While it’s not a requirement to file, it should be noted that there is a second financial planning course that must be taken before a filer makes their last payment on the Chapter 13 plan. This course prepares the filer for financial success after the bankruptcy is final, which helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll need to rely on bankruptcy again in the future.
Focus on paying off your smallest debts first, suggests Kalen Omo, a financial coach in Tucson, Arizona, and owner of Kalen Omo Financial Coaching. This repayment strategy is known as the "debt snowball" method. "You list your debts from smallest to largest, paying minimums on everything except the smallest, and attacking that small debt with a vengeance. The goal is to get small wins along the way to motivate and give you hope to tackle the next one and the next one and so on. Once the smallest one is paid off, you take that payment to the next smallest debt, and the process acts like a snowball on the top of a hill. It picks up more snow as it goes downhill," Omo says.
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With a balance transfer, you move your existing credit card debts onto a new card. Depending on your credit score, you may be able to qualify for a balance transfer card that doesn't charge any interest for an introductory period that can be up to a year or more. Yep—zero interest. The average credit card interest rate these days is nearly 13%. Having a year or more where you're charged little to no interest gives you the opportunity to use every available dollar to pay down the balance.
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).
Some lenders might be open to renegotiating terms with you to reduce interest rates, create payment plans that get you caught up, remove fees and maybe even forgive portions of balances. Just remember that if this happens, you may have tax consequences since forgiven and canceled debts may be taxable. Additionally, according to Albaugh, sometimes settling with creditors on your own requires a lump-sum payment, whereas bankruptcy allows for installment payments on a lowered amount.
Balance transfer deals can be hard to come by if your credit isn’t great. But some banks are more open to it than others, and Aspire Credit Union is one of them, saying ‘fair’ or ‘good’ credit is needed for this card. Anyone can join Aspire, but if you’re looking for a longer deal you also might want to check if you’re pre-qualified for deals from other banks, without a hit to your credit score, using the list of options here.
Some of your creditors and lenders might report only to one of the credit bureaus. And, since credit bureaus don’t typically share information, it’s possible to have different information on each of your reports. Ordering all three reports will give you a complete view of your credit history and let you repair your credit at all three bureaus instead of just one.