If you have unsecured debts that qualify for a debt management plan and secured debts that don’t qualify, a debt management plan can still work. When you sign up for a debt management plan with a nonprofit agency, the credit counselor assigned to your case will offer comprehensive financial advice that can help you pay down all your debts — not just debts governed by your debt management plan.
One of the biggest pitfalls of debt consolidation is the risk of running up new debt before the consolidated debt is paid off. When you finish paying off credit cards with a consolidation loan, don’t be tempted to use the credit cards with their newly free credit limits. If you think you might, close the accounts. You may have heard that doing so could hurt your credit score, and it might. But you can recover from credit score damage much more easily and quickly than you can recover from crushing debt.
Applying for and opening up a new credit card increases your overall credit limit compared to the amount you have used. This, too, can result in a nice credit score bump the following month, but only works if you have good credit. One drawback: You may initially receive a 10 to 25-point new credit score ding which will readjust after a few months of responsible credit behavior.
What's more, each time you apply for credit, the potential lender will check your score. Each time your credit is checked, other potential lenders worry about the additional debt that you may be taking on. Sometimes, the act of opening a new account, or even applying for one, can lower your score. Having lots of recent inquiries on your credit report dings your score temporarily. So don't apply for cards often, if you want to raise your score, and don’t constantly move your balance from card to card to get a special 0% APR. It will likely hurt your score more than it helps.
Unfortunately, some credit blunders may be out of your hands. Unfairly reported or inaccurate information can plague an otherwise clean credit score. Protect yourself by staying up-to-date. Order a free copy of your credit report and review its contents. Check to verify your correct name, address, and other basic information. Look closely at your accounts to make sure your balances are accurate and there is no duplicate reporting. If you need help, contact one of our legal experts for a free credit repair consultation and analysis. False reporting is illegal, and your credit health depends on action.
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.