Being deep in debt is a very stressful situation – especially if what you owe is more than what you are earning every month. Any breadwinner in the family feels this burden day in and day out. The pressure to make sure that the family is provided for is frustrating. While paying for the usual bills, you need to make sure your debts are paid on time and correctly. Not to mention having extra money to put aside so you will have emergency money for unexpected situations.
5 Different Ways to Achieve Debt Relief
It may seem like a very bleak moment but thankfully, there are options for you to weather out your financial crisis.
Before discussing anything else, we’d like you to know that you have the option to fix everything yourself. Unfortunately success is not guaranteed as you have proven that you haven’t been able to manage your finances. But it could be worth a try. The good thing is that you will not be burdened with the additional costs of hiring someone to help you out. You will be able to concentrate all your funds on paying off your debts.
You need to start off with a plan so you know just how much debt you have and your ability to pay them off. Also, it will provide you with a black and white scenario of your financial standing. The easiest way to do this is by creating a spreadsheet. If you don’t already have a spreadsheet on your computer you could use the free one that comes with Google Docs. You will want to create four columns – one for the name of your creditor, one for the amount owed, a third for your minimum payment (if applicable) and a fourth for the payment due date. Fill out these columns and you will have a good picture of your debt, which is the first important step in getting it under control.
The next step is to begin calling creditors to tell them about your situation. You will need to have documents available proving that your suffering a financial hardship and that it would be impossible for you to repay your debts unless they are willing to grant you some concessions.
Be prepared to show documents to prove that your claims are true. If you can successfully convince your creditors that you do have a true financial hardship, you can then discuss the possible options that would permit you to meet your debt obligations.
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.
The final option is what’s called debt settlement. It’s where you offer to make lump-sum payments to clear your debts but for less than you actually owe. You will read more about this option later on this page.
While negotiating with your creditors could be a very good solution most Americans are unable to do this as they simply do not know what to do. This is a case where the expertise and professionalism required to negotiate for new payment terms is often best left in the hands of those who know what to do. Otherwise, the desired results may not be achieved.
Consumer credit counseling
A second option is consumer credit counseling. There is any number of consumer credit counseling agencies available on the Internet or you may be able to find one locally. The best of these are nonprofits. When you contact one of these agencies either via a website or in person you will have a counselor that will spend from 45 minutes to an hour with you discussing your finances. The best of these agencies charge nothing for that service.
Depending on how serious are your financial woes your counselor may recommend a debt management plan (DMP). The way this would work in brief is your counselor will determine how much you can pay and then negotiate with the creditors on your behalf. The negotiation can be for longer terms or lower monthly amounts determined by what payments you could afford to make. In some cases your counselor may attempt to negotiate a reduction in your interest rates. If all or most all your creditors agree to your debt management plan you would stop paying them. Instead, you would send one payment a month to the credit-counseling agency and it will distribute the money to your creditors per your DMP. The biggest downside to one of these plans is that they typically take five years to complete. You would most likely be required to give up all the credit cards that are in your plan and would be strongly urged to not take on any new credit until you’ve completed your plan. These are the biggest reasons why nearly half of those debtors who sign up for DMP never successfully complete it.
The benefit of going for this type of debt relief option is that your monthly payment will most likely be much lower than the sum of the payments you are currently making. You may also have any penalty charges waived as well as any fees. Most of all, you will no longer be harassed by your creditors as they will be handling everything through the debt management agency.
Debt Consolidation Programs
Another option is consolidating your debts into one manageable account. The main purpose of this is to eliminate the higher interest rate debts, arrive at lower monthly payments and allow you to concentrate on making just one payment. However, this does nothing to your total balance. What you will be doing is shifting all of your debts into just one account.
You could consolidate your debts by getting a loan from a bank, credit union or some other source of funds. If you own your home and have some equity you could most probably get a home equity loan or homeowner equity line of credit (HELOC) and use the funds to pay off all of your other debts. These are called secured loans because you’re required to secure them by using the equity in your home as collateral. In fact, home equity loans are often called second mortgages. Whichever you choose you should end up with a much lower monthly payment than the sum of the payments you been making.
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.
Settling your debts used to be a less than reputable practice but has recently gained prominence. It is basically where you hire a debt relief company to negotiate with the creditors on your behalf. The goal is to get them to agree to settlements where you make lump sum payments for a portion of your debts (this should much less than your total balances). In return the creditor agrees to forgive the rest of the debts.
As the debt relief company is negotiating with your creditors, you stop paying the bills involved (e.g. monthly credit card bills). Instead, you will be making smaller payments to a separate trust account to pool in your resources. Ultimately you will need to come up to the pre-planned amount that you agreed to with the debt relief expert handling your case.
The biggest con of debt settlement is that your credit score will be negatively affected. While it is a better option than filing for bankruptcy the effect on your credit will be similar – at least temporarily.