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September 23rd, 2009:

Choosing the Right Debt Settlement Company

Choosing the Right Debt Settlement Company

A Google search for “Debt Help” will generate page after page of financial service companies offering different solutions to help you get out of debt. The various “Debt Help” options are generally Debt Settlement, Credit Counseling, Debt Consolidation, and Bankruptcy. In this article I will focus on Debt Settlement and what you can look out for in the consultation process to help you make your decision with confidence. For more information on Debt Settlement and how it works, please visit

Most Debt Settlement (also known as Debt Reduction) companies follow a similar process in qualifying and enrolling their clients into the program. I will break this down into 5 steps:

1. Initial Contact: Many customers will find a list of “Debt Help” companies by typing phrases into search engines such as Credit Card Debt, Get out of Debt, or Debt Relief. The initial contact will be initiated by filling out a form or calling the company directly. This first call will give you the most clues on what kind of business you are dealing with. The most important thing to remember is that Debt Settlement does not work for everybody. If a Debt Consultant makes the program sound like everyone gets accepted, you do not want to go with that organization. The only way a company can successfully reduce your debt is if you are in a financial hardship. Basically, if you don’t need the help, the program will not work because the creditors will have no reason to lower your debt amounts. If you’re current on the bills you still might qualify for debt reduction but only if you are struggling to make the minimum payments. If a Debt Consultant neglects to ask about your state of affairs and pushes you to send in your credit card statements, hang up and call a firm that cares about your specific predicament. An ethical Debt Consultant representing a reputable firm will discuss all the aspects of Debt Settlement, both positive and negative. Remember If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If the initial phone conversation is going well and you have a general understanding of how Debt Settlement works, then it is time to have the company review your credit card/loan statements or a credit report.

2. Submission of Credit Report or Statements: If a company approves you without reviewing your statements, this is a bad sign. Reputable Debt Reduction services will want to review your statements or a credit report to do a comparative analysis. Having the company review your information is part of the approval process and in no way should commit you to anything. This part of the process is crucial because the specific creditors that you are indebted to historically settle at different amounts. The amount by which a creditor will reduce your debt will vary depending on the debt settlement company, financial hardship, creditor collection practices, and credit card delinquency. The job of the Debt Reduction Company is to take everything into account and give you the most accurate quote possible. If you speak with a Debt Relief company and this step is missing, I would not recommend taking the process any further.

3. Underwriting: The underwriting (also known as approval, qualification) process is designed to ensure that only qualified applicants are being approved for the program. This is an extremely important step to a reputable Debt Settlement firm because it’s a system intended to help ensure that approved applicants make the transition to satisfied clients with the highest rate of success possible. If a company is letting everyone in the door, chances are many of these clients are getting settlements rejected by their creditors because they are not qualified to have a Debt Reduction.

4. Approval: If you are approved for a Debt Settlement program the consultant will be able to tell you how much your monthly payment is and for roughly how long it will take for you to be debt free. In the field of Debt Settlement the successful programs are usually not more that 3-4 years in length. Every creditor has a window of opportunity when they are willing to accept settlements and the vast majority will be approved within 3 and 42 months. If a company says that they can reduce your debt by fifty percent and offers you a 5 year program, be cautious. In Debt Settlement the creditors will be paid off one at a time and the possibility of legal action from the creditor increases as the debt becomes more delinquent.

5. Agreement: If the approval is within range and you would like to move forward the next step is to look at the agreement. The agreement should clearly state your monthly payment and fee schedule. Make sure to read the entire document and write down any extra questions that come up. You should be able to cancel the Debt Settlement mid-program if needed, without being responsible for future monthly payments. Of course nobody enters a Debt Settlement Program intending to cancel 10 months down the road but if something unexpected happens to your income, you need to be able to sever the relationship. If you read the agreement and it seems the opposite of what your Debt Consultant explained to you, it is not a wise idea to sign up with that company.

Now that you have found the best company for your needs focus on your new monthly payment. If you ever can afford to pay above your minimum monthly, I highly recommend doing so. Remember, the goal is to pay off this debt as fast as possible. Stay in communication with the customer service department and refer communication from your creditors to the Debt Relief Company. Before you know it the debt will be showing $0 balances and you will be on the road to financial freedom. If you ever get discouraged in the program and the anticipated 2-3 years to pay off the debt, just remember the alternative of making minimum monthly payments or the financial position you were in before the program started.

Adam Jasa is the Founder of Select Debt Relief He has years of experience working in the finance and real estate fields, most recently with the Freedom Financial Network in their Financial Consulting Department. He is an expert in the different options available to consumers with unmanageable debt burdens. His company, Select Debt Relief is a member of Debt Resolution Partners which currently manages over $900 million of consumer debt.
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Not All Debt is Bad

So you are in debt-who isn’t these days? We live in a society that encourages people to go into debt. Credit card commercials tell us that a trip to Jamaica is just what we need, regardless of whether we can afford it. (That’s what your gold card is for, right?)

Loan brokers want us to borrow up to 125 percent against our home equity. Even the federal government just had its first balanced budget in a generation and now faces the enormous task of paying off over trillions of dollars in debt.

Yet not everyone is in debt. Many people know how to deal with money. Their debts are manageable, and they have money in the bank. That sounds nice, doesn’t it money in the bank? That is what you deserve. In order to get there, however, you are going to have to change some of your thinking about money and learn a few new methods of dealing with it.

Why Are You in Debt?People who are not in debt think about and treat money differently than the rest of us. They know a few things about money and debt that escape the rest of us. Let’s call them the “financially literate.” If you can begin to relate to money as they do, you will be well on your way to a life that is not only debt-free, but also prosperous. What we hope to do in this book is to show you some of their secrets so you can adapt a few of these ideas and tools to help you get out of debt.

Do not feel too badly if you are not good with a dollar, a lot of people aren’t. Money literacy is not taught in schools, and too often parents are too busy trying to dig themselves out of their own financial hole to help much either. Yet, unfortunately for many of us, we learn more about money from our parents than anywhere else. The good news is that learning how to get out of debt and become more financially literate is not all that complicated.

The first step in the process is to figure out how you created so much debt, because if you don’t figure out how and why you got yourself into this pickle, you might get out of debt, but you certainly won’t stay out. So the first question to ask yourself is: Why did you go into debt in the first place?

Sometimes going into debt is unavoidable, but often it is not. When money is tight, you have several options; going into debt is just the easiest. Instead of choosing more debt, you might have decided to work overtime and make more money, or possibly you could have tightened your belt and spent less money. Debt was not your only choice.

There are many reasons people go into debt: some are good reasons, and some are bad. It doesn’t matter. Did you buy luxuries you could otherwise not afford? Did an illness or a divorce set you back financially? Was debt your way of dealing with some other sudden, unexpected expense? When you look at the reason why you went into debt, the important thing is to notice whether your spending habits follow a pattern. If you can see a pattern, you need to address that pattern as much as the underlying debt.

Consider Mark and Diane. They both make a good living: he’s a psychiatrist, and she’s a psychologist. They have two kids to whom they are devoted. They send both to private school, which costs a total of $15,000 a year, and both kids go to summer camp. This expense adds up.

Mark and Diane don’t buy luxuries, they don’t travel much, and, except for the kids’ expenses, they are very frugal. Yet the only way they can pay for everything is by going into debt. They use their home equity line of credit and credit cards to stay afloat. Although they would like to move to a less expensive neighborhood, they can’t because they have no equity in their home, so they are stuck.

What are they to do? If they are going to get out of debt, something in their lives is going to have to change. The private school is going to have to go, camp may be out, or they are going to have to start making more money. The same is true for you. If you want to get out of debt, you are going to have to identify why you went into debt and change that behavior or pattern.

Good and Bad DebtDebt in and of itself is not a bad thing. Both of us (the authors) were able to start our own businesses because of debt; Steve began his own law practice, and Azriela began her own entrepreneurial consulting business. So we understand what debt is and why some debt is great debt.

Debt allows you to do things you otherwise normally could not do, such as start a business, go to college, or pay for a home. Debt constructs buildings and funds investments and entire corporations-even the government is funded by debt. The trick is to foster debts that help the cause and banish the ones that don’t. Not all debts are bad debts.

Good DebtDebt that helps you, enriches your life, is manageable, and is not a burden can be called good debt. For example, student loans are good debt if they enabled you to get through school and further your life goals. They are bad debt if you dropped out of medical school after one year to become a writer. A good debt helps; a bad debt hinders. We want to help you get rid of that bad debt.

Other examples of debt that may be considered good include:1. Home loans. A mortgage can be a great debt. Not only does it permit you to own your own home, but it also allows you to build home equity. People who are financially savvy earn interest and equity. People who are not financially savvy pay interest and create money for others. For example, charging groceries means that you will pay about 17 percent interest on items that will be consumed within a week. A financially literate person would never do that.

2. Car loans. A car loan can be a fine debt because you get something long-lasting out of the debt. If you need a nice car for your job (if you are a real estate agent, for example), a car loan may be considered good debt because it helps you in your career. However, a car loan that you cannot afford is a bad debt because it detracts from your life.

3. Business loans. If you can service the loan, and it helps you make more money, the loan is good debt, but if the loan is nothing but a source of problems for you, the debt is bad.

4. Credit cards. Credit cards are fantastic. They are convenient and easy. They can help finance a business or even medical emergencies. The problem with them, as you probably know only too well, is that it is too easy to fall under their siren spell and get in over your head before you know it. That’s when they begin to hurt your life more than help it.

Bad Debt BluesHow do you know if your debt is good debt or bad debt? Easy. Bad debts cause stress. You sleep poorly because of them. They cause fights and foster guilt. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell was once asked to define obscenity. Hard-pressed to come up with a definition, Powell uttered the famous line, “I know it when I see it.” The same could be said for bad debt: You know it when you see it, and it certainly can be obscene.

Bad debt seems impossible to pay back. You create bad debt when you charge things you don’t need or when you borrow for things that you consume quickly, such as clothes, meals, or vacations. The things quickly disappear, but the debt has a nasty habit of sticking around, seemingly forever. Bad debts can become very bad debts because of interest and penalties. For example, if you buy a CD player for $200 and don’t pay it off by the end of the year, and your credit card company charges a usurious 20 percent APR (20 percent per year), you owe $220 by the end of the year. If you do this with five items, you owe $1100, and that’s a lot of money.

Money TalksTight for money? Here are some simple ways to save a little extra: Don’t use ATMs at other banks and avoid $2 user fees; cancel your movie channels on cable and save about $20 per month; put all of your change at the end of the day in a jar and save about $50 a month; hold a garage sale and make about $200; cancel your cell phone and save $50 a month.

You can create bad debt when you agree to pay these crazy interest rates that some creditors charge, because the debt seems to grow exponentially. Credit cards are the prime culprit, but they are by no means the only one. High interest can also come with personal loans, business loans, or unpaid taxes.

You know what the bad debt dance looks like, anyone reading this book does: New bills are coming in before you’ve cleared out those from last month. You’re surprised to find that the phone bill is still unpaid. Somehow the dentist was never sent his check. You know what past-due notices look like. Your Visa and MasterCard bills include late payment penalties. The hardware store sends a letter telling you you’re past due and requests that you send a check at once. There is more month left at the end of your money, and payday seems far away. Worst of all, these things don’t surprise you anymore.

Avoidance is a common coping mechanism to deal with a budget that doesn’t balance. The problem is, it can create even more problems than you already have:

Your property could be repossessed. The finance company can come take your car. The electronics store can come take its TV back. You could get sued. If that happens, your wages could be garnished, or your bank account could be levied upon. Imagine your surprise when you go to get that $1,000 out of your checking account to pay your mortgage and you find that it has been seized by one of your creditors.

A lien can be placed on your real estate. Failure to pay a bill now means that a creditor can get a judgment against you and force you to pay it later when you sell your house, only then you will pay it with 10 percent interest per year.

Loss of services. You could lose your insurance or your utility services if you avoid paying those bills.

Yet, as much as you have been avoiding the problem, the truth is that your debts are neither crushing nor hopeless. They are simply a problem-one for which there is a solution. But no one ever eliminated a problem until he or she recognized and admitted that there was a problem. You began to do that the moment you read this articles. As you read it, you will need to begin to formulate a debt-reduction plan that will work for you. As you do, you need to determine which debts are necessary and which are not.

Debts You Want to KeepSteve, one of the authors of this book, is a bankruptcy attorney. One day, an old acquaintance named Bill came into his office and said that he needed some help getting out of debt, but he also wanted to avoid bankruptcy if at all possible. They talked, came up with a plan of action, and Bill went on his way. About four years later, Steve ran into Bill again and asked how things were; Bill relayed the following story.

Bill had $30,000 in credit card debt and was behind two months on his mortgage when he left Steve’s office. That day, Bill finally decided that something had to change. He wanted to pay everyone back, put some money in savings, and keep his house. His mortgage was his largest, and favorite, debt because he loved his house.

Bill’s first order of business was to prioritize his debts. Wanting to save his house, Bill called his lender and found out that it had a program that would enable him to roll his mortgage arrears onto the end of his loan. He was therefore able to keep his most important debt and focus his energies on getting rid of the debts he didn’t want anymore.

Bill put together a credit card repayment plan. He started living a bit more frugally, making some extra money by moonlighting, and paying more on his credit cards than the minimum. He was diligent, but not always perfect. Although it took him several years, he finally did get out of debt. He also kept his house and even created a little nest egg. Bill did it, and you can too.

Debts to Get Rid OfIf you want to prosper financially, there are plenty of debts that you will want to wipe out. The most obvious are those where you are paying high interest and penalties, things such as credit cards, lines of credit, taxes, or any other debt that is much higher than inflation. In this articles, you will see how to formulate a plan that will enable you to get out from under these burdensome debts. But as you contemplate this plan, you also need to prioritize certain debts and pay them on time:1. Rent or mortgage. Make paying your rent or mortgage a top priority. Payments on a home equity line of credit or second mortgage are also essential because you can lose your house if you don’t pay.2. Car payments. Make the payments. If you don’t, the car will be repossessed.3. Utility bills. These services are important, and the bills usually have heavy late payment penalties.4. Child support or alimony. Not paying these debts can land you in jail.5. Taxes. Taxes may be put off for awhile if necessary, and we show you how to do so later on in the book, but if the IRS is about to take your paycheck, bank account, house, or other property, you should set up a repayment plan immediately.

The First Rule of Holes: Stop Digging!The goal of this articles is to help you get out of debt within the context of making your life work. You will not be asked to make radical, unreasonable changes in your life because doing so rarely works. Instead, important, sometimes gradual, small but significant changes can make a big difference.

If you are going to start getting out of debt, you have to stop going into debt. One way to start is to begin to wean yourself from the credit card teat if you think that is part of your problem. You don’t have to cut up all your credit cards; that would be impractical and unreasonable. Start slowly, but build up to it and get strong. You can do it. The only way to stop going into debt is to stop going into debt. You might as well start now because the sooner you start, the sooner you will get out of debt. The longer you wait, the longer it will take.

We will show you how to easily trim your budget (well, almost easily) so that you need not incur more debt to stay afloat. But begin now. You are going to have to stop sooner or later. Down the road you will see that this is one of the most important steps you can take in getting out of debt. You will thank yourself for this gift. Remember the first rule of holes: Stop digging!

Long-Term GoalsNow is the time to begin to think about your long range financial vision. What is it you hope to accomplish by getting out of debt? Changing some habits?

Paying off your MasterCard? Probably what you really want is a less stressful life, one that’s free from money worries. But you can have even more. Getting out of debt is one thing, but prosperity is another thing altogether.

You have read this once already, and you will read it again in this book: If you don’t begin to do some things differently, to change the way you think and treat money, you might get out of debt, but you won’t stay out of debt. If you do make some simple changes to your thinking and your behavior, not only will you get out of debt, but you also will get ahead. You will get what you deserve: a life of abundance.

The Least You Need to Know1. Going into debt for essentials makes financial sense; doing so for nonessentials does not.2. Not all debt is bad debt.3. You may want to keep debts that enhance your life and get rid of the rest.4. Stop adding to your debt right now.5. Cultivate a long-term plan of action. offers comprehensive guide to credit reporting, including information on repairing or rebuilding your credit history.


 offers comprehensive guide to credit reporting, including information on repairing or rebuilding your credit history.
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Drowning in Educational Loan Debt: Will Loan Consolidation Save You?

It’s the first of the month and you’ve received a fistful of bills for the many different student loans that helped pay for your education: Perkins, subsidized and unsubsidized FFEL or Direct Stafford, and PLUS. Your salary hasn’t reached the six figure income you had hoped for yet. Each month you watch as your hard earned cash evaporates in educational loan payments while you live in a cramped studio apartment and drive a car older than you are.You’ve heard about loan consolidation and the idea of making a smaller payment to one lender sounds like a dream compared to your current nightmare of feeding a seemingly endless stream of money to a number of different lenders. No contest–where do you sign up?

Rein yourself in for a moment. Consolidation may be the perfect solution to your financial woes and then again it may not be. So before you jump on the consolidation bandwagon, here are a few things you might want to consider.

Are Lenders Axing Consolidation Loans?In an effort to remedy some inequities in the federal student aid programs, Congress recently enacted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which among other provisions, cuts lender subsidies that have historically been in place to encourage lenders to participate in the federal education loan programs. This legislation, in concert with the recent subprime mortgage credit crisis, has lenders taking a closer look at whether education loans continue to be profitable for them.

Higher education leaders anticipate that lenders may cut back on the Stafford and PLUS loan incentives and discounts previously offered to attract borrowers–and eliminate them altogether for consolidation loans. Consolidation loans, with the tightest profit margin of all education loans, may even be on the chopping block for some lenders while others may increase the minimum balance that qualifies a borrower for a consolidation loan.

Even if lenders back out of the consolidation loan business, consolidation is still available through the federal Direct Consolidation Loan program, but the government doesn’t offer the incentives and discounts that lenders have long been using to attract borrowers.

Are Interest Rates Coming Down?Stafford Loan and PLUS variable interest rates, which are based on a formula that includes the interest rate of the most recent 91-day T bill, change every July 1; rates are expected to drop significantly on July 1, 2008. This decrease should make the educational loan variable interest rates very attractive. Because the interest rate for a consolidation loan is calculated using a weighted average of all interest rates for all of the loans you would include in consolidation, you may want to wait until after July 1 to make a more informed decision.

Consolidation: Thumbs Up or Down?To consolidate or not to consolidate: that is the question. But there’s no easy answer.

Consolidation may be a good idea if:

• You have a variable interest rate and would rather have a fixed rate. This may be a good idea but you might want to wait and consider it only if interest rates start going back up. And, what happens if variable interest rates stay down or drop below your fixed rate?

• You have a variety of loans and lenders and would like to have only one lender. One problem–you may have to ‘pay’ for the convenience by accepting a higher interest rate on some of your loans.

• You need more flexible repayment options. Repayment options available through consolidation are:Standard – fixed monthly payments.Graduated – start out with low payments and increase every 2 years.Extended – for amounts greater than $30,000, either a fixed or graduated option.Income contingent – based on annual income and total loan debt, with a payment adjustment every year as income changes. The FFEL program offers income sensitive repayment, which bases monthly payments on a percentage of income.

Although the Stafford Loan programs offer flexible repayment options, the Perkins Loan program currently does not. Note: An income-based repayment option will become available for FFEL and Direct Stafford, Perkins, Grad PLUS, and Federal Consolidation (less undergrad PLUS) loan borrowers on July 1, 2009.

• You absolutely need to ease up on your monthly payments. Beware of this option. A lower payment generally means a longer repayment period and paying more interest over time.

Consolidation may not be a good idea if:

• Any of the loans you plan to include have cancellation or forgiveness options that may be lost if you consolidate. The Perkins Loan Program, for example, has a cancellation option if you teach in certain public school service professions or subject areas or in certain designated low income schools. Portions of a Stafford Loan may be eligible for cancellation if you teach full time for five consecutive years in a low income school. (Under certain circumstances, this option may also be available for consolidation loans.)

• Your current lender offers rebates (such as an annual reduction in your interest rate) for successive on-time payments. You would lose this option if you consolidate and, as previously mentioned, lenders may be phasing out incentives for consolidation loans.

• You consolidate during your grace period(s). The remainder of your grace period is lost.

• You’ve already substantially reduced the amount you owe. Because consolidation generally extends your repayment period, often with an increased interest rate, you may ultimately end up paying more.

Research and ConquerUnfortunately the answer to whether or not consolidation is right for you is…”it depends.” To find out, collect information about what federal loans you have (Perkins, FFEL, PLUS, and Direct Loan programs) by accessing the National Student Loan Data System ( Collect information about any private educational loans you have directly from your lender(s). Take the loan information and find an online consolidation loan calculator to help you determine how your loan repayments may change through consolidation.

Then ask yourself the following questions:• Am I willing to pay higher interest or extend my repayment period and pay more interest over time?• Am I going to lose any loan cancellation options or incentives for which I’m currently eligible?• Can I afford my current payments without consolidating?• Would consolidation actually make my payments significantly more affordable? • Does the ‘lower payment now’ benefit offset the ‘pay more for longer’ downside of consolidation?

You can see that the decision whether or not to consolidate is not black and white. It is an individual decision–it may work for some and not for others. Because there are long term implications to consolidation, do your research and weigh the pros and cons carefully. When all of the evidence is in, you should be able to decide whether or not a consolidation loan is the answer for you.

Kelli Smith is the senior editor for is a career education directory for finding colleges and universities, training schools, and technical institutes.
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Advice for Deciding When to Consolidate Student Debt

When consolidating student debt, the loans principal won’t be modified. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to save thousands of dollars on interests and reduce your monthly payments by extending the loans length. Moreover, consolidating at a fixed interest rate will let you keep the same monthly installment amount through the whole life of the consolidation loan.

That being said, consolidating student debt is not always worth the trouble. Only if you can obtain a substantial reduction on your debt or if you can make your monthly payments more affordable you can say that consolidating student loans is appealing enough. In order to determine this you may want to follow the following tips:

Consolidating during the grace period

Be especially careful not to consolidate during the initial grace period unless the consolidation loan includes another grace period or you can do without it, because otherwise you will have to start paying your debt right away. Grace periods usually last between 4 months and a year. During this period, the borrower is not required to start paying off the loan. The main reason for this benefit is that the graduated student might need such a time to find a job and get used to a new lifestyle.

Interest Rates

If you can get a lower interest rate than the average of all your outstanding loans, that would be great. However, you’ll probably get an interest rate just a bit higher than the average interest rate of all your student loans. The reason why you would want to consider consolidating even with a higher interest rate is that the length of your loan will be extended and the loan installments reduced. Besides, the interest rate will be locked so if market conditions worsen you would still be paying the same amount, as opposed to federal student loans which rates

fluctuate with the market.

Contact government agency for cancellation
Prior to consolidating your federal student loans or other government loan, you might want to contact the government agency that issued the loan. It is possible to fully cancel the loan without reimbursing the money if certain requirements are met. Since you have nothing to loose, before searching for a lender to consolidate your student debt, make sure you can’t get the government to condone the whole or part of the debt. After consolidating, you won’t be able to apply for this kind of government forgiveness.

Set aside special loan programs

There are certain loans that you might want to maintain with its original terms. There are loans where the government pays for the interest and you only pay for the principal, others where the loan can be renewed upon cancellation or even before. If you consolidate this kind of loans with the rest of them you’ll loose this special attributes. So make sure you won’t have use for them before rushing in. There is always time for consolidating, so you might as well make a conscious decision on this matter.

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