With consumer debt at an all time high, it's no surprise that creditors want their money back. Business is booming for collections agencies, and they are getting more creative and aggressive with their collections practices. The majority of the complaints are not targeted toward the creditors themselves, but they are aimed at the collections agencies that represent these creditors. These third party collections agencies are aggressive, and downright ruthless. These aggressive agencies accounted for nearly 15,000 complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2001.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1977 established some guidelines for collections agencies. These rules included no calling prior to 8:00 am, or after 9:00 p.m., calling you at your place of employment, threatening to garnish your wages, or threaten to take you to court. If you are fed up with these calls, you do have options.
Make it crystal clear that their phone calls are causing you emotional, and physiological distress. If you communicate that they are causing you distress, the call are supposed to stop. Write a Cease and Desist letter to the collection agency outlining the distress they have caused. If after your phone call, and your letter they still fail to comply, you can file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and your states Attorney General's Office.
Not sure when to officially call a credit agency or contact a debt counselor? Consider these scenarios:
Hopelessness, worry, anxiety, and fear are all emotions associated with financial difficulties. It may seem as if you have no where to go or nobody to turn to. That's not necessarily true. There are organizations out there that help individuals in financial despair consolidate their loans into one easy payment. Organizations like the Debt Counselors of America, and the National Foundation for Consumer Credit, are the most widely recognized.
Most members of the NFCC are known as Consumer Credit Counselors, and provide free or low cost debt counseling services. Consumer Credit Counselors are part of a national network that has local offices throughout the country that individuals can walk into and seek assistance. If there isn't a Consumer Credit Counselor office in your area, you can turn to the Debt Counselors of America. They can assist you over the phone or via the Internet. The aforementioned organizations specialize in helping people get their financial affairs in order. You don't necessarily to be facing a financially challenging situation to take advantage of their services. For a list of names, phone numbers, and addresses of NFCC members log on to www.debtadvice.org.
Before hitting the brink of bankruptcy, it is important to get real with yourself, and understand what kind of debts you have. Unfortunately, the amount of personal debt in this country is ever growing, and that is due in large part to the ease in which credit can be obtained. Debt is the ugly side of the credit coin. There is no secret to understanding your spending habits. If you can pay cash for something, in most cases you can afford it. If you find yourself always reaching for plastic, chances are you can't afford it.
When you make purchases on a credit card for items that you know that you would not ordinarily be able to afford, that is an example of bad debt. Putting that flat screen T.V. on your store card, is also an example of bad debt. Essentially if you are borrowing to pay for your lifestyle, that is bad debt.
So what is good debt? Good debt is an investment that at the end of the day will create value. For example, student loans are considered good debt. Some of you may argue otherwise, but a student loan is an investment in your education. As a result of your college education, you earned a degree that would lead you to a better paying job or profession. Another example of good debt is the purchase of your home as a primary residence. This is a good investment, because homes typically appreciate over time. Unfortunately many people were swept up in the housing boom of a couple of years ago, and purchased homes as investments. Purchasing a home as an investment tool, is almost as bad as having bad debt. So its important to be able to draw a distinction between what is considered good debt, and what is considered bad debt.
It's an unfortunate fact of life that for every person who wants to help you, there is someone that wants to take advantage of you. Facing bankruptcy is not an envious position to be in, and you may not be thinking clearly at all times. Some companies understand the severity, and the gravity of your situation, and will try to charge you outrageous fees for their services. Others will just take your money and run.
The credit repair scam involves a company either calling or mailing you information on how you can increase your credit score dramatically in just a couple of days with just a tiny investment. You think to yourself, this sounds really good. What else do I have to lose? Your identity could be stolen or compromised, and that may be more difficult than a bankruptcy to rebound from. If it sounds to good to be true, well you know the rest.
Before contemplating filing for bankruptcy or reaching into your 401(k), getting a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) or a Home Equity Loan may be a better option for you. This is an especially good option if you have significant equity in your home.
A HELOC is similar to a credit card. Your bank approves you for a predetermined amount, of which you can take the entire amount up front or make withdrawals periodically. Just like a credit card, the more you pay down, the more credit you have available to you. There interest in on a HELOC is typically lower than that of a Home Equity Loan, and may be tax deductible. However these rates can be variable, meaning they may change over time and could possibly increase.
A Home Equity Loan is similar to a HELOC, except for the fact that you get the lump sum upfront, and the interest rate is fixed. So the monthly payments stay the same for the life of the loan. Most individuals use home equity loans when they are trying to consolidate other high interest debts such as credit cards. If you have decent credit, and enough equity in your home, then either of the aforementioned products could work for you. Many banks offer these products so do the research to make sure you select the bank and loans that fits your needs.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|