Debt is like a messy pet that you forget to lock up before going on an extended vacation. Left free to do what it pleases, it’s sure to make a mess of everything that you hold dear.
While your debts can’t rummage through your clothes closets or eat all the food in your pantry, they can still cause plenty of trouble. In fact, your debts could wind up forcing you to declare bankruptcy.
You may have heard about various debt consolidation agencies that advertise quick relief from your unsecured obligations. Since there are several different methods of debt relief out there, it’s important that you seek out the type of help that’s right for your situation. You need a trusted source of debt consolidation advice to help you do this.
Pay down the debts yourself
Don’t believe anyone that says you can’t pay down your debts on your own. It’s entirely possible to muster the financial resources required to shrink and eventually eliminate your balances for good. To do this, you’ll need to pay down your debts one at a time. You could begin by working on the credit card with the highest interest rate while still making the minimum payments on your other credit cards. This is called the debt stacking method and is favored by many experts because over the long run it will save you the most money. However, it can take a long time to pay off a high-interest credit card especially if it has a big balance. You will have to persevere and just keep chipping away at it.
The second way to pay down credit card debt is called the snowball method. The financial wizard Dave Ramsey developed it. If you were to choose this method you would put your credit card debts in order from the one with the lowest balance down to the one with the highest and then put all of your efforts against paying off the one with the lowest balance.
The idea behind the snowball method is that you would be able to get one of your credit cards paid off fairly quickly and would then have extra money available to begin paying off the credit card with the second lowest balance and so on. We’ve seen examples where people were able to pay off $20,000 in debts in just 27 months using this method. Dave calls it the snowball method because as you pay off each debt you gain momentum for paying off the next credit card debt much as a snowball gathers momentum as it rolls downhill.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to muster the requisite discipline to stay on schedule during a self-managed debt repayment plan. Such a plan might also require you to make uncomfortable cuts in your household budget or even to get a second job. You and your family just might not be willing to make such sacrifices.
Get a debt consolidation loan
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A second way to get debt under control and ultimately paid off is with a debt consolidation loan. If you own your home and have some equity in it you might be able to get either a home equity loan or a homeowner equity line of credit (HELOC). You would then use the proceeds from the loan to pay off all of your other debts. You would then have only one payment to make a month, which should be considerably less than the sum of the payments you are now making. The reason for this is that either one of these loans would have a much lower interest rate than the average of the interest rates you’re now paying. If you’re paying an average of 15% or even higher on your credit card debts and were able to consolidate them into a variable rate home equity loan, your interest rate could drop to 4% or less. And the interest on an interest-only HELOC might be even lower.
If you don’t own your home or if you don’t have much equity in it the alternative would be to get personal or unsecured loan. These are called unsecured loans because they don’t require you to use any asset as collateral to secure them. These loans typically have higher interest rates then secured loans and can be more difficult to get if you’re already having a big problem with debt.
Transfer your balances
If you have multiple credit cards and especially if they’re high-interest cards another option would be to make a balance transfer either to a card with a lower interest rate or, better yet, a 0% interest balance transfer card. If you were able to transfer credit card debts that averaged 15% to a new one at 12% you would have a lower monthly payment and this could make easier for you to reduce your credit card debts. An even better deal would be to transfer those debts to a 0% interest balance transfer card, which would give you a timeout of anywhere from six to 18 months during which you would not be required to pay any interest at all. This means all of your payments would go against reducing your balance and if you were able to heavy up on those payments you could actually be debt-free before your promotional period ended. If this sounds like a good option be sure to read the fine print before you sign up for that new card. It could have a high transfer fee that would wipe out some of the savings you would achieve by transferring your debts.
You also want to check out what your interest rate will be after your promotional period ends as it could be as high as 19%. That wouldn’t matter much if you were able to get your entire balance paid off but if not you could end up right back in credit card jail.
Balance transfers and debt consolidation loans have one bad thing in common. Neither will do anything to reduce your debts. If you owed $20,000 and transferred it to a debt consolidation loan or to a new credit card with a lower interest rate you would still owe the $20,000. And while a debt consolidation loan might have a much more favorable interest rate it will cost you more over the long haul because it will have a much longer term. Home equity loans can be for as many as 30 years and a home equity line of credit is usually for either seven or 10 years. In comparison, if you were to choose to repay those credit card debts yourself, you might have them completely paid off in three years or less using the snowball method.
Settle your debts
A third way to achieve relief from those awful credit card debts is through debt settlement. It can be better than either a debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer because when done successfully it can actually reduce the amounts you owe. The way this works is simple – at least in theory. All that’s required is for you to contact each of your creditors and offer to make a lump sum payment to settle the debt but for less than its face value. For example, if you owed $5000 on a credit card you could contact the issuer and offer to make a lump sum payment of $2500 to settle the debt. If you can prove that you are suffering from a serious financial hardship the credit card company might agree to settle for the $2500. You will need to have the documentation available to prove you really have a serious financial hardship including a list of all your debts, the amount you owe on each, the last time you were able to make a payment on them and any minimum payments. You also will need to have a list of your assets and your earnings. The point here is that you must be able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that you simply cannot repay your debts and if the card issuer refuses to negotiate with you then your only option will be to file for bankruptcy.
In fact, in some cases you might lead with the threat of filing for bankruptcy or at least infer this is what you are about to do as that’s the most powerful weapon for getting a company to negotiate. Most operate under the old adage that half a loaf is better than none. Your job is to convince the credit card issuer that if it refuses to accept half of what you owe it’s likely that it will get nothing.
DIY debt settlement requires two other things. First you need to be very good negotiator as you will be up against people that are very shrewd and very experienced in debt negotiating. Second, and here’s the really tough part, you need to have the cash on hand to pay for any settlements you are able to negotiate. The overwhelming majority of credit card companies will refuse to negotiate with you unless you can immediately pay for the settlement in cash – either via a wire transfer or certified cashiers check.