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Struggling With Debt? Here Are Your Options
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With the economy still recovering, millions of Americans are struggling with consumer debt. If you're barely managing to hang on, or debt collectors are already hassling you, the best thing you can do is come up with a plan of action as soon as possible.
If you're facing a level of debt you can't afford, you do have a few options available to you. These include:
• Setting up a budget and contacting creditors yourself,
• Getting help from a credit counseling agency,
• Turning to debt settlement companies,
• Working with a debt settlement attorney, or
• Filing for bankruptcy.
What are the Consequences of Not Paying Debt?
If you're having trouble paying your bills, it's important to understand the type of debt you have and the consequences of not paying. There are two types of debt: secured and unsecured.
Debt may be secured by property, or collateral, to guarantee repayment of your loan. If you can't repay your secured debt, the creditor can take back the property without suing you or getting a court judgement. Common examples include car loans, mortgages and home equity lines of credit.
Debt may also be unsecured, which means it is not attached to any particular property. If you don't pay this type of debt, creditors may sue you and get a court judgement, which may mean your wages will be garnished. Examples include credit card debt and medical bills.
Tax debt and student loans are in a separate category, as the government is allowed to take drastic action without getting a court judgement. These debts are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy, unlike the first two categories.
Option 1: Contacting Creditors Yourself
If you go this option, you should begin by making a budget and listing all of your outstanding debt. Look for ways to reduce your spending and expenses, and increase your income, then come up with a realistic amount you can put toward debt every month.
From there, contact creditors one by one and explain the situation to hopefully get a payment plan. You may be able to negotiate for reduced late fees, a discount on the balance or a lower interest rate.
Option 2: Credit Counseling
Credit counseling agencies are another option if you can't work out a plan with your creditors, or you need help. An accredited, nonprofit credit counseling agency may offer money management classes, budget counseling, debt counseling and refer you to other agencies to help. Some may even help you contact creditors and set up a debt management plan.
Option 3: Debt Settlement Companies
Companies that offer debt reduction services are one option available to you, although you need to be aware of the reality. These companies often make unrealistic promises they cannot keep, such as guaranteeing your creditors will discount your total debt, and their fees can be very high.
Most will also get you into trouble by causing even further damage to your credit by telling you to stop paying your creditors, instead diverting this cash into an account and paying their fees. The idea is, after 6-12 months, this lump sum will be used to reach a settlement agreement with your creditors, but that does not always happen.
Instead, your creditors may increase their collection actions against you or take you to court when they learn you're using debt reduction services. If they sue you, these companies cannot represent you in court or offer legal advice. They also cannot stop phone calls from your creditors, and the cost to sign up for their services can easily cost you thousands. Many will also not tell you that you may owe taxes on any debt that is successfully forgiven.
Option 4: Debt Settlement Lawyers
While the services a debt settlement attorney offers ay seem similar to a debt settlement company, working with an experienced law firm comes with some distinct advantages. Attorneys often have better leverage against your creditors, who have their own army of lawyers on their side. A lawyer will also be able to give legal advice and represent you in court if your creditors sue you, working to obtain a pre-judgement settlement of your debt. If a judgement against you is obtained, they will assist you further in protecting your assets.
Option 5: Bankruptcy
Finally, do not overlook bankruptcy as an option. While most people want to avoid it at all costs, it may be your best option if even a settlement won't be affordable to you. Bankruptcy has its consequences, including damage to your credit and possible employment issues, but it will completely erase most debts, including a mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and other consumer debt, allowing you to get a fresh start on life.
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