Monday, December 29, 2014

Debt Management: Is Settling Right for You?

You've probably heard the claims of companies able to "settle your debt for pennies on the dollar." If you feel like you're drowning in debt, that probably seems like an attractive option. Though the financial relief that comes from no longer having your debt is a huge step forward, the hit that your credit score will take may make you change your mind. Carefully consider all of your options before you make a decision to settle debt.

Debt Settlement Companies

A debt settlement company acts as an intermediary between you and the companies to which you owe money. They'll ask you to stop paying your bills and send them a monthly payment, instead. Part of this monthly payment is a fee to the company, and the other part goes into an escrow account for making the settlement. The settlement company will then contact your creditors and offer to make a settlement.

Perhaps the biggest downside to this method is that you're actively ignoring your bills without telling the creditors what you're doing. All of these missed payments will go on your credit report, where they will stay for seven years. As your payment history accounts for almost 35% of your credit score, even a single delayed payment can drastically lower it. This can be especially devastating for those with good credit. However, the debt relief that can come from settlement is significant and may be the only option for one who has found themselves deep in debt. A bad credit score can be recovered, while debt may increase over the years if it is not taken care of early on. 

DIY Debt Settlement

Another option is to eliminate the middle man and contact your creditors by yourself. To do this, you need to be able to pay the settled amount immediately, so save up a chunk of money or use your tax refund. When you have that money saved up, call the company and make them an offer. Like working with a debt settlement company, this method typically works better when you've missed several payments. At that point, the creditor may have written off your debt, or feel that it's better to take whatever amount they can get. This method may work better on debt that came from a sudden unexpected expense, such as medical expenses. Those who have incurred debt over time, as is often the case with student loans, would do best to seek professional financial advice for their settlement.

Not everyone is equipped to handle their own settlement. Unless you have considerable financial knowledge (and, preferably, a legal background), you should seek professional advice before you go forward on settling your own debts. When it comes to debt and money management, a small mistake can end up costing your for years to come. 

Impact on Your Credit

Not paying your bills has a huge impact on your credit score, and in order for debt settlement to work, you usually have to stop making payments for a while. For example, a payment that's 30 days or more late can reduce your credit score by 50 points. When a payment is delayed even longer—and you have more than one account that's reporting late—the results can be even more significant. The company will also report that you've settled to the credit bureaus, which some might perceive as a risk.

Debt settlement can work for many people, while others should look into other options. Consulting with a financial advisor, who can assess your unique financial situation, is the best way to know where you stand and what option is the right one for you.

Informational Credit to Hudson & Company Insolvency Trustee Inc.


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