Talk to an attorney who specializes in debt collection. Attorneys can investigate whether a debt collector is breaking state or federal law and whether the claim is valid, defend you in court against a fraudulent lawsuit and respond to legal summons for you. You can get representation through a nonprofit legal aid clinic (where legal services are free), pro bono clinics at courthouses or private attorneys.
Debt management companies will often use marketing language that makes them sound like consolidation loans. Typically, a debt management company will ask you to start paying them instead of the credit card companies. These companies will hold the money in an escrow account and will not pay the credit card bills. As a result, your accounts will become delinquent. Your credit score will be negatively impacted. And collection calls will be initiated.
One of the sneaky-quick ways to increase your score is to add yourself as an authorized user on someone else’s. According to FICO, 35% of your score is based on your history of on-time payments, so when you become an authorized user on a friend or family member’s credit card, car loan, or installment loan, etc. you automatically “assume” the same positive history of payments on your credit report. Viola! Your score will go up as well. You do need to make sure the lender registers your social security number and will start reporting the change, and it can take 30 days to reflect on your own credit report (unless you do a Rapid Rescore—see below). But becoming an authorized user is a fantastic way to benefit from a great payment history that’s not even yours.
Check what your monthly payment on a debt consolidation loan would be. Are you at least paying that much towards your credit cards now? If the loan payment is more than you pay towards your debts (and it fits into your budget), it might be time to up the ante and just put more money to your credit cards. If the loan payment is less than you pay to your cards, you'll likely wind up paying way more interest over time, since your loan term will probably be long.
You could misuse loan funds: A home equity loan can be used for just about anything, and that may be problematic for borrowers with poor spending habits. You may, for instance, want to pay for an upcoming vacation or wedding, but that will only result in more future debt without any return on your investment. Home repairs or renovations are a better use of funds, as they can increase your property value.
"Financial companies love profitable customers who run up their credit card balances, right? One might think," says Randy Padawer, vice president of credit services at LexingtonLaw. "But interestingly, that same industry penalizes consumer credit scores as a direct result. To ensure a good credit score, never max out your credit cards. For an even better score, keep balances as low as possible."
Next, estimate your monthly spending habits for other expenses such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Create a limit, based on your income, of what you can spend in each of the different categories of expenses. For example, if you tend to spend $400 a month on groceries, try to stick to $300 a month on groceries by making changes like buying generic brands, using coupons, and resisting impulse purchases.