(continued from Getting Credit: Protect Your Identity)…
A lot of people spend more than they can afford and pay less toward their debts than they should. To get control over your finances and to manage your debt, try:
Budgeting—In many cases, people design and then stick to a budget to get their debt under control. A budget is a plan for how much money you have and how much money you spend. Sticking to a realistic budget allows you to pay off your debts and save for the proverbial rainy day.
Credit Counseling—Many universities, military bases, credit unions and housing authorities operate nonprofit financial counseling programs. Some charge a fee for their services. Creditors may be willing to accept reduced payments if you’re working with a reputable program to create a debt repayment plan. When you choose a credit counselor, be sure to ask about fees you will have to pay and what kind of counseling you’ll receive. A credit counseling organization isn’t necessarily legitimate just because it says it’s nonprofit. You may want to check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against a counselor or counseling organization. Visit www.bbbonline.org for your local Better Business Bureau’s telephone number.
Bankruptcy—Bankruptcy is considered the credit solution of last resort. Unlike negative credit information that stays on a credit report for seven years, bankruptcies stay on a credit report for 10 years. Bankruptcy can make it difficult to rent an apartment, buy a house or a condo, get some types of insurance, get additional credit, and, sometimes, get a job. In some cases, bankruptcy may not be an easily available option.
When to Contact Creditors
If you’re having trouble paying your bills, contact your creditors immediately. Tell them why it’s difficult for you, and try to work out a modified plan that reduces your payments to a more manageable level. Don’t wait until your accounts have been turned over to a debt collector. Take action immediately and keep a detailed record of your conversations and correspondence.
Turning to a business that offers help in solving debt problems may seem like a reasonable solution when your bills become unmanageable. Be cautious. Before you do business with any company, check it out with your local consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau in the company’s location. One rule to remember is that if a credit repair offer seems too easy or just too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. And knowing your rights can help you steer clear of rip-offs. For example, according to state and federal laws, companies that help people improve their credit rating cannot:
Make false claims about their services.
Charge you until the services are completed.
Perform services until the waiting period has passed. After you sign the written contract, you have three days to change your mind and cancel the services.
Avoid Advance Fee Loan Scams
Offers that guarantee you a credit card for a fee—before you even apply—are against the law. These scams often target consumers with credit problems. If someone calls you making that kind of promise, tell the caller not to call you anymore and hang up.
If you’ve had a problem, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or visit www.ftc.gov/ftc/consumer.htm. The FTC enters the Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad.
It’s a good idea to contact your local consumer protection agency, state attorney general or Better Business Bureau, too. Many attorneys general have toll-free consumer hotlines. To find the number for your state’s attorney general, check with your local directory assistance.
ACCC is a nonprofit credit counseling agency that offers services such as debt management and financial education to consumers nationwide. If you are seeking debt relief, contact ACCC for help. When you contact our approved credit counseling agency, a certified credit advisor will help you evaluate your current financial situation and provide you with personalized debt solutions based on your goals.