Paying your outstanding balance a few days after you receive your paycheck, rather than waiting until your due date, will help minimize the balance that’s reported to the credit bureaus and used to calculate your credit utilization. This can work both with multiple monthly payments or a carefully timed single payment. Automating withdrawals from a bank account is a great way to enforce the plan and eliminate forgetfulness.
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.
You're also entitled to a free credit report if you've been turned down for credit because of something on your credit report, if you're currently receiving government assistance, if you're unemployed and planning to look for a job soon, or if you think you've been a victim of credit card fraud or identity theft. Some states even have laws that let you get an additional free credit report each year. All these free credit reports should be ordered directly through the credit bureaus.
Other ways credit card consolidation can hurt your credit include applying for a new line of credit which will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report, adding a new credit account that can lower the average age of your credit history, and getting a new personal loan. All of these things will show that you have a high level of outstanding debt (your scores should improve as your remaining balance shrinks from where it started).
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.
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.
While this might seem like an obvious debt-repayment strategy, Cavalieri – and many personal finance experts – suggest that you set up your payments with your bank or debit card, so that anything you owe is automatically paid every month. "Automation is key. Setting up payments to go automatically will help keep things humming and ensure you do not miss any payments," Cavalieri says. That way, not only will you start filling the debt hole, you'll avoid late fees and you'll improve your credit score, which may allow you to refinance some debt for better interest rates.
UPDATE: The Alternative Loan Machine is actually fixing the issue for me now. Apparently the problem was during the period when they were switching from beta testing to going live. Their communications were down while they were transferring everything over to their new system. They’ve since contacted me and are assisting in getting my refund back from the vendor I hired through them, so everything’s getting taken care now. They are at this time doing everything they advertise themselves doing.