An emergency here, a well-deserved treat there, and before you know it, you're head over heels in debt. Then one of you loses your job and you realize there's no way you can make all your payments. Before you head to the bankruptcy court, investigate your options.
What are my options?
First, decide whether you want debt counseling or debt consolidation. Debt counseling will help you work out a repayment program that will work for you and help you get control of your finances. With debt consolidation, a settlement expert will actually negotiate with your creditors to lower your interest rate and/or your principal balance to reduce the amount you have to repay the creditor.
Where do I start?
With so many companies promising debt relief, how do you know which ones are legitimate?
Search online and look in the phone book advertising section to start your initial list of companies. Then check the reviews of each company by former clients. You can easily find a lot of information on a company by reading its online reviews. If people have been scammed by a particular debt relief company, you'll find something online that will let you know. This is the quickest way to start narrowing down your list and you can do it outside of normal business hours.
Make sure the company is a non-profit organization, and avoid those who aren't. If a company wants to charge an exorbitant fee every month or charge for their initial consultation with you, cross them off your list.
Check out the company's rating with the Better Business Bureau. Also contact your state attorney general to see if there are or have been complaints filed against the company and if they are licensed to operate in your state.
Visit www.nfcc.org which is the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a non-profit organization, and the site is available in either English or Spanish. You'll find consumer tools to help you, such as videos, tips, education, worksheets, etc. They also have a Debt Management Program for those who are severely in debt. This program will help you pay off your debt and rebuild your credit.
Why Can't I Do This Myself?
A few people are able to successfully negotiate with their creditors and regain control of their finances. For most of us however, the late notices and demand letters have already taken their toll and we're in no mental or emotional state to deal with harsh creditors. Credit counselors and settlement experts do this for a living, so are better able to objectively negotiate to your advantage.
Whether you choose counseling or consolidation, make sure you choose a reputable company and start as soon as you can.
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