Reputable credit counseling organizations can advise you on managing your money and debts, help you develop a budget, and offer free educational materials and workshops. Their counselors are certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors discuss your entire financial situation with you, and can help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions.
The best way to consolidate debt is to consolidate in a way that avoids taking on additional debt. If you're facing a rising mound of unsecured debt, the best strategy is to consolidate it through a credit counseling agency. When you use this method to consolidate bills, you're not borrowing more money. Instead, your unsecured debt payments are consolidated into one monthly payment to the agency, which in turn pays your creditors each month. Your credit counselor works with your creditors to try to reduce your interest rates and eliminate extra fees, like late charges or over-limit charges.
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
The best way to consolidate debt varies by individual, depending on your financial circumstances and preferences. For some, the best way to consolidate debt may be paying off smaller balances first and then adding those payments to the bigger bills until those are paid off. Others might consider transferring balances to one credit card or getting a consolidation loan. However, consolidating balances to one credit card or using a loan can be risky because, if you need to borrow additional money, it may be tempting to use one of the accounts with a zero balance. Then the debt grows, and you can find yourself in financial trouble quickly.
It’s always possible there are some errors on your credit report causing your credit score to be much lower than it should be. At the beginning of any endeavor to improve your credit, get acquainted with your free 3-bureau credit report (from annualcreditreport.com) so you know what belongs on them. Check carefully for any errors to your name, identifying information, account names, account numbers, credit limits, balances, and payment dates, and if you find any errors dispute them and have your report corrected. If there were errors regarding payments or credit limits and they are resolved, your credit score may improve dramatically and quickly, depending on the error.
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.