If you've already used up your free credit reports for this year, you can order your credit reports directly from the credit bureaus for a fee. The bureaus all offer a three-in-one credit report that lists all three of your credit reports side-by-side. The three-in-one credit report costs more than a single credit report, but less than the combined price of purchasing your individual credit reports.
While the steps above may seem lengthy and cumbersome, debt management plans exist because some consumers are simply unable to get out of debt on their own. Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), said that an array of circumstances can lead to situations where families need outside help. Job loss, chronic overspending, reduction in work hours, loss of income and unexpected major expenses are often the biggest culprits when consumers spiral into debt they cannot control.
For example, let’s say you want to use a credit card balance transfer to consolidate. Almost any balance transfer credit card you choose will have a fee that’s applied for each balance transferred. Some have a $3 fee per transfer, while others are 3% of the balance you move. That’s a big difference. If you transfer $25,000, then the 3% card will increase the cost of debt elimination by $750.
If you have unsecured debts that qualify for a debt management plan and secured debts that don’t qualify, a debt management plan can still work. When you sign up for a debt management plan with a nonprofit agency, the credit counselor assigned to your case will offer comprehensive financial advice that can help you pay down all your debts — not just debts governed by your debt management plan.
If your current credit score isn’t great, take measures to improve it. Payment history and credit utilization can make up to 70% of a credit score, according to Experian, so simply paying your bills on time and keeping your balances low can be a tremendous help. You can also help your score by only applying for new credit only when absolutely necessary and getting a head start at paying your loans off now, if possible.
Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer. In general, a consumer with good credit can apply for credit a few times each year before it begins to affect their credit score. If you’re already starting with below-average credit, however, these inquiries may have more of an impact on your score and delay your ultimate goal of watching your credit score climb.