Cons: You lower your retirement savings, and you may have to pay income taxes and an early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than 59 ½. Also, you can usually only borrow up to 50 percent of your account balance (up to $50,000), and you must pay back the money within five years unless you’re using it to buy a home that will be your principal residence.
You cannot pay down your debt on your own and you continue falling further and further behind. “It makes sense to file bankruptcy when you can no longer keep up with your bills,” said Leslie H. Tayne, a debt resolution attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group, based in Melville, N.Y. “If commercial creditors are breathing down your neck or if you are in danger of losing your home, it may then make sense to file bankruptcy.”
If you are a careful money manager who fell into debt because of unusual circumstances (medical or veterinary bill, loss of employment or some other emergency) and NOT because you spent more on your credit cards than you could afford to pay off each month, then leave the accounts open. Doing so will help your credit score, because the amount of revolving debt you have is a significant factor in your credit score. Just be sure to put the cards away. Don’t use them while you pay down your debt consolidation loan.
Some folks swear by setting automatic payments using their bank’s online bill-paying system or their creditor’s automatic-payment system. If you prefer more control, at least sign up for automatic payment alerts from your lender, via email or text. Then set up a place in your house where you always pay bills, and get an accordion file that enables you to arrange the statements by due dates. Be sure to time your payment so the check or electronic funds transfer will arrive on time.
You cannot sign up for new credit cards, nor can you use the ones you have. While it may sound unreasonable to bar you from using credit, the point of your debt management plan is helping you dig your way out. “The last thing you want to be doing is running up more high-interest debt on the side,” said McClary. “You’re not doing yourself any favors in that situation.”
Write a letter to the specific credit reporting agency that shows the falsehood, whether it is Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Explain the mistake and include a copy of the highlighted report along with your documentation. Although certain bureaus now let you submit disputes online, it’s not a bad idea to send this letter by certified mail, and keep a copy for yourself. The reporting agency has 30 days from the receipt of your letter to respond. The Federal Trade Commission provides advice on contacting the credit bureaus about discrepancies. Here are the contact numbers and web sites for the three credit bureaus: