Debt Options

Debtor's Prison Historic Marker

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When you’re buried in debt, bankruptcy can seem like the only option.   When you get make ends meet, no matter how hard you pull on them.  When bill collectors interrupt every dinner.  When you have to choose between food and rent.   When there is always more month than money.  Do you have another choice?

Yes, you do.

Before you rush to file bankruptcy, take the time to understand your options.

Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is when you quit paying your bills and start sending the money to settlement company.  The settlement company does…nothing.  Really.   They take your money and drop it into investments or interest-bearing accounts.  You don’t get the interest, they do.  Eventually, when your creditors are howling, the settlement company offers to make a settlement on the account.   If the creditor accepts pennies on the dollar to kill your debt, the settlement company pays them.  If not, they get to howl louder and make you more miserable.

While this process is playing itself out over years, your credit is taking a beating.  You are doing nothing to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve dug.  Finally, when your creditors are so desperate that they accept the settlement offer, you get a huge additional hit to your credit.   “SETTLED IN FULL” is not a good status to have on your credit report.

Debt settlement companies do nothing you can’t do for yourself, and doing it for yourself at least lets you keep the interest your money is earning.

Debt Consolidation

Consolidating your debt comes in two varieties, a debt consolidation loan and a debt management plan.

A debt management plan is when you send one large payment to a debt consolidation company, and they pay your creditors for you each month.    The company will usually attempt to contact your creditors and negotiate your interest rate and payments to try to get you into a situation that precludes bankruptcy and will keep your creditors happy.   In the simplest terms, this is a debt payment consolidation.

A debt consolidation loan is generally done by taking out a line of credit against your home or other collateral and using that money to pay off all of your bills.   Then you make the payments to the bank, to pay off your line of credit.   The problem is that, if you can’t make the individual payments, can you make the payment to the line of credit?  If you can’t, you risk losing your house.

Repayment

This option is my personal favorite.    It involves taking responsibility for your decisions, cutting out the unnecessary expenses in your life, and paying your bills.  There are a few popular plans for accomplishing this, including Dave Ramsey‘s debt snowball.   The most important thing to remember are 1) debt it bad so stop using it; and 2) pay off as much as you can afford to each month.  It isn’t as sexy as making all of your debt disappear, but it’s still a good option.

Bankruptcy

Let’s see.  You borrow money on the promise to pay it all back.   After you borrow too much, you renege on your agreement.  You admit your word means nothing and you get all of your debt cancelled, forcing your creditors to raise the interest rates for all of the responsible debtors out there, as a way to balance the risk of those who will never pay.  In exchange you doom yourself to lousy credit for the next 10 years.  In extreme circumstances, bankruptcy may be the only option, but, I’m not a fan.

As you can see, there are almost always better options than bankruptcy.   Please, before you take that leap, look into the other choices.

This is a sponsored post written to provide some insight into the world of bankruptcy and debt consolidation.

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