Successful personal financial management is a delicate balancing act, requiring budgeting and cash flow skills. Under ideal conditions, income matches outgoing obligations and money is left over to save and invest. Unfortunately financial fortunes come and go, leaving household budgets in distress, at times.
One-time concerns, like a medical issue or short-term unemployment can cause strain, as well as long-term difficulties like outright job loss and damaging financial impacts of divorce. Taxes, credit card balances, mortgages and countless common financial obligations are relentless during times of financial turmoil, so debtors face a number of alternatives as cash flow tightens. In many cases, informal arrangements with creditors bridge short-term problems, but those with deeper deficiencies may choose lasting measures, like debt settlement.
Each financial scenario is unique, colored by outstanding balances, income, spending habits, and personal financial goals. Professional analysis yields reasonable alternatives for those seeking financial relief during troubled times. Conservative measures like better budgeting and imposing spending limits are first steps for families experiencing cash flow difficulties, but a proactive approach may also require debt counselling, consolidation or other restructuring. When financial stress strikes, multiple alternatives should be weighed, in order to protect credit references and meet creditor demands.
Debt Consolidation Loan – When debt spirals beyond affordable limits, consolidation loans can help realign payments and interest rates. Though borrowing may seem counterintuitive during times of financial distress, a well-executed plan replacing high-interest credit card debt with a reduced fixed monthly payment eases pressure, rather than fueling the fire.
Secured loans, using mortgage equity as collateral, are the most accessible forms of financing for consolidation. Provided your credit is otherwise strong, and you've built some equity in you’re a home, a self-directed debt consolidation program may lower your monthly payment and substantially reduce the amount of interest attached to your outstanding debt. If rates have fallen significantly it may make sense to refinance your mortgage and roll your other debts into your home loan. For your convenience, the following table displays current conforming rates for people with prime credit scores. If you have a poor credit score you can expect to pay a significantly higher rate of interest on your loan & the loan is more likely to be structured as an adjustable-rate rather than a fixed-rate. The table also offers a credit score filter which allows you to find offers matching your FICO credit range.
In addition to secured lines of credit and equity loans, banks and credit unions also offer consolidation loan options specifically designed for bundling debt balances under a single repayment umbrella.
Consolidation simplifies repayment, reducing monthly obligations to a single payment and interest rate. Secured loans used to settle outstanding debt do put assets at risk, however. And access to consolidation loan options may be limited for borrowers with past credit difficulties. Paid services help some people consolidate, but programs should be closely reviewed, to avoid unreasonable terms. In some cases, fees and other charges cancel benefits for participants, doing little to eradicate their debt problems.
One note of caution is if you roll unsecured loans into secured loans then you are putting the associated assets at risk if you are ever unable to make the associated payments.
Household Budgeting – Some pop-up expenses come on quickly, like money needed for major repairs or unanticipated health costs. But other financial hardship builds over time, as spending slowly overshadows income. Whenever possible, maintaining an emergency savings fund helps mitigate unforeseen expenses, so there is cash available to cover crises. Accounting for customary costs of living, on the other hand, might be accomplished through better budgeting.
Basic budgets include major spending classes, like housing, transportation, and food. These can be broken-down further, depending upon your circumstances, to include specific subcategories like utilities, gas, meals away from home, etc. Tracking spending in each area and making adjustments to trim costs leads to substantial savings, which can be redirected to cover unexpected financial demands or set aside, as savings.
Credit Counseling – Through pre-arranged terms with major credit providers, paid credit counselling agencies offer repayment plans helpful to some debtors. Participants strike their own terms, but most plans account for full principal balance payments, in addition to a reduced interest rate. Agreeing to counseling stops creditors' collection calls, but the fees paid by consumers and the inflexible terms of most deals make it hard to get ahead, despite concessions. Credit counseling companies may recommend establishing a DMP, which outlines payback periods and monthly payment amounts. While DMPs furnish realistic alternatives for certain borrowers, a comprehensive approach also incorporates education and budget management advice.
Non-profit counseling services are a better choice for some individuals having financial difficulty. Sponsored by credit unions, universities, military agencies, local housing authorities and other civic organizations, they help create personalized budget plans and provide advice on personal money management topics. Your bank or local consumer protection agency may also be able to help with referrals and feedback about credit counseling bodies.
Working to resolve credit issues calls for proactive measures, including direct contact with creditors. Rather than waiting until accounts have moved through the system and are considered charged-off, consumers experiencing payment difficulties are urged to contact creditors early-on, before the crucial six-month mark. As time passes, options become more limited, so urgency pays dividends during negotiation and settlement. When debt negotiation or arbitration is required, the following debt types may qualify for settlement:
When other management tactics have failed, debt negotiation may provide the best mutual path for creditors and struggling debtors. The process provides benefits, when compared to other settlement methods, including the following advantages.
Like other corrective measures, debt negotiation has adverse impacts on credit scores and thus, future availability of financing. Before engaging in contracts, fees and potential costs should be examined closely. In addition to the charges paid to third-party credit settlement professionals, you may be responsible for outstanding taxes on balances forgiven by creditors. Many times, these concessions are considered income, so obligations fall under typical tax laws governing rates and due dates. In some cases debt foregiveness can count as income & be taxed accordingly. Be sure you investigate any tax-related impacts so they do not catch you off guard.
Recently as student loan debt has swelled to over a trillion dollars, the federal government has aggressively pushed income-based repayment programs.
A debtor seeking settlement is in the late stages of an ongoing problem. By the time it is called for, credit negotiation is nearly the last straw. If you've tried other remedies, the best recourse at this stage is to share your case with creditors and follow-through with settlement arrangements. Genuine hardship is a requisite for legitimate debt settlement negotiations. Remember, creditors are not required to deviate from the original terms of agreements made with borrowers, so your high level of financial distress is a primary condition for eligibility.
With debt arbitration on the table, all available measures should be taken to satisfy a deal with the original lender. When left unsettled for several months, banks and other lenders sell outstanding debt, trading compensation for the right to collect. It can be hard to reconcile your debts once they've been sold for profit. Double billing, theft, and other irregularities are common on the secondary credit market, resulting in delays clearing negative credit report entries.
For lenders, and those holding “paper” debt, writing-off unpaid balances is a loss reduction strategy, which enables a resale cycle for consumer debt. For them, it is better to recover a few cents on the dollar, by selling unpaid notes to freelance collections personnel, than it is to hold on to worthless accounts. As you negotiate terms, extra scrutiny must be given to collections agencies well removed from the original loan or line of credit in question.
Lenders share your interest in negotiating a repayment plan. Once a deal is in place, however, you are bound by its terms. Without being unreasonable, fighting for the best settlement should be taken seriously, to ensure affordable monthly payments.
Despite your best efforts, catching-up with runaway debt takes time. Depending upon its source and the payment arrangements used to address it, a negative entry may not vanish from your credit report as quickly as you'd like.
Unpaid accounts drop from your credit record after seven years, though reporting agencies are often set-up to remove them sooner than that. After establishing settlement terms, your credit score should rise, showing significant upward progress once your balance is cleared. For the best outcomes, use online resources to monitor credit reports and speak up when headway is slower than anticipated. The most accurate viewpoint is achieved using all three major reports, so compare Experian, Equifax and TransUnion scores, whenever possible. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) ensures agencies must share a free copy of your report annually, upon request.
If you find errors in your credit report, you can dispute them using this free guide from the FTC.
Debts remaining on your record longer than they should may require action. Start by writing letters to the credit bureaus showing information you believe is inaccurate. They will, in turn, follow-up with creditors to determine how old a particular debt is and whether or not it should still appear on your report. When disputing your record, it is important to offer proof the debt has been paid or the statute of limitations has run out. Creditors unable to show evidence to the contrary must remove questionable entries.
In addition to pleas aimed at credit agencies, copies of correspondence should be provided to the credit card company or lender responsible for listing the account containing errors. Reporting creditors have 30 days to examine your claim. Regardless of whether or not the report is deemed accurate or removed as false, the information provider must inform the credit agency about the dispute. When issues go unaddressed, escalate your dispute beyond the organization's customer service department. Instead of fighting with phone reps, use certified mail to send your next letter to upper-level management at the company.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now maintains FCRA oversight, leading to a more active role ensuring compliance. Credit reporting agencies, for example, have been subject to greater scrutiny and the Bureau has been active collecting information about consumer credit reports. When inquiries are ignored or creditors refuse to furnish information about your debt, regulators may be able to help you get answers.
Several alternatives assist consumers struggling with debt. Budgeting and tighter money management are enough to guide some families through difficult times, but others experiencing financial stress require formal negotiation and settlement to find firm footing. When other options fail, debt settlement provides advantages over bankruptcy and its lasting impacts. Striking fair deals and remaining proactive about credit report repair are starting points for successful debt negotiation, which can be a winning proposition for struggling debtors.