Once you have completed credit counseling, you can start your bankruptcy case with your attorney. This involves filing a packet of forms with the local bankruptcy court. Required forms include the bankruptcy petition, forms for your financial information, a list of your income and expenses, and proof you have passed the Chapter 7 means test. You will also list your property exemptions based on limits in your state.
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."
Next, your credit counselor will compile your data and ask you to commit to a debt management plan if they believe it’s the best option. If you choose to move forward, you will begin making a single monthly payment to the credit counseling agency who will disburse the funds on your behalf. Your credit counselor may also suggest alternatives to debt management plans if they believe a better option is available.
As part of the bankruptcy completion, there are two courses you need to take. The first is the pre-filing credit counseling and the second is the pre-discharge debtor education, which is a financial management course before you make your final bankruptcy plan payment. In taking both courses now, before you file, you can learn about a variety of options for debt consolidation and ways to rework your budget and re-prioritize your spending. It’s possible that this re-education can give you the skills and resources you need to create a personal plan for organizing and tackling your debt without filing for bankruptcy.
Besides the security deposit, a secured card is just like a regular credit card. Purchases and payments your teen makes with their secured card are reported to the three credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. You can check that your teen’s credit activity is reported to the bureaus by requesting a copy of their free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. You can request one report from each bureau every 12 months, and we recommend spacing them out over the course of a year — so requesting one copy every four months.
While it seems to make sense to pay off all of your old delinquent debts, this strategy can sometimes backfire and drop your score further. If a credit account is simply overdue and shows as outstanding debt, paying it off will improve your score – though it won't eradicate the record of late payments. But if you have an old debt on your credit report that has been charged off by the lender – meaning that they do not expect further payments – setting up a new payment plan can re-activate the debt and make it appear to be more current than it actually is. This is often the case with debt that has been turned over to a collection agency. The agency may register the debt with credit bureaus as new rather than reporting it against the written-off debt.
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.”
If you consolidate by taking a personal loan to pay off your credit cards, your utilization ratio could go down, causing your score to go up. For this to work, you need to leave the credit card accounts open after you pay them off. But your credit rating could go down if an underwriter has cause for concern that you could easily rack up new debt on the open and now balance-free credit cards (many people do).
Perhaps our favorite secured card, Discover it® Secured, has numerous benefits for those looking to rebound from a bad credit score. There is a $200 minimum security deposit that will become your line of credit, which is typical of secured credit cards. Your deposit is equal to your credit line, with a maximum deposit of $2,500. Additional perks include a rewards program (very rare for secured cards) that offers 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, plus 1% cash back on all other credit card purchases.
Since a good portion of your credit score is based on your ratio of debt balances versus your total available credit (called Utilization Rate – and about 30% of your score), a great way to improve your Utilization without paying down debt is by requesting a credit line increase. Simply call each of your credit cards or revolving debt holders and ask them if they’ll increase your total credit line. If and when they do so, your credit utilization ratio will automatically improve, and your score will rise accordingly. For instance, if you owe $5,000 on a tradeline with a $10,000 limit, your utilization ratio is at 50%. But if this same creditor increases your available credit to $15,000, your ratio instantly sinks to 33% – which is far closer to FICO’s ideal ratios! You may be able to achieve this with a simple phone call (and some convincing), and the worst they can say is “no.” Either way, it’s not requesting a new tradeline or opening new credit so your score will never go down.
The Citi® Secured Mastercard® requires a $200 security deposit, which is typical of secured cards and a good amount to establish your credit line. You can deposit more money if you want to receive a higher credit line, but if you don’t have a lot of money available to deposit, coming up with $200 is manageable. This card doesn’t have any additional card benefits like rewards or insurances, but you can access Citi’s Credit Knowledge Center for financial management tips.
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Public Records – Negative information from public records can include bankruptcies, civil judgments or foreclosures. Bankruptcies can be on the report for seven to 10 years, but all other public records must be removed after seven years. If the public record on your report is older than is allowed, dispute the information with the credit bureau and send documentation to prove that the debt is too old and should no longer be on the report.
To qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must have little disposable income. A means test is applied that compares your income to the median income in your state. If your average monthly income for the six-month period leading up to your bankruptcy filing is less than the median income for the same household size in your state, you automatically qualify.
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.
Get the advice of a nonprofit credit counselor before consolidating your credit card debt. Credit counseling offers free debt help and the expert advice could save you time and money. You may find out that your debts are indeed overwhelming and bankruptcy is best your option, or that your debts are judgment proof and thus you have nothing to lose by defaulting.
If your average monthly income for the six-month period leading up to your bankruptcy filing is less than the median income for the same-size household in your state, you automatically qualify. If your income is above the median, you must pass an additional means test that compares your income to specific monthly expenses to prove you have little to no disposable income.
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).
FICO, myFICO, Score Watch, The score lenders use, and The Score That Matters are trademarks or registered trademarks of Fair Isaac Corporation. Equifax Credit Report is a trademark of Equifax, Inc. and its affiliated companies. Many factors affect your FICO Score and the interest rates you may receive. Fair Isaac is not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. Fair Isaac does not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit record, credit history or credit rating. FTC's website on credit.
Unsurprisingly, consumers across the southern United States are far more likely to have subprime credit scores than consumers across the north. Minnesota had the fewest subprime consumers. In December 2016, just 21.9% of residents fell below an Equifax Risk Score of 660. Mississippi had the worst subprime rate in the nation: 48.3% of Mississippi residents had credit scores below 660 in December 2016.35
The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits.
A key indicator of your financial fitness, your debt-to-income ratio allows financial institutions to weigh your current debt against your income. This helps lenders determine your ability to keep up with new loan payments. Your debt-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing the total sum of all your monthly obligations by your gross monthly income. According to guidelines set by Wells Fargo, a good debt-to-income ratio is 35% or less, a decent one falls into the 36% to 49% range and one that needs improvement is 50% or higher.
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.