than if you were to pay off debt with the highest interest rate first.)
Tax man awaits. If you have debt forgiven, that probably will count as taxable income and should be reported on your federal income taxes. The lender who forgives the debt should send you a 1099-C tax form detailing how much the original debt was and how much was forgiven. For example, if you owed $25,000 and had $10,000 forgiven, you would have to claim the $10,000 as income on your taxes.
Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
If you are working with a credit counselor and think you’ll miss a payment, they can take proactive steps to mitigate consequences and create a plan to get you back on track. They can even negotiate to have additional late payments or late fees reduced or waived if you miss a payment. The key to making this work is being completely open and honest about your situation and speaking with your credit counselor as soon as you realize your payment will be late.
Elsewhere in the European Union, regulation and non-regulation of credit counseling agencies and their approaches, including DMPs, are widely varied. In Sweden, guidelines for credit counseling are loosely provided by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) and creditors are encouraged to use them in lieu of the court system. In Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) provides debt resolution information directly to debtors. In Latvia, a debt advisory company called LAKRA works with employers to assist indebted employees.
Bankruptcy is a last-ditch attempt to settle debts. It is a legal proceeding through which you liquidate all assets in order to wipe out debt (Chapter 7) or persuade creditors to approve a repayment plan over a 3-to-5 year time frame to eliminate debt. There are severe consequences for both, including a drop of as much as 200 points in your credit score and the bankruptcy action remaining on your credit report for 7-to-10 years. A debt management program is not a legal proceeding. A notation that you are in a DMP could appear on your credit report, but there should be little impact on your credit score until you complete the program. At that time, you could expect your credit score to improve, sometimes dramatically.
Cons: Specific to National Debt Relief, it is not available in all states, so if you are one of the 16 states it doesn’t operate in, you can’t use it. In generally, there are always risks to debt relief. If you choose debt settlement or bankruptcy, it can affect your credit score. Know the risks before you decide to go forward with any debt relief program.
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.
Another gray area involves paying to become an authorized user on someone else's credit card. Winkfield says he's heard of people paying $1,500 a month for this service. Credit repair companies solicit people to "rent" their good credit score to others by adding authorized users to their credit cards. The credit repair agency gets a cut of the monthly payment in exchange for setting up the arrangement. The credit account will appear on the report of an authorized user and factor into an improved credit score. Known as piggybacking, the practice isn't illegal, but may violate the terms of service for card issuers.
“When someone meets with a certified credit counselor, they get expert advice for overcoming their most urgent financial challenges,” Bruce McClary, Vice President of Communications at the NFCC said. “Consumers benefit from a comprehensive review of their entire financial situation. Every counseling session is completely confidential with advice that is uniquely designed for each individual.”
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Both are possible solutions to problems with debt. A debt management program is not a loan. It consolidates unsecured debts and tries to lower monthly payments through reductions on interest rates and penalty fees. A debt consolidation loan is actually a loan, with interest charges and monthly payments due. With a debt consolidation loan, you would have to qualify to borrow the amount needed to pay off your debt. The interest rate is normally fixed and, depending on your credit score and history, may need to be secured with collateral like a home or car. Debt consolidation loans usually run 3-5 years.