Next, your credit counselor will compile your data and ask you to commit to a debt management plan if they believe it’s the best option. If you choose to move forward, you will begin making a single monthly payment to the credit counseling agency who will disburse the funds on your behalf. Your credit counselor may also suggest alternatives to debt management plans if they believe a better option is available.
Veteran journalist/blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. Most recently, his blogging for various websites on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.
Ultimately, the best way to consolidate credit card debt depends on your financial situation. If you want a quick application process and the potential for no fees, you may choose a balance transfer credit card. Meanwhile, if you don’t have the good or excellent credit needed for a balance transfer credit card, you may look toward loans. If that’s the case, the question becomes whether you’re willing to put your home up for collateral to get a potentially higher loan amount, or withdraw from your 401(k) or simply receive cash from an unsecured option like a personal loan. And, if you struggle with managing payments for various credit card debts, you may lean toward a debt management plan. Whichever option you settle on, make sure you have an actionable plan that allows you to fully repay the loan during the term and maintain a debt-free life.
The key to debt consolidation is to avoid taking on new debt. If you borrow money, pay off your credit cards and then charge them back up again, you’re in worse shape than ever. If there is any chance that you might do this, or if you find yourself doing it after you obtain the consolidation loan, stop using the cards and just close the accounts. Your credit score will suffer, but your finances will thrive. Your score will come back up over time, and by then you’ll have learned valuable lessons about racking up too much debt.
Several years have passed since technology started to fly by at what seemed like the speed of light and the demand for products and services began to change and adapt to meet the latest consumer pace. Services that previously took weeks were forced to move into days, soon followed by the same day and ultimately “within hours” or even “instant.” Fast became the motto from the drive-thru windows for food, banking and almost anything and everything and “do it yourself” and “easy assembly in minutes” began to thrive.
Focus on paying off your smallest debts first, suggests Kalen Omo, a financial coach in Tucson, Arizona, and owner of Kalen Omo Financial Coaching. This repayment strategy is known as the "debt snowball" method. "You list your debts from smallest to largest, paying minimums on everything except the smallest, and attacking that small debt with a vengeance. The goal is to get small wins along the way to motivate and give you hope to tackle the next one and the next one and so on. Once the smallest one is paid off, you take that payment to the next smallest debt, and the process acts like a snowball on the top of a hill. It picks up more snow as it goes downhill," Omo says.
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Once your cards and debts are paid off, will you cancel the credit cards? Sure, you get credit cards with zero balances and no bills out of the loan, but one of the biggest problems with debt consolidation loans is that they do nothing to change the behaviors that got you into debt in the first place. Instead, they add another creditor to your pile, and fan the flames of going into debt to pay off more debt. If you even think you might be tempted to use those cards again after paying them off, or if you're using debt consolidation as an easy out or way to avoid really looking at your budget, it's not right for you. The last thing you want is to take out a loan, pay off your cards, and then charge up your cards again—now you've done nothing but dig your hole twice as deep.
Become familiar with the information contained in each of your credit reports. They'll all look very similar, even if you've ordered them from different bureaus. Each credit report contains your personal identifying information, detailed history for each of your accounts, any items that have been listed in public record like a bankruptcy, and the inquiries that have been made to your credit report.
If you are unable to get a credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card instead. You need to provide a deposit, and you will be given a credit limit that is tied to your deposit amount. A secured credit card is reported to the credit bureau and can help you build your credit score. You can shop for the best secured cards at sites like MagnifyMoney and NerdWallet.
Some of your creditors and lenders might report only to one of the credit bureaus. And, since credit bureaus don’t typically share information, it’s possible to have different information on each of your reports. Ordering all three reports will give you a complete view of your credit history and let you repair your credit at all three bureaus instead of just one.
You might think it's a wise idea to use leftover cash, like a holiday bonus, to pay down your debt. But you also want to make sure you're setting aside extra money for things like an emergency savings account. "Don't put all extra funds toward debt. Doing so just leaves you in a place where you do not have any cash to cover an emergency. Having no cash for an emergency, say a car repair, means taking on more debt, perpetuating the problem," says Krista Cavalieri, a certified financial planner and owner of Evolve Capital, based in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Keep in mind, that additional money could be better spent on essential big-ticket items.
Check what your monthly payment on a debt consolidation loan would be. Are you at least paying that much towards your credit cards now? If the loan payment is more than you pay towards your debts (and it fits into your budget), it might be time to up the ante and just put more money to your credit cards. If the loan payment is less than you pay to your cards, you'll likely wind up paying way more interest over time, since your loan term will probably be long.
If someone has opened accounts in your name, without your knowledge, you could be the victim of Identity Theft. The best first place to start managing identity theft is IdentityTheft.gov. This is a government website that enables you to report an identity theft and get a recovery plan. As part of that plan, you will be encouraged to freeze your credit and file disputes with the credit bureaus. It is critical to keep a good paper trail.
You could misuse loan funds: A home equity loan can be used for just about anything, and that may be problematic for borrowers with poor spending habits. You may, for instance, want to pay for an upcoming vacation or wedding, but that will only result in more future debt without any return on your investment. Home repairs or renovations are a better use of funds, as they can increase your property value.
The goal is to focus your financial attention on quickly paying down one debt as quickly as possible. Now, if your debt is accumulated in credit cards, as you make monthly payments, do not use those cards. The credit bureau will see your financial habits, and this will reflect in your credit report and ultimately your credit score. Now, calculating your credit utilization is not hard and is something that everyone can do. Take the time to figure out where you stand and what loans or credit lines you can begin minimizing to reach that sweet spot. This is one of the best ways for fast credit repair.
If you are facing financial difficulties, it's always best to contact your lenders, creditors or service providers (such as your utility company or physicians) as soon as possible. Collection agencies and legal fees cost lenders a lot of money, so they are often open to negotiations, which are free. Call, email or write to explain your financial situation (for example, if you have experienced a job loss or unexpected set of expenses due to medical emergency). Discuss a new payment plan and make a good faith payment. At the least, you might be allowed to skip a payment without penalty or lower your minimum payments.
My wife and I recently decided we wanted to buy a home better suited to starting a family and sell our townhouse (which she owned when we met). I didn't have the best, let's say, track record with financials in my past and my credit was abysmal. I hit rock bottom 2.5 years ago when my car ( a beautiful fully loaded Jeep) was reposed on Xmas eve morning. Even then, although angry and ashamed, I didn't do much to help myself out. My 20's, which were years of partying, spending and generally speaking not caring had finally caught up. I was 29. So, we got to work with fixing things. Paying off creditors, paying down debts, making on time payments, etc. When we had my credit run about 6 weeks ago, it was 588. This was much higher than the 410 I had a couple years ago, but still a far cry from good. (Side note here, be mindful of using credit cards that track your fico score, or having a credit bureau account that gives you your score. There are around 30 different scores that are used, and different scores are used for different types of inquires (auto loan is different than mortgage)). So we got to work, paid off the last couple things and really started paying attention to what was happening. One thing I can't stress enough is every year, you're allowed to get 3 free credit reports, 1 from each bureau. You MUST do this each year. This is where I found my credit windfall. I was able to uncover the fact that a debt that had been paid of was still being reported as open and late. I also found a debt that wasn't mine! A big one. $1700 showing open and late for 2 years with a collector. I filled a report with the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and they started an investigation. The company that had this debt wrote me a letter saying that even though I had no proof that the debt wasn't mine, they would absolve it and would contact the 3 credit bureaus to have the reporting removed and cleared. At this point, I called my broker and said it's time to run the simulator. They ran it, and then performed what is called a Rapid Rescore. Some brokers charge for this; good ones don't. Since they are trying to get your business they will do it for free. If it's at cost, it's roughly $10 per item per report. If you have a lot of issues it can add up. Anyhow, they did the rescore, did the simulator, ran a hard inquiry and BOOM, 657.
Rates can vary depending on where you live: The rate that is advertised on LendKey is the lowest possible rate among all of its lenders, and some of these lenders are only available to residents of specific areas. So even if you have an excellent credit report, there is still a possibility that you will not receive the lowest rate, depending on geographic location.
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We agree that it is very important for individuals to be knowledgeable of their credit standing. When you have a credit-monitoring tool like freecreditscore.com on your side, you get e-mail alerts whenever there’s a change in your credit score–and you can also see your credit score whenever you want. With the free credit report from the government, you only see your report once a year. If you monitor your credit score regularly, it’s easier to catch inaccuracies before it’s too late.