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.
If you are facing financial difficulties, it's always best to contact your lenders, creditors or service providers (such as your utility company or physicians) as soon as possible. Collection agencies and legal fees cost lenders a lot of money, so they are often open to negotiations, which are free. Call, email or write to explain your financial situation (for example, if you have experienced a job loss or unexpected set of expenses due to medical emergency). Discuss a new payment plan and make a good faith payment. At the least, you might be allowed to skip a payment without penalty or lower your minimum payments.
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.)
Once your cards and debts are paid off, will you cancel the credit cards? Sure, you get credit cards with zero balances and no bills out of the loan, but one of the biggest problems with debt consolidation loans is that they do nothing to change the behaviors that got you into debt in the first place. Instead, they add another creditor to your pile, and fan the flames of going into debt to pay off more debt. If you even think you might be tempted to use those cards again after paying them off, or if you're using debt consolidation as an easy out or way to avoid really looking at your budget, it's not right for you. The last thing you want is to take out a loan, pay off your cards, and then charge up your cards again—now you've done nothing but dig your hole twice as deep.
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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.
Do the math on your credit cards and their interest rates, and figure out how long it would take you to pay them all off at your current payment rate. Compare that to the length of the consolidation loan you're looking at taking out. Your average 5 year (60 mo) debt consolidation loan, even at a lower interest rate than your credit card, may cost more over the long haul than if you just paid your cards down faster. Photo by 401(k) 2012.
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The next option is to ignore your debt. Collection accounts fall off your credit report after seven years. At that point, the delinquency stops affecting your credit. The catch? Your credit suffers tremendously in the meantime, and since you’re still legally obligated to pay the debt, a debt collector can pursue you until the statute of limitations runs out in the state where you live.
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express includes an extended intro period now at an intro 0% for 15 Months on balance transfers and purchases (14.74%-25.74% Variable APR after the promo period ends) and a $0 balance transfer fee. (For transfers requested within 60 days of account opening.) This offer is in direct competition with other $0 intro balance transfer fee cards like Chase Slate®.
Once you’ve confirmed the accuracy of your credit reports, you can begin working on the mistakes that you’re responsible for. One easy way to pinpoint your credit-score weaknesses is to sign up for a free WalletHub account. Your Credit Analysis will include a grade for each component of your latest credit score as well as personalized advice for how to improve problem areas.
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.