Debt is very commonplace in America. Most consumers need to use some form of credit or loan during their lifetime. Currently, U.S. consumers are carrying over $4 trillion in debt—not including mortgages. Whether it’s credit cards, or a loan for school or a car, debt can be costly to you if you let it run your life.
Here are six debt relief solutions you need to know if you’re currently struggling to pay off your debts.
Many credit counseling organizations offer some form of information to you free of charge, which will aid you in determining the best option for your specific situation. A credit counselor should do things like give money and debt management advice and assist you in getting your credit report. People with more modest debt loads might then be able to work down their debt just with the insight gained from credit counseling. Many, however, will find they need to take additional steps to adequately combat their debts.
Formulate a Repayment Strategy
You’ll often need to take significant measures to successfully pay down your debt on your own. There are a few things you should consider when trying to put together a repayment strategy for your debt. First, you need to itemize your finances. This means listing out all the money you owe to various lenders and how you spend money each month.
Once you have all your debts listed out in front of you, come up with an approach for paying them back. There are two main strategies that are often cited by financial experts: snowball and avalanche. The snowball approach means paying the minimum on all your debts, while paying more toward your lowest balance debt until it’s paid off. Then you move up. Racking up these quick wins can serve as a motivator to keep going. The avalanche approach takes interest rates into highest consideration, as you pay the minimum on all lines of credit but pay down your highest interest rate balance first. This is typically the most cost-effective approach if you can stay disciplined for the long haul.
Budgeting is critical if you’re trying to pay off your debt on your own. Find any places where you’re spending money that you can potentially cut out—such as memberships or subscriptions, eating out, and impulse purchases. If you’re still finding that your income is less than your expenses, it might make sense to ask for a raise, or find a part-time job to generate a bit more cash flow.
Some people can effectively do a balance transfer on their credit card debt. This entails taking your balances from your high-APR credit cards and moving it to another card with a low introductory rate. This can often result in people getting APRs as low as zero percent for a year or longer. Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few things you should keep in mind when doing a balance transfer. At some point, your introductory low rate is going to expire, at which point you’ll start collecting interest on the debt again—sometimes significantly higher than what it was before.
A credit card balance transfer only makes sense for people who feel confident they can pay off all, or at least most, of the balance before the low rate expiration. For those who don’t think they can overcome their significant debt with some combination of the strategies already mentioned, it’s time to start looking into a debt relief program.
Debt settlement is exactly what it sounds like—you and your lender reach an agreement in which you ideally pay them less than the original amount you owed, but more than nothing. Your creditors want to get some money from you. They’d likely rather negotiate the amount than not get paid. Debt settlement can work a couple ways. Sometimes, if you have some cash on hand, it’s possible to settle directly with the lender. However, most people with too much debt aren’t sitting on a lot of extra money. This is where a debt relief program comes into play.
A debt relief organization can negotiate with your creditors on your behalf with the goal of getting you a settlement amount that’s less than what you owe. You’ll first make payment installments to the debt relief company—potentially ceasing payments to creditors—until you’ve saved up enough to kick off negotiations. Creditors are often more willing to negotiate if you have a certain amount on hand, ready to pay.
Settlement can be an effective way to reduce your thousands in debt but can also backfire if you go with the wrong company—potentially wrecking your credit. Make sure you work with a legitimate debt relief program that has a track record of helping consumers.
Technically, doing a credit card balance transfer is a form of debt consolidation. It’s really any way of taking multiple debts and rolling them into one more manageable payment. Another way of consolidating is taking out a loan, using it to pay back your high-interest debts, then repaying the loan at a more reasonable interest rate over the course of years.
Debt consolidation can also sometimes be done in conjunction with settlement. Freedom Debt Relief’s Consolidation Plus is one such example. Individuals who qualify can get invited to the program, which provides consumers with a combination of debt settlement and consolidation. Basically, Freedom Debt Relief negotiates with your creditors aiming to reduce the amount you owe. Then, instead of paying back the creditors individually, you reimburse Freedom Debt Relief through a consolidated loan. This can be an effective option for those who can pay back the consolidated loan over the course of a few years but would never have been able to pay back all that unconsolidated debt.
Most people should only consider bankruptcy as a last resort. Even though it’s an extreme thing to take on, a lot of people file for bankruptcy every year—almost 800,000 individuals did in 2016. Chapter 7 is by far the most common form a bankruptcy. This is typically referred to as a liquidation, as the filer’s eligible assets are seized and sold off in order to pay creditors. Afterwards, the debt is forgiven; but there are some longer-term challenges. It will stay on your record for years and will typically tank your credit rating. Chapter 13 is the second-most common type, which allows you to keep some of your assets if you adhere to a debt repayment plan for a few years. No form of bankruptcy is enjoyable for consumers. It’s best avoided unless you’re out of other options.
No one wants to have debt. It’s something that can weigh on your psyche—especially when it starts getting out of hand. Fortunately, there are solutions for people who need help reining in their debts.