Not only does a Chapter 13 filing require a long-term commitment and an understanding of the impact on your credit, but it also carries an expense, as the filer must pay the court, the trustee and their attorney. Before you consider attempting a Chapter 13 without an attorney, note that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court instruction packet states that it is “… extremely difficult to succeed in a Chapter 11, 12 or 13 case without an attorney.”
Traditional debt consolidation companies review your debts, income and credit score. If you qualify for a debt consolidation loan, they will discuss terms with you which will include the repayment period, the interest rate and the monthly payment. After you are issued a check, you will pay off all of your individual credit cards and owe one monthly payment to the credit consolidation company. One of the downsides of working with a traditional debt consolidator is that your credit card accounts are open and available for use. You may be tempted to continue using your cards and could wind up doubling your debt. Consider the following tips if you decide to work with a traditional debt consolidation company and take out a brand new loan:
Over one-third of your score depends on whether you pay your creditors on time. So, make sure you pay all your bills by their due dates, keep receipts, canceled checks or reference numbers to prove you did so. While utility and phone bills aren't normally figured into your credit score, they may appear on a credit report when they're delinquent, especially if the provider has sent your account to a collection agency and forwarded that information to the bureaus.
While it’s not a requirement to file, it should be noted that there is a second financial planning course that must be taken before a filer makes their last payment on the Chapter 13 plan. This course prepares the filer for financial success after the bankruptcy is final, which helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll need to rely on bankruptcy again in the future.
Chapter 13 also makes it easier to repay debt since it effectively consolidates all the listed debt into one payment that can be made to the trustee monthly. In the case of what’s called a “cramdown,” Chapter 13 may even allow a debtor to reduce the amount owed on their secured debt by reducing the balance to match the value of the underlying collateral and effectively reducing the interest.
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, be aware that bankruptcy laws require that you get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for bankruptcy relief. You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at www.usdoj.gov/ust, the website of the U.S. Trustee Program. That’s the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Be wary of credit counseling organizations that say they are government-approved, but don’t appear on the list of approved organizations.
I have two credit cards, one from a credit union with just over 10% interest and one from Chase with 9.99% interest. I just asked the credit union to increase my credit line to $20k so I can consolidate the two, as I thought it’d be best to keep my credit union account. I have a credit card through Wells Fargo that has an $18k limit, but it’s zero’d out and I don’t use it. Will this hurt my credit score? It’s in the mid-700’s.
We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.
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.
Obviously, the higher the utilization percentage, the worse you look. Experts have long said that using 30% of your available credit is a good way to keep your credit score high. More recently, that recommendation has been reduced to 20%. In the $5,000 limit MasterCard example above, 30% utilization would represent a $1,500 balance. Boosting your credit limit from $5,000 to $10,000 would allow for a $3,000 balance and still maintain 30% utilization. (This, of course, is just an example. It’s not likely you would get a 100% increase in your credit line. But any amount will help increase the spread and lower the utilization ratio).
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.