Perhaps bills from a medical emergency hit you hard, or your credit card balances are ballooning out of control. Whatever the cause, you’re drowning in debt and feeling overwhelmed. If you’re thinking about bankruptcy, take a deep breath and a step back. These three less radical alternatives are worth trying first if you have some time.
1. Debt consolidation
Debt consolidation lumps your debts into one big loan from a bank or credit union. The loan has one payment date and a lower interest rate. When you take out that new loan, your old debts move to the new lender.
2. Debt management
Debt management can be a great help if you’re struggling to pay your bills every month. Your first move is to get in touch with a credit-counseling company. The credit counselor talks to creditors on your behalf. You retain the same debts and balances, but your interest rates go down, making your monthly payments more manageable. You’ll have to cancel your credit cards, which can hurt your credit initially, but your score will bounce back as you make on-time payments every month. Avoid scams by working with a company that the Justice Department or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling recommends.
3. Debt Settlement
In debt settlement, you pay your creditors less than what you owe. For some, this may be the best option, but it’s best used as a last resort. It seriously dings your credit score, and you have to pay fees and taxes that cut into the money you’re saving.
Taking action before creditors send your accounts to third-party collections agencies is important when using the debt-settlement option. Contact your creditors, and explain your situation. Be prepared with income verification statements and a list of your assets and debts. Agree to pay only what you comfortably can, or you risk slipping behind again. After you’ve settled your debt, check your credit report to make sure it reflects the settlement. Some creditors don’t update the payment information, and your account could still show as delinquent.
You can also contract with a debt-settlement company to speak to creditors on your behalf, but approach this move with caution. Debt-settlement companies tend to hold monthly payments from you until they have a lump sum they can offer a creditor in exchange for a settlement. If your creditor declines the offer, you can end up even further behind. If you are considering debt settlement, review our top picks here.