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.
When your financial health is at stake, you need a lender you can trust. Unfortunately, some financial institutions make it difficult to find all the information you need to make an educated decision. This can cause you to inadvertently sign up for a misleading loan that doesn’t serve your best interests. If you can’t easily find the answers to any questions you may have about a debt consolidation loan, you may want to consider another lender.
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.
The earlier you find out about a credit report or identity theft issue, the easier it is to solve. To ensure that you find out about issues in the future, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Some companies, like CreditKarma, offer free credit monitoring. Other companies offer daily three-bureau monitoring and resolution services. You can learn more about these options here.
Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
This part of your credit score will look at how much debt you have. Your credit report uses your statement balance. So, even if you pay your credit card statement in full every month (never pay any interest), it would still show as debt on your credit report, because it uses your statement balance. This part of your score will look at a few elements:
However, if you must have more plastic, applying for a secured credit card can be a safe way to go about improving your credit score. These are lines of credit that are secured with a deposit made by you, the cardholder. Usually, the deposit also acts as the credit limit on the secured card. While they come with high fees, high interest rates and low limits, these cards report your repayment history to the major credit bureaus each month, so as you make on-time payments, your credit score will improve – to the extent you won’t need the secured card anymore (they aren't the most advantageous out there), or the card issuer will let you convert to a regular card (usually after 12 to 18 months).
One of the biggest disadvantages of filing for Chapter 13 is that the value of any nonexempt assets the filer wants to keep can be tallied and used to establish the amount of their responsibility for payment of nonpriority, unsecured debt, such as credit cards and personal loans. The goal here is to ensure that the value of assets that would have been liquidated under a Chapter 7 to pay these unsecured claims are still paid out.
I've racked up a good bit of credit card debt, and while I'm slowly paying it down, it's a pain wrangling multiple bills with different interest rates. My credit union is offering debt consolidation loans with a lower rate than any of my cards—should I take that, use it to pay off all of my cards, and only have one, low-interest bill to pay every month?
Along with saving money that you can use for vacations, holidays and retirement, experts suggest putting money regularly into a savings account dedicated to emergencies. If you don't set aside money for emergencies, you can easily get saddled with – and stay in – debt, says Erika Jensen, president of Respire Wealth Management in Houston. "Debt occurs when income minus expenses equals a negative number," she says. "In the absence of savings, that extra spend is going on credit cards. We all know that there will inevitably be months where our expenses exceed our income," she explains. "Everyone knows that scenario. If there isn't any savings, then both of those expenses are covered again by debt."
Now, let’s take this a step further; one of the biggest misconception of this industry is that one’s credit score and credit report are the same thing. The truth is, both concepts are gravely different. A credit report is a mere profile of your entire credit history – including all your positive and negative moments. This report is held and created by the three credit agencies, or bureau: Equifax, Experian, and Call Credit. It’s here that lenders can discover if you’ve missed a payment, how many loans you have taken out, and even how reliable you are. On the other hand, a credit score is a number that derives on five different factors from your credit report, which leads us to our next significant section.
After getting approved for refinancing, the new loan may be reported to the credit bureaus, which could lower your average age of accounts. Your other loans will be paid off, but they could stay on your credit reports for up to 10 more years. Your overall installment-loan debt will stay the same, and as long as you continue to make on-time payments, your score may improve over time.
If the debt is due to drop off of your report in the next several months because it is almost seven years old, consider waiting until then to pay it, as it will have no affect on your score once it disappear. If the debt shows as written off but will still show on your credit report for longer than a few months, collect all of the funds together to completely pay it off before making contact with the lender. That way, you will potentially re-activate the debt but will also show payment in full, which will minimize the damage to your score.
If you already have a good-to-excellent credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans. When you refinance your loans, you take out a new credit-based private student loan and use the money to pay off some or all of your current loans. (The lender will generally send the money directly to your loan servicers.)
To get your finances in order, it's key to create a budget and track your progress. There's no universal approach for monitoring your budget, but if you're in debt, you'll want to take inventory of your finances often and take note of your spending habits at least once a month. The goal is to avoid overspending – and understand how much you spend each month to create a plan to pay off your debts. "This word 'budget' seems to be such a painful word to everyone, but there is actual power and freedom in having a budget in place and having the power to tell your money where to go," Omo says. "It's the basis of your plan to get out of debt."
While attorney fees can run into the thousands of dollars, they generally have installment plans that make it easier for filers to get the expert help they need on a payment plan they can afford. Attorneys also generally offer a free consultation for the initial meeting, which allows you to get to know several attorneys and find the one that you think will get you the best results at a price you can afford.
Closing out delinquent accounts or those with a history of late payments can also help, as long as you've paid them off in full. Because history is important, if you do decide to close a few more accounts, close the newest ones first. The length of your credit history is 15% of your score, so even after you've paid down your balances, keep your oldest cards open. Be sure use these cards to make occasional purchases (then pay the bills in full), so the card company won't close your account for inactivity.
With a balance transfer, you move your existing credit card debts onto a new card. Depending on your credit score, you may be able to qualify for a balance transfer card that doesn't charge any interest for an introductory period that can be up to a year or more. Yep—zero interest. The average credit card interest rate these days is nearly 13%. Having a year or more where you're charged little to no interest gives you the opportunity to use every available dollar to pay down the balance.
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