Dealing with Debt
Are you having trouble paying your bills? Are you getting dunning notices from creditors? Are your accounts being turned over to debt collectors? Are you worried about losing your home or your car?
You're not alone. Many people face financial crises at some time in their lives. Whether the crisis is caused by personal or family illness, the loss of a job, or simple overspending, it can seem overwhelming, but often can be overcome. The fact of the matter is that your financial situation doesn't have to go from bad to worse.
If you or someone you know is in financial hot water, consider these options: realistic budgeting, credit counseling from a reputable organization, debt consolidation, or bankruptcy. How do you know which will work best for you? It depends on your level of debt, your level of discipline, and your prospects for the future.
Your public library has information about budgeting and money management techniques. Low cost budgeting counseling services that can help you analyze your income and expenses and develop a budget and spending plan also are available in most communities. Check your Yellow Pages or contact your local bank or consumer protection office for information about them. In addition, many universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities operate nonprofit financial counseling programs. Budget template
Contacting Your Creditors
Dealing with Debt Collectors
A successful repayment plan requires you to make regular, timely payments, and could take 48 months or longer to complete. Ask the credit counseling service for an estimate of the time it will take you to complete the plan. Some credit counseling services charge little or nothing for managing the plan; others charge a monthly fee that could add up to a significant charge over time. Some credit counseling services are funded, in part, by contributions from creditors.
While a debt repayment plan can eliminate much of the stress that comes from dealing with creditors and overdue bills, it does not mean you can forget about your debts. You still are responsible for paying any creditors whose debts are not included in the plan. You are responsible for reviewing monthly statements from your creditors to make sure your payments have been received. If your repayment plan depends on your creditors agreeing to lower or eliminate interest and finance charges, or waive late fees, you are responsible for making sure these concessions are reflected on your statements.
A debt repayment plan does not erase your negative credit history. Accurate information about your accounts can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. In addition, your creditors will continue to report information about accounts that are handled through a debt repayment plan. For example, creditors may report that an account is in financial counseling, that payments have been late or missed altogether, or that there are write-offs or other concessions. A demonstrated pattern of timely payments, however, will help you get credit in the future.
Auto and Home Loans
Most automobile financing agreements allow a creditor to repossess your car any time you're in default. No notice is required. If your car is repossessed, you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. If you can't do this, the creditor may sell the car. If you see default approaching, you may be better off selling the car yourself and paying off the debt: You would avoid the added costs of repossession and a negative entry on your credit report.
If you fall behind on your mortgage, contact your lender immediately to avoid foreclosure. Most lenders are willing to work with you if they believe you're acting in good faith and the situation is temporary. Some lenders may reduce or suspend your payments for a short time. When you resume regular payments, though, you may have to pay an additional amount toward the past due total. Other lenders may agree to change the terms of the mortgage by extending the repayment period to reduce the monthly debt. Ask whether additional fees would be assessed for these changes, and calculate how much they total in the long run.
If you and your lender cannot work out a plan, contact a housing counseling agency. Some agencies limit their counseling service to homeowners with FHA mortgages, but many offer free help to any homeowner who's having trouble making mortgage payments. Call the local office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the housing authority in your state, city, or county for help in finding a housing counseling agency near you.
The costs of these consolidation loans can add up. In addition to interest on the loan, you pay "points." Typically, one point is equal to one percent of the amount you borrow. Still, these loans may provide certain tax advantages that are not available with other kinds of credit. Debt Consolidation Loan Application
There are two kinds of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Each must be filed in federal court. The current filing fee is $160. Attorney fees are additional.
Chapter 13: Also known as reorganization, Chapter 13 allows you to keep certain property, like a mortgaged house or a car, that you otherwise might lose. Reorganization may allow you to pay off a default during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender any property.
Chapter 7: Known as straight bankruptcy, Chapter 7 involves liquidation of all assets that are not exempt in your state. Exempt property may include work-related tools and basic household furnishings. Some of your property may be sold by a court-appointed official or turned over to your creditors. You can file for Chapter 7 only once every six years.
Both types of bankruptcy may get rid of unsecured debts and stop foreclosures, repossessions, garnishments, utility shut-offs, and debt collection activities. Both also provide exemptions that allow people to keep certain assets, although exemption amounts vary among states. Note that personal bankruptcy usually does not erase child support, alimony, fines, taxes, and some student loan obligations. And unless you have an acceptable plan to catch up on your debt under Chapter 13, bankruptcy usually does not allow you to keep property when your creditor has an unpaid mortgage or lien on it.
The Inaccuracies in Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act * FCRA
The steps required to restoring your good credit
Getting a copy of your credit report
Review Your Credit Report for Inaccuracies
Collection Agencies and your credit file
How to settle a debt and negotiate a settlement
Negotiating your credit rating
Debt Consolidation Loans for Home Owners
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