Your bill-paying habits can help or hinder your ability to get a good interest rate. It’s not uncommon for lenders to review your track record of paying noncredit accounts, such as rent, utilities and phone bill. Lenders, credit bureaus and credit scoring firms generally believe that the past is the greatest indicator of future behavior, so this data can provide telling insights.
If you have missed payments, get current and stay current: the longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO Scores should increase. Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won't haunt you forever. The impact of past credit problems on your FICO Scores fades as time passes and as recent good payment patterns show up on your credit report. And good FICO Scores weigh any credit problems against the positive information that says you're managing your credit well.
If you are a candidate for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will need to complete mandatory pre-filing credit counseling with an approved credit counseling agency. The cost of this type of credit counseling session is typically $50 to $100. During this meeting, a credit counselor will go over your finances, including your debts and your income, to counsel you on your options.
Some folks swear by setting automatic payments using their bank’s online bill-paying system or their creditor’s automatic-payment system. If you prefer more control, at least sign up for automatic payment alerts from your lender, via email or text. Then set up a place in your house where you always pay bills, and get an accordion file that enables you to arrange the statements by due dates. Be sure to time your payment so the check or electronic funds transfer will arrive on time.
If you're hopelessly drowning in debt, know that you can't negotiate any lower interest rates with your credit card companies or creditors, or if the math works out, a debt consolidation loan may be a good decision for you. Similarly, if you're in serious trouble with high interest rates, high monthly payments (that you're having trouble with already), and too many bills, a debt consolidation loan might help. Combined with a debt repayment plan or credit counseling, it can be used to pay off all of your debt at a fraction of their original cost. If it may be a good time to strike, pay it all off, and walk away debt-free. Photo by erules123.
If you’re making little to no progress repaying or transferring balances or consider yourself to have a severe debt problem, then you may want to reach out to a reputable credit counseling agency or debt consolidation company. They can talk to you about a debt management plan and other credit resources that may be available to you as a consumer to help pay off your debt.
We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.
Also, after the payment plan is done, a completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy can show on your credit report for up to seven years. As Albaugh noted, however, a filer will usually have already negatively impacted their credit rating through charge-offs, delinquencies and repossessions before moving on to bankruptcy. In that case, Chapter 13 can actually help the credit restoration process and limit the amount of damage their score will incur.
But tread carefully. This a field ripe with scam artists who rebuild nothing but their own bank accounts. If you are approached with an offer of help to negotiate your debt, make sure that you receive a copy of the "Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law" and a detailed contract for services including contact information, stated guarantees and an outline of fees and services before you provide any personal information or turn over any financially-related documents. Ask for references, do online research and keep copies of all paperwork and correspondence in case a dispute arises.
UPDATE: The Alternative Loan Machine is actually fixing the issue for me now. Apparently the problem was during the period when they were switching from beta testing to going live. Their communications were down while they were transferring everything over to their new system. They’ve since contacted me and are assisting in getting my refund back from the vendor I hired through them, so everything’s getting taken care now. They are at this time doing everything they advertise themselves doing.