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For years the creators of the leading FICO credit scoring formula were a bit vague about the answer, saying only that a bankruptcy filing is “the single worst thing” that can happen to your scores.
Three years ago, though, the FICO folks provided a peek into how the formula treats a bankruptcy filing as well as other major negatives. You’ll find the post that covers that topic on FICO’s Banking Analytics blog. I go into more detail about this in my book “Your Credit Score,” but you’ll see that, indeed, the impact of a bankruptcy is bigger than that of other negatives. As with other black marks, a bankruptcy hurts already battered scores proportionately less than it does those with higher scores. But in the three examples given (people who started with scores of 680, 720 and 780), everyone ended up in the low to middle 500s. Not a great place to be. Futhermore, it takes years for credit scores to recover. To get back to “good” credit of 720 and above will take 7 to 10 years.
So does that alone mean people should avoid bankruptcy? Heavens, no. Bankruptcy puts a legal end to collection efforts and the ongoing damage unpaid debts can do to your scores. If you can get your act together and start using credit responsibly after a bankruptcy filing, you can start to rebuild your scores immediately. If you continue to struggle with un-payable debt, you may never be able to rehabilitate your credit.
Obviously, if you can pay your debts, you should. Many people who can’t wind up doing themselves more damage, and throwing good money after bad, in vain struggles to pay their bills. If you’re falling behind and can’t see how you’ll catch up, you’d be smart to at least talk to a bankruptcy attorney about your options.
Today’s top story: What to do when your 401(k) and IRA are maxed out. Also in the news: Comparing medical loans and credit cards, three essentials that could be missing from your retirement plan, and thirteen factors to consider when picking a place to retire.
What to Do After Your 401(k) and IRA Are Maxed Out
Where to invest your money next.
How to Compare Medical Credit Cards, Loans
Prepare for high interest rates.
3 Essentials Missing From Many Retirement Plans
Don’t forget these essentials.
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It’s time to make a list.
10 tips for buying your next car for less
Don’t be afraid to haggle.
Today’s top story: Maintaining good credit without carrying debt. Also in the news: Taking out the right amount of mortgage, how to keep your home cool for less, and what happens when your student loan co-signer dies.
How to Maintain Good Credit Without Debt
Can you build credit without going into debt?
How Much Mortgage Can You Handle?
How not to get in over your head.
How to Keep Your Home Cool this Summer for Cheap
Staying cool without breaking the bank.
Dear Liz: I’m a 33-year-old mother who lost my full-time job during the recession in 2009. I may have my “stuff” together again, but am considering filing bankruptcy. Each month I’m spending almost half (yes half!) of my income on debt payments to credit cards, loans and medical bills. Each month after all my bills are paid and groceries are bought, I have zero dollars left over to save. Even after losing my job, I made sure to always make those payments, so my credit is decent. Last I checked my credit score was hovering right around 700. I really have no reason to have good credit at this time, as I don’t have any need for a large purchase. Should I file or pay back my debts? Is filing for bankruptcy a good idea if it allows me to build a savings account and start putting money back into a 401(k)?
Answer: A bankruptcy filing would devastate your credit scores, and that may create more problems than you think. Credit information is used by insurers to determine premiums, by landlords to evaluate applicants and by wireless carriers and utilities to set deposit requirements.
At the same time, it makes little sense to continue to struggle against a mound of debt if you’re not making a dent in the pile. If it would take you five years or more to repay what you owe, you should at least consider filing for bankruptcy. Why five years? Because that’s how long you’d be required to make payments under a Chapter 13 repayment plan.
Most people, however, qualify for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, which is typically preferable since it’s faster (three to four months, versus five years) and erases credit card and medical bills. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can advise you and help you understand the ramifications of filing.
If lower interest rates might help you pay off your debt within five years, you also should consider an appointment with a credit counselor associated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org). These nonprofits can set you up with debt management plans that may offer lower rates on your credit card debt.
Most people feel an obligation to pay what they owe, but that often leads to fruitless struggles against impossible debts. Bankruptcy laws allow individuals a fresh start so that they can take care of themselves and their families. Among your many financial obligations is the one to support yourself in retirement, and every year you delay saving will make it that much harder to accumulate a reasonable nest egg.
Today’s top story: How to celebrate the 4th of July while on a budget. Also in the news: Having a shred party, important financial moves for every decade, and declaring bankruptcy when you owe back taxes.
9 Cheap Ways to Celebrate July 4th
Celebrating on a budget.
Shred, White & Blue: Is There Really Freedom From Identity Theft?
Time for a shred party!
Important Financial Moves for Every Decade
Facing each decade’s financial difficulties.
Can I File Bankruptcy on the Taxes I Owe the IRS?
The answer may surprise you.
At least that’s my conclusion after our recent week tourizing that fine city.
Each morning, we made sure to pack our rain jackets regardless of the forecast, and just about every day we used them. We had one truly rainy day, but were (as the Brits say) spoiled for choice about where to spend it, since London has so many great indoor options to entertain the kiddos: the British Museum, a science museum, a natural history museum and an aquarium, to name just a few.
Most of the major museums are free. Spending time in one of London’s many parks is also free, and renting a bike to tool around will cost you just two pounds for the day (about $3.50). We appreciated these wallet-friendly options, because otherwise London can be an expensive city. (Just one example: two loads of laundry at a laundrette near Marble Arch set me back over $30. The proprietor was lovely, though, and there are worse things than spending a morning chatting with fellow travelers from all over the world.)
Some things are definitely worth the expense. Among them:
The hop-on, hop-off buses. I’ve long been skeptical of the open-top buses that cruise big cities, but the Big Bus tour we took had a witty guide and offered a great overview of the city. Our tickets included a boat ride on the Thames and several free walking tours. You can get your tickets at most of the stops, or get them in advance for a discount online. (We spent about $130 for three people.)
The Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros. studio. Visit the sets, check out the props, be blown away by the scale models used in making the film. The digital guides, with audio and video commentary, are worth getting. (With the guides, we spent about $200 for admission plus about $50 for rail tickets to get there.)
The Tower of London. A thousand years of history in one place, with lots to interest the kiddos. (Admission for three was about $70.)
Matilda. Yes, we could have seen this terrifically fun musical made from Roald Dahl’s book in New York, but I’m glad we waited to see it in its native habitat. If you book in advance, you can get a better deal than the nearly $300 I shelled out for two tickets…so do that.
Today’s top story: The increase in student loan interest rates. Also in the news: Safeguarding your retirement, making sure your finances are marriage ready, and protecting your identity while on vacation.
Student Loan Rates Rise Today: Will You Be Paying More?
Find out how much more you could be paying.
How to Insure Your Retirement Like You Do Your Car (Almost)
Tips to help you safeguard.
Checklist: Is Your Money Ready For Marriage?
You’re not the only one walking down the aisle.
11 Ways to Keep Identity Thieves from Ruining Your Vacation
Why should they get to have any fun?
Today’s top story: How to help your adult child become financially independent. Also in the news: Keeping your credit data safe at the World Cup, what new grads need to know about renters insurance, and what to do when you can’t pay your student loans.
How to Help an Adult Child Become Financially Independent
It’s never too late.
World Cup-Bound? Keep Your Credit Card Data Safe!
Protecting your credit card data is the goal.
What New Graduates Should Know About Renters Insurance
You’re not living at Mom and Dad’s anymore.
How to actually save more money