If you’re financially drowning, of course you can declare bankruptcy. The problem is that bankruptcy is a serious derogatory mark on your credit. It won’t prevent you from getting credit in the future, but for a time some credit products will be unavailable to you and others will come at very steep prices. Also, not all debts can be discharged in a bankruptcy.
You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.
If you have a rewards card, you may be tempted to spend more money than you have just to earn rewards. As a result, you may need to rethink why you’re using your credit card. You may come to the conclusion that a rewards card isn’t the best option for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t still use credit cards — there are plenty of credit cards you can choose that are basic and don’t have rewards.
An easier way to pay: If you have debt across multiple credit cards, you might find managing all of the accounts painful. With a consolidation loan, you only have to make one payment. However, this benefit is often over-sold. The APR is still the most important consideration, and you should avoid paying a higher interest rate for the convenience of consolidation.
It's not just that the new plastic can encourage you to spend. Having too many cards can hurt your credit score. Credit-lending institutions will look at the total amount of credit you have available to you. If you have 10 credit card accounts, and you have a $5,000 credit line in each account, then that will amount to a total of $50,000 in potential debt. Lenders will take a look at this potential debt load – as if you were to go out and max all your cards tomorrow – before considering how much they will lend you. They also worry about whether you will be able to meet your financial obligations.
For example, assume you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit. It’s a rewards card, so you use it for everything. In fact, every month, you hit your limit. The statement arrives, you owe $1,000, and you send in a check to pay it off. But the credit card company is likely reporting the statement balance each month. So, it looks like you have a $1,000 limit and a $1,000 balance. That’s a 100 percent credit utilization rate.
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If you think it will take longer than 15 months to pay off your credit card debt, these credit cards could be right for you. Don’t let the balance transfer fee scare you. It is almost always better to pay the fee than to pay a high interest rate on your existing credit card. You can calculate your savings (including the cost of the fee) at our balance transfer marketplace.
You can compare your debt consolidation program options by using a debt consolidation calculator. The calculator will help you determine how much you can save by comparing your current interest rates with the proposed debt consolidation program’s interest rate. It will also help you determine your monthly payment based on your total debt balance, interest rate and repayment term.
According to VantageScore report on how credit behaviors affect your credit score, those with a low credit score may see a credit score bump of 5 to 10 points every month you use responsible credit behavior such as making on-time payments. And, you may see larger jumps of 35 to 50 points or even more if your score was low because of high credit utilization and you make a large lump sum payment to one of your cards and keep the balance low.
Before you apply, we encourage you to carefully consider whether consolidating your existing debt is the right choice for you. Consolidating multiple debts means you’ll have a single monthly payment, but it may not reduce or pay your debt off sooner. The payment reduction may come from a lower interest rate, a longer loan term, or a combination of both. By extending the loan term you may pay more in interest over the life of the loan. By understanding how consolidating your debt benefits you, you’ll be in a better position to decide if it is the right option for you.
Start by getting debt help from a credit counselor. The counselor might even help you negotiate your own agreements with creditors. If you develop and follow a get-out-of-debt plan with the help of a counselor (as opposed to consolidating your debt), your credit score will rise over time faster than it will if you declare bankruptcy or ignore your debts, as you make on-time payments and reduce your overall debt load. You’ll also avoid the hit to your score that comes with the new hard inquiry we talked about earlier.
If you are a candidate for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will need to complete mandatory pre-filing credit counseling with an approved credit counseling agency. During this step, a credit counselor will go over your income, debts and regular bills to determine your best options, including alternatives to bankruptcy. The cost of this type of credit counseling session is typically $50 to $100.
There’s a possibility that a third-party debt collector will sue you if you don’t agree to make payments on your debt, regardless of whether you actually owe the money. If you do receive a court summons, do not ignore it, Rheingold said. Be sure to show up on your appointed date, with an attorney if you can, to make sure that the court doesn’t rubber-stamp a judgment against you.
As we discussed earlier, a major mistake that many people make when trying to repair credit fast is canceling matured credit lines, thinking it will help with fast credit repair. This is extremely counterproductive, and it can decrease your credit score. Look at the five factors one more time: how much does credit history mean? Consider that before you are quick to closing any aged credit line.
Consolidating credit cards and leveraging low balance transfer offers has the potential to increase your credit score. But to accomplish this, it’s important to follow a few pointers. For example, for the general population, 30 percent of the FICO® Credit Score is determined by “credit utilization,” which is the amount of credit actually being used.1
Here is a simple test. (This is not 100% accurate mathematically, but it is an easy test). Divide your credit card interest rate by 12. (Imagine a credit card with a 12% interest rate. 12%/12 = 1%). In this example, you are paying about 1% interest per month. If the fee on your balance transfer is 3%, you will break even in month 3, and will be saving money thereafter. You can use that simplified math to get a good guide on whether or not you will be saving money.
If you’re hesitant for your teen to open their own credit card, adding them as an authorized user on your credit card account may be the best option. You can easily monitor their spending through statements and online banking. While they piggyback off your credit, you can continue to benefit from the same perks your card offers and even earn rewards on their purchases — if you have a rewards card.
Balance transfers can be easily completed online or over the phone. After logging in to your account, you can navigate to your balance transfer and submit the request. If you rather speak to a representative, simply call the number on the back of your card. For both options, you will need to have the account number of the card with the debt and the amount you wish to transfer ready.
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If you see missed payments that shouldn’t have been there, write it down. Your credit score is negatively impacted when you are 30 days or more past due. If you see a balance on a card that you haven’t used in years, it could be because the account has been stolen. Misinformation in the accounts section harms your credit score, so make a note of all incorrect information.
Many people, however, don’t have the time or don’t understand how to make their case, so they look into hiring a credit repair company to dispute errors on their behalf. These companies can charge a fee for their legwork (more on how that works in a minute), but there are times when the extra help can certainly be welcome. (Say you have multiple errors across credit reports or you’ve been the victim of widespread identity theft.)
If you have one of those letters we mentioned earlier that details your credit problems, you have some idea of what’s holding you back. Even though it may seem complex, as we mentioned, your credit score is based on five core factors: payment history, credit utilization, the age of credit accounts, mix of credit accounts and history of applying for credit. They’re not equally weighted, and this information will most likely vary between credit bureaus.