If you’re faced with an unmanageable amount of debt, It can affect you emotionally and physically. This is due to the stress related to dealing with those debts. A 2009 Associated Press/AOL health poll found that 27% of people stressing out over their debts had ulcers or digestive tract problems. A total of 44% reported they had migraines or other headaches, while 29% suffered from severe anxiety.
If you’re experiencing one of these physical problems, drugs probably won’t help. You need to get to the root of the problem, which is your debts.
Fortunately, a fairly simple path out of your debt exists. It’s called consumer credit counseling.
How to find a good credit counseling agency
Reputable credit counseling agencies generally belong to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). Some are actually sponsored by local Better Business Bureaus.
How it works
Reputable, credit counseling agencies are nonprofits. If you go to one of these agencies, you will need to take your household budget (if you have one), and a list of your debts with each one’s interest rate. You will also need to take a list of the debts you are behind on, your assets and what you could sell them for.
The agency will assign you a trained and certified credit counselor who will go over all this information. She or he will review your budget to determine if it’s realistic, and may suggest improvements or additional cuts. Your counselor will also show you a realistic picture of where you stand financially and may suggest you revise your budget to generate more cash flow.
You could get a debt management plan
If your counselor finds that your finances are in really bad shape, he, or she may suggest you pay them off via a debt management plan (DMP. If this happens, he or she will explain how a DMP works and will discuss its pluses and minuses. You should also be given a general idea of how much you will be required to pay on your debts each month.
It will work with your lenders
Your counselor will figure out exactly how much you can afford to pay your unsecured creditors each month to eliminate your debts over a three- to five-year timeframe. She or he will then contact your lenders to see if they will agree to let you pay those amounts. Your counselor will likely ask your lenders for other concessions like lowering your interest rates, and waiving or reducing any fees you owe.
Before signing off on your DMP
When your counselor has prepared the final version of your debt management plan, be sure to get a copy. Don’t sign your DMP until you have read it very carefully, understand it all, and are sure you can live up to it.
Paying the credit counseling agency
Once you sign off on your DMP, you will be required to pay the credit counseling agency each month, and it will then distribute the appropriate amounts of money to your lenders. You will get regular monthly updates as to the status of your DMP, and this should include confirmation that your creditors were all paid per the terms of your plan.
What consumer credit counseling agencies cost
The advice and counsel you’ll get from your credit counselor will be free. However, if you sign up for a debt management plan, the agency may charge you a small monthly fee of $25 or $35 to administer your plan. Or, it may do it free. This varies among credit counseling agencies. Be sure to ask if you will be charged anything to administer your plan before you sign off on it.
Alternatives to consumer credit counseling
Good alternatives to consumer credit counseling exist but whether they would make sense will depend on your financial situation. For example, if most or all of your debt is credit card debts, you might consolidate them by transferring all of their balances to a new card with a lower interest rate. Or, if you qualify, you could transfer them to a 0% interest balance transfer card, where you would have as many as 18 months interest-free.
Other options for debt consolidation include a home equity loan and a homeowner equity line of credit. Of course, you would need to have equity in your home to qualify for either of these loans.
Finally, there is the alternative of debt settlement. It’s grown a lot in popularity as it represents the only way to pay off debts for less than what you owe. The trustworthy debt settlement firms such as National Debt Relief are usually able to get debts cut by as much as 50% or even 60%. Of course, they are for-profit firms and charge for their services. However, if you owe more than $10,000, then using a debt settlement firm could still save you money.