Financial Difficulties

Having trouble paying your bills? 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 a financial crisis some time in their lives. Whether the crisis is caused by personal or family illness, the loss of a job, or overspending, it can seem overwhelming. But often, it can be overcome. 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. Debt negotiation is yet another option. 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.

Here are some steps you can take to manage your debt successfully:

Self-Help
Credit Counseling
Debt Management Plans
Debt Consolidation
Bankruptcy
Debt Negotiation Programs

Turning to a business that offers help in solving debt problems may seem like a reasonable solution when your bills become unmanageable. But before you do business with any company, check it out with your State Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau. They can tell you if any consumer complaints are on file about the firm you're considering doing business with. Ask your state Attorney General if the company is required to be licensed to work in your state and, if so, whether it is.

Some businesses that offer to help you with your debt problems may charge high fees and fail to follow through on the services they sell. Others may misrepresent the terms of a debt consolidation loan, failing to explain certain costs or mention that you're signing over your home as collateral. Businesses advertising voluntary debt reorganization plans may not explain that the plan is a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, tell you everything that's involved, or help you through what can be a long and complex legal process.

In addition, some companies guarantee you a loan if you pay a fee in advance. The fee may range from $100 to several hundred dollars. Resist the temptation to follow up on these advance-fee loan guarantees. They may be illegal. It is true that many legitimate creditors offer extensions of credit through telemarketing and require an application or appraisal fee in advance. But legitimate creditors never guarantee that the consumer will get the loan - or even represent that a loan is likely. Under the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule, a seller or tele-marketer who guarantees or represents a high likelihood of your getting a loan or some other extension of credit may not ask for or accept payment until you've received the loan.

You should be cautious of claims from so-called credit repair clinics. Many companies appeal to consumers with poor credit histories, promising to clean up credit reports for a fee. But you already have the right to have any inaccurate information in your file corrected. And a credit repair clinic cannot have accurate information removed from your credit report, despite their promises. You also should know that federal and some state laws prohibit these companies from charging you for their services until the services are fully performed. Only time and a conscientious effort to repay your debts will improve your credit report.

If you're thinking about getting help to stabilize your financial situation, do some homework first. Find out what services a business provides and what it costs, and don't rely on verbal promises. Get everything in writing, and read your contracts carefully.

For more information, see Choosing a Credit Counselor.