Debt Management – What it Means For You

Within this age of falling economic indicators and ever escalating credit card bills for the average American consumer, debt management has become something of a hot topic everywhere from water coolers to bar stools, but there are a host of different methods surrounding debt management. Everything from bankruptcy to home mortgage refinancing to payday loans could reasonably be considered a form of debt management, but, within the scope of our current essay, we shall concentrate upon those types of debt management that consolidate unsecured (meaning, those loans without property attached) revolving debts through a series of negotiations with the lenders by a third party debt specialist. Credit card representatives are surprisingly open to bartering when properly cajoled by experienced debt management professionals, and, depending upon which program you choose, your interest rates and sometimes even your actual balances may be reduced significantly through these negotiations. The principal forms of this sort of debt management are Consumer Credit Counseling and Debt Settlement. Both strategies consolidate existing loans while attempting to decrease the overall money that is owed – though, to tell the truth, Debt Settlement (not accepting funds from credit card companies, unlike the lender subsidized Credit Card Counseling industry) has a far better success rate for actually diminishing the financial obligations.

To a point, consumers can endeavor to attempt this sort of thing themselves. Certainly, representatives of the unsecured creditors will be open to conversation about the consumers’ renewed attention toward paying off their debts and will often shrug away interest rate reductions or waivers of past fees. However, unless you include a certified debt management company, it’s unlikely that you shall be able to truly lower the amount of the burdens. This is the importance of the consolidation effect. Debt management companies – Debt Settlement companies, particularly – can wield their leverage so effectively primarily because, since they’ve already consolidated all the various debts from the borrowers, each lender knows that they will be surrendering no more than their competitors. It’s not exactly that lenders do not care about retaining the rights to whatever money’s owed at whatever interest rate was originally agreed upon, but those lenders also understand that – however weakened after the legislation of past year – Chapter 7 bankruptcy debt elimination does still exist. As long as there is some semblance of bankruptcy protection, however unlikely the chance or unpalatable the option, each borrower has the potential of declaring bankruptcy protection and legally abandoning all credit card accounts. The credit card companies are under no obligation to make such offers, of course, and a few lenders yet refuse to negotiate with Debt Settlement counselors nor decrease current credit accounts regardless of the threat.

Since debt management remains such a relatively young field, many consumers are rightly concerned about how to go about selecting a company to work with. It’s not like you can just ask your grandfather for advice on debt management the same way you’d expect him to have knowledge of loan officers or accountants. To a certain point, one has to trust instinct when choosing the firm and the counselor with whom you’re – in a very real way – entrusting your family’s financial future, but there are ways to verify the company’s qualifications before starting the process. The Better Business Bureau and several federal agencies maintain records of prior clients’ disapproval. The internet tends to highlight negative features of virtually every enterprise. Consumer Credit Counseling agencies, the past three years, have become an essential part of the bankruptcy declaration – pointless courses are now required before and after Chapter 7 debt elimination – and, through this unexpected turn of events, the more legitimate Consumer Credit Counseling firms must now undergo Justice Department scrutiny and approval in order to be considered for this (highly profitable) secondary purpose. Consumer Credit Counseling companies that do not bother to request government certification likely either have something to hide or display a laziness that in itself should be a warning sign. Debt Settlement companies, while they are not subject to the same governmental scrutiny, maintain their own national organization which subjects members to a rigorous bout of testing before certification would be awarded.

In the most basic possible explanation, the Debt Settlement approach attempts to negotiate lower balances from the creditors in exchange for a heightened payment schedule (and hefty tax write off for the lender, naturally). While the Debt Settlement method does carry alongside a deleterious effect as regards credit reports and FICO scores, the worsened credit rating is still relatively minimal compared to most other debt management solutions. Many of the unsecured lenders – we’re largely talking, once again, about credit card accounts – try to woo problem spenders and delinquent borrowers through offers of one-time lump sum payments that greatly diminish overall balances but those balance are not then reported as ‘satisfied’ to the credit bureaus, Indeed, while these sorts of shenanigans may technically be considered debt management, they are often falsely named debt consolidation when in fact the practice actually resembles a last ditch scheme of desperation on the part of the borrower and the lender. This sort of debt management approach is thought to be the last refuge of the wicked, and your credit report shall reflect this.

As long as you do not overly upset the household budget nor forget to save some additional funds for medical emergencies and the like, each borrower should do what it takes to pay off their loans as swiftly as possible with the worst interest rates tackled first. While tax liens and court mandated burdens cannot be avoided – after all, the ultimate consequence for ignoring those debts is rather more severe than purely lowered FICO scores – there’s also little reason to pay much more than the minimum. Governmental debts generally feature very low interest and court representatives are surprisingly willing to extend terms and lower payments so as to not too greatly inconvenience the debtor, and the same can be said for most (typically community or state monitored) utility companies. Utilities, it should be said, also tend to forget to report late payments to the three credit bureaus, but the same cannot be said for real estate loans or other secured debts. You need to make sure your mortgage, especially considering the current boom market for foreclosures, is paid precisely on time (mortgage lenders, already tending toward the predatory, love nothing more than to ruin their borrowers’ credit scores so as to prevent future refinancing), but, even so, you shouldn’t concern yourself with getting rid of secured loans too quickly. They look the best upon credit reports, they appreciate in value (apart from automobiles, of course) and they tend to have the best interest rates.

Credit cards should be the primary focus of proper debt management, and, to really strike a blow against the various lenders, you should probably consider one of the debt consolidation techniques that are increasingly popular for Americans of all walks of life. To be sure, you can talk to credit card companies on your own, but, as we said earlier, they are far less likely to treat settlement negotiations with amateurs as seriously as they would an experienced (and, with regards to the new debt settlement industry, certified) debt management profession. Even so, you have to remember that there are many different forms of consolidation out there and an equal number of possible results to be had from your efforts. So many consumers walk blindly into Consumer Credit Counseling offices after being pummeled by the endless succession of advertisements and are immediately talked into signing on in order to receive the lower interest rates (and, more importantly, the vastly lowered payments made available) without actually thinking over whether or not the program is right for them. There are FICO score issues to be discussed – Consumer Credit Counseling actually shows up worse than bankruptcy protection when written upon credit reports – and the question of whether or not such a program would actually aid your finances in the long view.

Remember, while interest rates will almost assuredly be lowered well below what the credit card companies charge, there are fees involved with Consumer Credit Counseling (apart from whatever they charge the credit card companies; yes, it’s a very profitable enterprise) that do not always make up for the comparatively lessened interest rates. At the same time, while the payments will almost always be substantially lower through any Consumer Credit Counseling consolidation program, that’s often because the terms are extended to such a degree that – even if the interest has been dramatically shaved – the borrower will still end up paying more money over the course over the loan. Particularly for debtors that already have demonstrated problems with their buying habits, lower monthly minimums are not necessarily in the debtors’ best interests. Consumers prone to purchasing binges should not always have more spending money made available to them when they have not addressed the underlying causes that first landed them in the predicament of needing debt management assistance. Much of the time, you would be better suited by merely taking care of the bills at hand – with credit card remaining the priority – rather than paying additional money for one company to artificially lengthen the repayment process. At the very least, take care to investigate the Debt Settlement approach and indulge a free initial consultation to distinguish their possibilities when compared to Consumer Credit Counseling.

Even after the approach has been decided upon and the company of choice has been, as they say, vetted, there are, still, several things to watch out for regardless of the business’ standing within the community or their previous dealings with friends and family. Remember, no matter how legitimate the company, you are personally dealing with a debt specialist working for that company, and, regardless of the organizational guidelines, even the best firms may sometimes hire counselors that are striving to get ahead above and beyond the purposes of their client. Once again, you must get everything – EVERY LAST DETAIL – written down and fully documented to prevent potential abuse from less than competent assistance. Ensure, through recorded agreements, that the creditors shall be paid each month on time as promised so that the debt management company knows that they themselves will be held liable for any potential slip ups. If the debt management firm says that the creditors insist upon an initial payment toward said debt management firm prior to negotiation (which does occasionally happen), ask to see the paperwork – or, better, talk to the lender yourself and verify precisely what they want.

Do not agree to any program necessitating stipends that you believe your household cannot regularly meet. It is the responsibility of the debt management company to calculate a budget that recognizes the day to day expenses their clients of yet and does not stipulate a monthly payment that overly restricts the availability of their funds. So much of debt management revolves around proper budgeting, and the counselor has to be considerate of their clients’ needs. While you should not thoroughly respect any program that allows overly lax terms (minimizing payments without touching the balances of your credit card debts, after all, only increases the eventual sums to be paid once compound interest continually adds up), you have to make sure that the payments are still comfortable for the household throughout the year. As well, you should know that most of the more effective debt management solutions force their clients to refrain from additional borrowing over the course of the program. Once again, this philosophy changes alongside the debt relief approach that you choose, but you’d probably better assume that, while within the debt management proceedings, you will not be allowed to take out further loans.

If anything we have written sticks with you, it should be this: document on paper ever single element of debt management. Even prior to accepting one program or another, you should receive a written estimate that details every single fee the debt management company may charge. However comfortable and friendly the debt counselor that you plan to work with may seem, do remember that the most successful financial professionals essentially ask for as much as they think the borrower is willing (or able) to pay. No matter your relationship with the debt management specialist handling your case, demand a legal documentation of everything discussed. It’s just common sense, really. Even if your counselor genuinely is legitimate and beyond reproach, the debt management company itself may have institutional guidelines that attempt to slip in unnecessary charges hidden in the fine print. The eventual quote can’t be analyzed too closely. If you aren’t sufficiently familiar with the verbiage or concepts surrounding the debt management contract, ask friends or even acquaintances for assistance. Make absolutely sure that this is the program that you want to join and that this is the company you wish to work with for a number of years. Once you sign up for a debt management program, it’s not exactly a life partnership, but the repercussions shall be felt for years to come should things go poorly.

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