One of the biggest considerations people make when deciding whether to file for bankruptcy is the potential impact it will have on their future financial lives. While it can certainly help them clear out massive amounts of debt that they couldn’t handle on their own, it can also restrict their ability to take out loans and credit during the payment term of the bankruptcy by requiring them to get the court’s permission first.
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.
With credit consolidation, you take out a new loan and use it to pay off smaller loans. Because you now only have one loan, you have one monthly payment. However, taking out a big loan can be tricky. If your credit score is not high, you may not qualify for a consolidation loan. If you do qualify, you may not qualify for competitive interest rates. Additionally, whenever you take out a new loan, there are loan origination fees which can run into the thousands. Finally, if you are able to secure a debt consolidation loan with a low monthly payment, it may be at the expense of the repayment period: you may be paying the loan for a decade or longer.
The last major factor is your history of applying for credit. This accounts for 10% of most credit scores and may be holding you back if you applied for several credit accounts recently. This factor also takes time to correct, but any hard inquiries into your credit will only ding your scores slightly, and as they get older, they will have less of an impact. A year is generally when they begin to stop hurting your credit scores.
Credit utilization is the second most important factor when calculating an individual’s credit score. Simply, credit utilization is how much credit you have used in comparison to how much lenders have provided you. For example, if you have three credit cards with a limit of $3,000 on each card, your total credit would be $9,000. Now, say after a weekend of house decorating, you spent $4,500 on your credit cards – your credit utilization would be 50%. Credit utilization is another facet in which credit holders have complete control over. By landing your utilization in the 25%-45% bracket, your credit score will be optimized.
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.
Your best bet is to call and ask to see if they can put you on a payment plan where you can afford to pay them (even if it’s just the bare minimum a month) or if they will possibly settle for less money. A tip: anything that has your name attached (banking account,utility bills, credit cards, anything you finance, student loans, medical bills, car loans, home loans, your apartment, etc) that you miss a few payments on or don’t pay at all can be reported to the credit agencies and sold to collections companies.