Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Wondering where to turn for help with managing debt? Adviser Michelle Petrowski has some suggestions.
Originally Published in TheStreet; Retirement Daily
RETIREMENT DAILY GUEST CONTRIBUTOR Michelle Petrowski, CFP, CDFA
Credit card debt can amass for a variety of reasons, and for most it can be a source of shame and embarrassment. It’s definitely not something many folks would be eager to discuss with their financial advisor, friends, or family.
But when you do, watch out! Everyone has great advice, once asked, and sometimes the advice never seems to end, even when it’s not solicited. You’ll hear from those who used a personal loan, a debt consolidation loan, a HELOC on their home, balance transfers to 0% credit cards, a 401K loan, a snowball method debt paydown plan, and maybe even a debt relief company, to name a few.
Not-for-profit Debt Management Credit Counseling Companies
There are many options, with pros and cons. The one I really like, for many reasons, is the debt management company run by a nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency. I speak from personal experience. Ten years ago, because of my divorce, I had accrued significant credit card debt for attorney fees and divorce expenses. This was the route I chose.
Ten years ago, because of my divorce, I had accrued significant credit card debt for attorney fees and divorce expenses.
Now that’s embarrassing to say. But I had depleted all my savings and this was the best option for me and my family. I didn’t want to touch my retirement accounts.
If you’re not familiar with them, a debt management company works with your creditors to restructure your debt by creating a debt management plan (DMP) tailored to your unique situation to help you payoff the debt quickly. For a fee, these companies negotiate lower interest rates with your creditors and roll your unsecured debts into a single monthly payment. This simplifies the repayment process without you having to go delinquent, without a derogatory event on your credit report (unless of course you are already behind on payments), and you know exactly when the debt will be paid off. It can be a stress reliever for sure: one payment, with one end-date, and a lower interest rate.
This simplifies the repayment process without you having to go delinquent, without a derogatory event on your credit report (unless of course you are already behind on payments), and you know exactly when the debt will be paid off. It can be a stress reliever for sure: one payment, with one end-date, and a lower interest rate.
Yes, you must be willing to close these accounts, but no one looking at your credit report knows that you are enrolled in one of these programs. Be aware that credit scoring models do use various credit age-related metrics when calculating your score, including the average age of your accounts, the age of your oldest account, and the length of time it's been since you opened an account. So, closing accounts will impact the length of history of your accounts, which could potentially impact your score if you close an account that has been open for a long time. But for me, in my situation, the benefit outweighed the small impact it had to my score.
What’s a For-Profit Debt Relief Company?
There are other debt relief companies that appear to do a similar process, but they are “for profit.” They almost always require that you go delinquent on your accounts (and for many months in some cases) so they can negotiate a lower interest rate on your behalf and their fees are usually higher – remember, they are “for profit.” Additionally, “going delinquent” on your obligations to get into one of these programs will definitely have a negative impact on your score, much greater than closing a current account.
There are other debt relief companies that appear to do a similar process, but they are “for profit.”
Finding an Agency
Looking for a debt management company? You can try the Financial Counseling Association of America, (800) 450-1794, or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, (800) 388-2227. You may also want to check out any debt relief service with your state attorney general and local consumer protection agency before deciding to do business with them.
Lastly, I personally don’t know anything about these companies named in these articles, but Forbes and NerdWallet recently had articles that could provide some additional insight and direction for any research into this topic, as well as the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) article “Coping with Debt.”
Remember, do your homework. Everyone’s situation is different!
Remember, do your homework. Everyone’s situation is different! What worked for me, your neighbor, or a family member may not make sense for you.
This content was developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice, and may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Always consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation/circumstances. Additionally, the opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or service.
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