Beware debt reduction offers

Dear Liz: What is your opinion of debt reduction programs? I am constantly receiving mail from various companies, and I was wondering if they are legit. They claim they can reduce my debt, which sounds promising, but I am hesitant to get involved with them.

Answer: You’ve got good instincts.

Many of the companies sending out these solicitations say they can settle your debt for pennies on the dollar. What they often fail to mention is that the debt settlement process can result in your being sued by your creditors and having your credit trashed. That’s assuming they try to settle your debt at all, rather than just disappearing with any money you pay them in advance.

If you’re struggling with too much debt, you should make two appointments: one with a legitimate credit counselor (visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at http://www.nfcc.org for referrals) to see whether you qualify for a debt management program to repay your credit card debt, and another with a bankruptcy attorney (check the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at http://www.nacba.org for referrals) to see whether a bankruptcy filing might be appropriate for your situation.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Credit Check 1Today’s top story: How to avoid the worst credit cards of 2013. Also in the news: A new debt collection law, five things you should ask your financial advisor, and three investing mistakes retirees must avoid at all costs.

How To Avoid The Worst Credit Cards Of 2013
Easy credit can come at a gigantic price.

A New Debt Collection Law: What It Means for You
If you live in California, debt collection just became more consumer friendly.

5 Things You Should Ask Your Financial Advisor
Determining if your financial advisor is a good fit for your situation.

3 Investing Mistakes Retirees Must Avoid At All Costs
What to do in order to protect your lifelong earnings.

How social media ruin insurance claims
Not everything requires a status update.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Doctor feesHow to do your banking on your phone, solving the mysteries of Obamacare, and avoiding the habits that could ruin your retirement.

Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?
Unfortunately, they can.

How to Stay Safe Banking on Your Phone
Learn how to safely pay your bills in between rounds of Angry Birds.

Obamacare Isn’t Communism, And 13 Other Questions Answered
Clearing up the mysteries surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

Habits That Can Ruin Your Retirement
Retiring doesn’t mean you can get lazy.

What Obamacare will mean for retirees
The prescription drug plan donut hole is shrinking.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

House With Tree DamageDealing with debt collectors, surviving natural disasters, and getting the best deals on car insurance.

How to Figure Out Who Your Debt Collector Is
Know who’s behind the incessant phone calls.

If Your Finances Feel ‘Complex,’ It’s Probably a Bad Sign
If sorting through your finances requires a Ph.D, chances are you’re in deep trouble.

4 New Online Money Management Tools Worth A Try
New tools that can make your financial management time more productive.

What you need to know about applying for FEMA disaster assistance
As natural disasters spread across the United States, FEMA is prepared to help.

Do You Have the Right Car Insurance?
Don’t miss out on the best deal for you vehicle.

Co-signing card leads to collectors’ calls

Dear Liz: I co-signed a credit card for someone and the person defaulted on payment. I started making payments but could not continue because I became unemployed. The debt started at $15,631.23 but has gone up to $17,088.08 because of interest and fees. I previously had to go to court because my bank account was frozen. I recently got a notice about this again. Should I file for bankruptcy or try contacting the attorneys who are seeking payment? I am working part-time and have a tight budget. I don’t have anything saved and am living from paycheck to paycheck.

Answer: You should have gone to a bankruptcy attorney the first time you got sued.

Many people try to ignore their debts or hope that collection agencies will be lenient. That’s not a good strategy at a time when collectors are increasingly willing to file lawsuits to get paid, said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. Once collectors have a judgment against you, they can freeze your bank accounts or garnishee your paycheck.

If you don’t have anything saved and can’t come up with any money for payments, you have little leverage in dealing with a collection agency. Bankruptcy may be your only recourse to get these collection efforts to stop.

A bankruptcy attorney can let you know whether you are “judgment proof,” which basically means that you have and make too little for a creditor to collect on any judgments. If you are judgment proof, you may not need to file for bankruptcy, but you may have to deal with frozen accounts and regular trips to court when a collector oversteps.

You can get a referral from the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at http://www.nacba.org.

The only silver lining of this situation is that you’ve provided other people with a clear lesson in why they shouldn’t co-sign a credit card or any other loan for someone else.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

creditThe mystery behind credit scores, why buy a dress when you can rent one, and what turns Americans off about haggling.

What Really Influences Your Credit Score?
The creators of the VantageScore, a rival to the leading FICO, discuss the formula behind the numbers.

Taking Control of Your Personal Debt

While the math may be simple, the choices can be difficult.

Should You Rent Your Next Dress?
Why pay thousands for a designer dress you’ll wear only a few times?

The Secrets of Super Travelers
How to travel like the pros.

Haggling Can Pay, But Many Americans Refuse to Bargain
Why Americans are wary of this worldwide custom.

Our #CreditChat is about to begin!

liz-westonIn a few minutes I’ll be answering your questions about how to deal with your debt on Experian’s #CreditChat, which starts at 3 p.m. Eastern/noon Pacific today. Topics include how to balance savings and paying off debt, which debts to tackle first, how to handle student loans and what to do if you’re drowning in debt. Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat.

Please join us!

Please join me today for a #CreditChat on Twitter

liz-westonI’ll be featured as the guest expert on Experian’s #CreditChat at 3 p.m. Eastern today. I’ll be tweeting advice and tips about a bunch of important issues, including:

·         When to focus on savings and when to pay down debt

·         What debts to tackle first and which can wait

·         What to do about your student loans

·         What you should know before applying for a mortgage or auto loan

·         What to do if you’re drowning in debt

So come chat with me! Easy ways to follow the conversation include Twubs or tchat. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Forgotten credit card trashes scores

Dear Liz: My husband and I are in the process of refinancing our mortgage. I just received my credit report in the mail, and my score was 724. The report indicated that a delinquency resulted in my less-than-stellar score. When I went to the credit bureau site to see where the problem was, I saw that I had a $34 charge on a Visa last year. I rarely use that card, so I did not realize that I had a balance. As a result, I had a delinquent balance for five months last year. I am sick about this, as I always pay my bills on time. To think that my credit score was affected by something so insignificant is really bumming me out. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

Answer: You can try, but creditors are often reluctant to delete true negative information from your credit files. That’s why it’s so important to monitor all of your credit accounts, and to consider signing up for automatic payments so that this doesn’t happen again.

You should know that your mortgage lender won’t look at just one credit score when evaluating your application. Typically, mortgage lenders would request FICO credit scores from each of the three bureaus for both you and your husband, then use the lower of the two middle scores to determine your rate. Even if 724 did turn out to be the lowest of the six scores, you should still get a decent rate, since that’s considered a good score.

My book is out! Get it for free.

DWYD cover2013Deal with Your Debt” is now available, and I’m giving away five copies this week.

To enter to win, leave a comment here on my blog (not my Facebook page).

Click on the tab above the post that says “comments.” Make sure to include your email address, which won’t show up with your comment, but I’ll be able to see it.

If you haven’t commented before, it may take a little while for your comment to show up since comments are moderated.

The winners will be chosen at random Friday night. Over the weekend, please check your email (including your spam filter). If I don’t hear from a winner by noon Pacific time on Monday, his or her prize will be forfeited and I’ll pick another winner.

Also, check back here often for other giveaways.

The deadline to enter is midnight Pacific time on Friday. So–comment away!