Tag: DEBT

Featured, Health, News

How Weight Loss Helped This Couple Pay Down $22,000 of Debt

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

About two years ago, Brian LeBlanc was fed up. The 30-year-old policy analyst from Alberta, Canada, had struggled with his weight for years. At the time, he weighed 240 pounds and had trouble finding clothes that fit. He decided it was time to change his lifestyle for good.

LeBlanc started running and cutting back on fast food and soft drinks. He ordered smaller portions at restaurants and avoided convenience-store foods. About a year into his weight-loss mission, his wife Erin, 31, joined him in his efforts.

“The biggest change we made was buying a kitchen food scale and measuring everything we eat,” Brian says. “Creating that habit was really powerful.”

Over the last two years, the couple has shed a total of 170 pounds.

But losing weight, they soon realized, came with an unexpected fringe benefit — saving thousands of dollars per year. Often, people complain that it’s expensive to be healthy — gym memberships and fresh produce don’t come cheap, after all. But the LeBlancs found the opposite to be true.

Erin, who is a payroll specialist, also managed their household budget. She began noticing a difference in how little money they were wasting on fast food and unused grocery items.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

“Before, we always had the best intentions of going to the grocery store and buying all the healthy foods. But we never ate them,” she says. “We ended up throwing out a lot of healthy food, vegetables, and fruits.”

Before their lifestyle change, Brian and Erin would often eat out for dinner, spending as much as $80 per week, and they would often go out with friends, spending about $275 a month. Now, Brian says if they grab fast food, they choose a smaller portion. Last month, they only spent $22 on fast food.

What’s changed the most is how they shop for groceries, what they buy, and how they cook. Brian likes to prep all his meals on Sunday so his lunches during the week are consistent and portion-controlled. They also buy only enough fresh produce to last them a couple of days to prevent wasting food.

Shedding pounds — and student loan debt

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Two years after the start of their weight-loss journey, they took a look at their bank statements to see how their spending has changed. By giving up eating out and drinking alcohol frequently, they now spend $600 less a month than they used to, even though they’ve had to buy new wardrobes and gym memberships.

With their newfound savings, the LeBlancs managed to pay off Brian’s $22,000 in student loans 13 years early. Even with the $600 they were now saving, they had to cut back significantly on their budget to come up with the $900-$1,000 they strived to put toward his loans each month. They stopped meeting friends for drinks after work, and Erin took on a part-time job to bring in extra cash. When they needed new wardrobes because their old clothing no longer fit, they frequented thrift shops instead of the mall.

When they made the final payment after two years, it was a relief to say the least.

Now the Canadian couple is saving for a vacation home in Phoenix, Ariz., which they hope to buy in the next few years, and they’re planning to tackle Erin’s student loans next. They’re happy with their weight and lives in general, but don’t take their journey for granted.

“There were times we questioned our sanity and we thought we cannot do this anymore,” says Erin. But they would always rally together in the end.

“There are things that are worth struggling for and worth putting in the effort,” Brian says. “Hands down, your health is one of those things.”

How Getting Healthy Can Help Financially

Spending less on food isn’t the only way your budget can improve alongside your health. Read below to see how a little weight loss can tip the scales when it comes to your finances.

  • Spend less on medical bills. Health care costs have skyrocketed in the last two decades, but they’ve impacted overweight and obese individuals more. A report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality stated that between 2001 and 2006, costs increased 25% for those of normal weight — but 36.3% for those overweight, and a whopping 81.8% for obese people. The less you weigh, the less you’ll pay for monthly health insurance premiums and other expenses.
  • Buy cheaper clothes. Designers frequently charge more for plus-size clothing than smaller sizes. Some people claim retailers add a “fat tax” on clothes because there are fewer options for anyone over a size 12. It might not be fair, but it’s the way things are.
  • Save on life insurance. Your health is a huge factor for life insurance rates. Annual premiums for a healthy person can cost $300 less than for someone who is overweight.
  • Cut transportation costs. Biking or walking to get around is not only a cheap way to exercise — it’s a cheap way to travel. You’ll be saving on a gym membership and limiting gasoline costs in one fell swoop. Bonus points if you go the whole way and sell or downgrade your vehicle.
Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here

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Featured, How to Complain, Strategies to Save

Debt Buyers Reveal Just How Far They’re Willing to Go to Settle Unpaid Debts

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Tens of millions of Americans are pursued by debt buyers, speculators who buy the rights to collect their overdue bills. Yet few consumers realize this growing segment of the collection industry may offer them a chance to slash their delinquent debts by as much as 75%.

A MagnifyMoney investigation examined the business practices of debt buyers as detailed in disclosures to their investors. Here’s how the game is played:

  • Buyers purchase massive bundles of unpaid consumer debts with face values that often total billions of dollars. Those are the bills that banks, credit card companies, and other creditors give up trying to collect.
  • Those debts are bought at deeply discounted prices, averaging roughly 8 cents on the dollar.
  • The buyers only expect to recover a fraction of the original amounts owed. Their target is to recover from 2 to 3 times more than they paid.

The bottom line: Debt buyers can turn profits that meet their goals by collecting merely 16% to 24% of the original face values. That knowledge can be useful to savvy debtors who choose to negotiate a settlement for less.

Debt buyers “absolutely” have more flexibility in negotiating with consumers, says Sheryl Wright, senior vice president of Encore Capital Group, the nation’s largest debt buyer. Encore offers most debtors a 40% discount to settle, according to the company’s website.

“There could be an advantage in terms of negotiating a favorable settlement,” says Lisa Stifler of the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit consumer advocate. “Debt buyers are willing to – and generally do – accept lower amounts.”

Stifler warned that debtors should be cautious in all interactions with debt buyers and collectors. (See “Tips to fight back against debt buyers and debt collectors” later in this article.)

In the world of debt buying, the numbers can vary. The price of bad debt portfolios ranged from 5 to 15 cents on the dollar during the past two years, according to corporate disclosures of debt buyers. The variables include the age of debt, size of account, type of loan, previous collection attempts, geographic location, and data about debtors – plus shifts of supply and demand in the bad debt marketplace.

What remains constant is the debt buyers’ goal of recovering 2 to 3 times more than the purchase price they pay for the accounts.

It is a different business model than that of traditional debt collection agencies, contractors that pursue bills for a percentage of what they recover. In contrast, debt buyers may often be more willing to wheel and deal to settle accounts with consumers.

Debt buyers raked in $3.6 billion in revenue last year – about one-third of the nation’s debt collections, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s latest annual report.

Information is scarce on the inner workings of hundreds of debt buyers who operate in the U.S. An accurate count is not available since only 17 states require buyers to be licensed.

Of the more than 575 debt buyers that belong to the industry’s trade association, only three are publicly traded entities required to file disclosures last year with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. MagnifyMoney looked into reports from two of those companies and found telling insights into an industry typically secretive about its practices.

An “Encore” of unpaid bills

Encore owns nearly 36 million open accounts of consumer debt in the U.S. through its subsidiaries Midland Credit Management, Midland Funding, Asset Acceptance, and Atlantic Credit & Finance.

During 2016, Encore invested $900 million to buy debt with a face value of $9.8 billion – or 9 cents per dollar. On average, the corporation recovers 2.5 times more than it pays for debt portfolios – the equivalent of 22.5 cents per dollar owed, according to its annual report to the SEC.

In that disclosure, the San Diego-based operation details how it tries to get debtors to pay.

Encore boasts that its proprietary “decision science” enables it “to predict a consumer’s willingness and ability to repay his or her debt.” It obtains “detailed information” about debtors’ “credit, savings or payment behavior,” then analyzes “demographic data, account characteristics and economic variables.”

“We pursue collection activities on only a fraction of the accounts we purchase,” stated Encore. “Consumers who we believe are financially incapable of making any payments … are excluded from our collection process.”

The rest of the debtors can expect to hear from Encore’s collectors. But the company knows most won’t respond.

“Only a small number of consumers who we contact choose to engage with us,” Encore explained. “Those who do are often offered discounts on their obligations or are presented with payment plans that are intended to suit their needs.”

While the company offers most debtors discounts of 40% to settle, relatively few take advantage of that opportunity.

“The majority of consumers we contact do not respond to our calls and letters, and we must then make the decision about whether to pursue collection through legal action,” Encore stated. In its annual report, the company disclosed it spent $200 million for legal costs last year.

In a written response to questions from MagnifyMoney, Encore refused to reveal the number of lawsuits it has filed or the amount of money it has recovered as a result of that litigation.

“We ultimately take legal action in less than 5% of all of our accounts,” says Wright. If Encore has sued 5% of its 36 million domestic open accounts, the total would be roughly 1.8 million court cases.

Portfolio Recovery Associates has acquired a total of 43 million consumer debts in the U.S. during the past 20 years. Behind Encore, it ranks as the nation’s second-largest debt buyer.

Its parent company, PRA Group Inc. of Norfolk, Va., paid $900 million last year to buy debts with a face value of $10.5 billion – or 8 cents on the dollar, according to its 2016 annual report. Its target is to collect a multiple of 2 to 3 times what it paid.

It is a high-stakes investment. The company must satisfy its own creditors since it borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to buy other people’s unpaid debts. PRA Group reported $1.8 billion in corporate indebtedness last year.

PRA Group declined an opportunity to respond to questions from MagnifyMoney. In lieu of an interview, spokeswoman Nancy Porter requested written questions. But the company then chose not to provide answers.

Asta Funding Inc., the only other publicly traded debt buyer, did not respond to interview requests from MagnifyMoney.

Tips to fight back against debt buyers and debt collectors

All types of bill collectors have a common weakness: They often know little about the accounts they chase. And that’s a primary reason for many of the 860,000 consumer complaints against collectors last year, according to a database kept by the Federal Trade Commission.

Be sure the debt is legitimate first

In dealing with collectors, you should begin by questioning whether the debt is legitimate and accurate. You can also ask who owns the debt and how they obtained the right to collect it.

In 2015, Portfolio agreed to pay $19 million in consumer relief and $8 million in civil penalties as a result of an action by the CFPB.

“Portfolio bought debts that were potentially inaccurate, lacking documentation or unenforceable,” stated the CFPB. “Without verifying the debt, the company collected payments by pressuring consumers with false statements and churning out lawsuits using robo-signed court documents.”

One unemployed 51-year-old mother in Kansas City, Mo. fought back and won a big judgment in court.

Portfolio mistakenly sued Maria Guadalujpe Mejia for a $1,100 credit card debt owed by a man with a similar sounding name. Despite evidence it was pursuing the wrong person, the company refused to drop the lawsuit.

Mejia countersued Portfolio. Outraged by the company’s bullying tactics, a court awarded her $83 million in damages. In February, the company agreed to settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

Challenge the debt in writing

Within 30 days of first contact by a collector, you have the right to challenge the debt in writing. The collector is not allowed to contact you again until it sends a written verification of what it believes you owe.

Negotiate a settlement

If the bill is correct, you can attempt to negotiate a settlement for less, a sometimes lengthy process that could take months or years. By starting with low offers, you may leave more room to bargain.

Communicate with collectors in writing and keep copies of everything. On its website, the CFPB offers sample letters of how to correspond with collectors.

As previously noted, debt buyers generally have more leeway to negotiate settlements since they actually own the accounts. A partial list of debt buyers can be found online at DBA International.

In contrast, collection agencies working on contingency may be more restricted in what they can offer. They need to collect enough to satisfy the expectations of creditors plus cover their own fee.

As part of a settlement, the debt buyer or collector may offer a discount, a payment plan allowing the consumer to pay over time, or a combination of the two.

“Through this process, we use a variety of options, not just one approach or another, to create unique solutions that help consumers work toward long-term financial well-being and improve their quality of life,” says Encore’s Wright.

A settlement doesn’t guarantee the debt will be scrubbed from your credit report

To encourage settlements, Encore recently announced that it would remove negative information from the credit reports of consumers two years after they paid or settled their debts. Traditionally, the negative “tradelines” remain on credit reports for seven years.

“We believe the changes in our credit reporting policy provide a tangible solution to help our consumers move toward a better life,” says Wright.

However, Encore’s new policy does nothing to speed up the removal of any negative information reported by the original creditor from whom the company bought the debt.

Check your state’s statute of limitations on unpaid debts

Before any payment or negotiation, check to see if the statute of limitations has expired on the debt. That is the window of time for when you can be sued; it varies from state to state and generally ranges from three to six years.

If the statute of limitations on your debt has expired, you may legally owe nothing. If the expiration is nearing, you can have extra leverage in negotiating a settlement. But be careful: A partial payment can restart the statute in some states and lengthen the time a black mark remains on your credit record.

Respond promptly if the company decides to sue

If you are sued over the debt, be sure to respond by the deadline specified in the court papers. If you answer, the collector will have to prove you owe the money.

If you don’t timely answer the complaint, the burden of proof may switch to you. A judge may enter a default judgment against you – or even sign a court order to garnish your paycheck.

Seek help from a lawyer or legal aid service if you have questions, but be careful of where you turn for help. The CFPB warns consumers to be wary of debt collection services that charge money in advance to negotiate on your behalf. They often promise more than they can deliver and get paid no matter what happens.

Mark Lagerkvist
Mark Lagerkvist |

Mark Lagerkvist is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mark here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans - Get Your Lowest Rate

Updated: May 9, 2017

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.38% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate*

2.565% - 6.490%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.75% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.76% - 6.24%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.56% - 6.48%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.43% - 5.85%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is it worth it? 

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.57% and Fixed Rates from 3.375% (with AutoPay)*

sofiSoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to  qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will  help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there  to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for  hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to  match borrowers with each other.

Go to site

2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.76% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay) 

EarnestEarnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.37% and variable rates starting at 2.76%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.

Go to site

3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.56% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

CommonBondCommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.

Go to site

4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.43% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

lendkeyLendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

Go to site

In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 4.00% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.60% APR – 8.39% APR and fixed rates range from 3.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years. Citizens also offers discounts up to 0.50% (0.25% if you have another account and 0.25% if you have automated monthly payments).
  • College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 3.00% – 6.25% APR.
  • Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
  • DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.45% – 7.54% APR. Rates vary by term, and you can borrow up to 20 years.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.92% – 6.54% APR (variable).
  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.35% – 3.95% APR. Variable rates range from 2.50% – 4.30%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve (or have served), the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.27% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years. Just answer a few questions on their site, and you can get an indication of the rate.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.61% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 4.24% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

 

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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Balance Transfer

Chase Slate® Review: Is this Legit? An Introductory $0 Fee Balance Transfer?

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Chase Slate Review

Updated April 18, 2017

Chase slateDo you have credit card debt that you can’t afford to pay off? Do you feel depressed watching all of your payment going towards interest? Are you afraid that you will be in debt for the next 30 years? Don’t just sit at home and worry: take action by transferring your debt from a high interest rate to a low interest rate with a balance transfer.

Chase Slate® has a very popular introductory balance transfer offer. You can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee and get 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

The savings can be astonishingly high, and you can take years off your debt repayment. But some people worry that the offer is too good to be true. So long as you do the following 3 things, it really is a free balance transfer:

  1. Complete the balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account. Otherwise, you lose the offer and standard balance transfer fees and rates would apply.
  2. Always pay on time. If you are just one day late, you will be charged a hefty late fee. And, if you are 60 days late, you will lose the promotional interest rate.
  3. Only transfer debt from another bank. You can not use this offer to transfer debt from another Chase credit card – and that includes co-brands (like United Airlines and Southwest Airlines credit cards).

The application process is easy, and will only take a few minutes.

Learn more

The interest rates on credit cards are shockingly high, especially those store credit cards that you were tempted with during holiday shopping. Most store cards have interest rates higher than 20%, and here are some examples of particularly expensive cards:

  • Macy’s: 24.5%
  • Wal-Mart: 22.9%
  • Target: 22.9%

Store cards are obscenely expensive, but ordinary credit cards also carry a hefty interest rate. Most people who have a balance on a credit card are paying more than 15% on that debt.

If you wake up one morning with a debt hangover, you shouldn’t think of your high interest rate as a life sentence. Your debt does not need to stay on that high interest rate credit card: you can move it to a lower interest rate with an intro balance transfer. And, one of the best balance transfer credit cards out there is the Chase Slate®.

In this article, we will explain:

  • What is a balance transfer
  • How to qualify for a balance transfer credit card
  • Why Chase Slate® is an almost-perfect introductory balance transfer
  • How to complete a balance transfer with Chase
  • What to do once the balance transfer is complete

If you have any questions about this card, you can always send us an email at info@magnifymoney.com, and we would be happy to help answer any questions you might have. We always respond to emails within 24 hours, and are usually quicker than that.

What is a Balance Transfer

You have probably received many of these offers in your mail: a credit card company offers you a 0% interest rate if you transfer your existing credit card debt from another credit card company to the one offering the 0% deal.

A balance transfer is exactly what it sounds like: you can transfer your debt from Bank A to Bank B. Bank B wants your business, so they will “steal” your debt from their competition by offering a great interest rate for a fixed period of time (the promotional period). Often, a bank will charge a fee for the balance transfer. Given how high interest rates are on store cards and credit cards, the fee usually pays for itself within 3-6 months. If you can pay off your debt in fewer than 6 months, a balance transfer is not worthwhile. However, if it will take you longer than 6 months, you will almost always save money.

Banks want to steal your business from other banks: that is why the offers are only available for debt with another credit card issuer. For example, Chase is happy to take over debt from Citibank, Wells Fargo or Target. But, if you just want to transfer debt from one Chase credit card to another, you will be rejected.

Just think of cable/internet/telephone companies. They regularly give you amazing deals for the first year if you sign up for a bundle. After the year is over, the rate goes up. This is exactly the same idea: banks are competing for your debt.

How to Qualify for a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Banks will only offer balance transfers to people with good or excellent credit. That typically means that you will require:

  • A credit score of 680 or higher (700 preferred)
  • A debt burden (explained below) of less than 50% (40% or lower preferred)
  • Very few, if any, accounts that are currently delinquent

A debt burden is calculated by adding up your monthly fixed expenses and dividing that by your monthly income. The expenses should include: monthly rent or mortgage payment, auto payment, student loan payments and the monthly payment on any other credit cards or loans that appear on your credit bureau.

If your total payments are more than 50%, you will likely be declined. If it is less than 50%, you have a chance. However, banks typically want to see debt burdens below 40% (and you will likely get approved at higher debt burdens only if you have a very high credit score).

Banks do not share their underwriting criteria: instead, they keep them as carefully guarded secrets. Life would be a lot easier if they just told us what they wanted! However, at MagnifyMoney, we have done our best to reverse-engineer the underwriting criteria. If you meet the criteria above but are rejected, please let us know!

If you don’t qualify for a balance transfer, you may want to consider a personal loan. The concept is the same: you can take out a loan and use the proceeds to pay off existing credit card debt. But, unlike the credit card balance transfer market, personal loan companies tend to approve much riskier people. Just make sure the interest rate on your new loan is lower than the interest rate on your credit card before proceeding.

If you want to compare the cost of a balance transfer to the cost of a personal loan, you can do that with our balance transfer and personal loan calculator.

Customize your balance transfer offers with Magnifymoney tool

Why Chase Slate® is Almost Perfect

There are two key features of a balance transfer: the balance transfer fee (charged as a percent of the balance that is transferred, and added to your bill upon completion of the transfer), and the duration of the balance transfer (number of months at the promotional rate).

Chase does not charge a balance transfer fee for the intro offer. It is absolutely free to move your debt from another credit card issuer to Chase and it’s 0% intro APR for 15 months.

So, if you move your debt from your store card and pay it off by month 15, you will not pay a dime to Chase. It will have been completely free. If you do have a balance remaining at the end of the 15 month promotional period, you will not be charged interest retroactively. In other words, the interest that would have been charged during the 15 month promotional period has been waived completely. From month 16, interest would be charged on a go forward basis.

The balance transfer offer is almost perfect. Just be careful of the following:

  • You can only transfer debt from a bank other than Chase. That includes Chase co-branded credit cards, like United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Marriott and others. Because Chase is the #1 credit card issuer in the country, it is possible that some or all of your debt is already with Chase.
  • The ongoing purchase APR (after month 15) will depend upon your credit score. The ongoing purchase APR range is 15.74% – 24.49% variable.

Chase has invested in one of the best introductory balance transfer offers out there. If you use the intro offer responsibly, you can have no interest and fees for 15 months. You should take advantage of the offer and reduce your debt as much as possible.

Chase slate

Learn more

If all of your debt is with Chase, you can find plenty of other offers on our balance transfer marketplace. Just input how much debt you have and how much you can pay each month, and we will show you the offers (updated daily) and how much you will save with each transfer. There are plenty of options out there, so there is no reason to ever pay a high interest rate on your debt.

How to Complete a Balance Transfer with Chase

Make sure you complete your balance transfer as soon as you receive your card. The introductory offer is from when you opened the card, not the date you transfer the debt. So, every month you wait is a month of a promotional balance interest wasted.

It is incredibly easy to complete the balance transfer once you receive your credit card. You can always call them. The call center employees typically receive incentives to complete balance transfers, so it is highly likely that they will want to help you.

But, you don’t need to call them. You can complete the balance transfer online. We have put together a step-by-step guide. It should take you fewer than 5 minutes. All you need is the credit card number of the account that you want to pay off.

Warning: it can take up to 2 weeks for the payment from Chase to reach your bank. Make sure you continue to make payments on your old card until you receive confirmation that the old balance is paid off.

What to Do Once the Balance Transfer is Complete

Once you complete the balance transfer, your goal is to pay off your debt as quickly as possible. In a best case scenario, you divide the total balance by 15 months, and make sure you pay that amount each month. That way, you know that you will be debt free by the time the promotional period expires.

During the promotional period, make sure you:

  • Try to avoid spending on the credit card. Remember: the purpose of this 0% is to help you pay off your debt faster, not to get into more debt.
  • Make sure you make your payments on time, every month. If you pay late, you will be charged late fees. If you are 30 days late, it will hurt your credit score. And, at 60 days late, you will lose your 0% interest rate – and could be charged the penalty interest rate

At the end of the promotional period, don’t close the credit card. Closing credit cards can hurt your score, and Chase Slate® does not have an annual fee. So, it is a nice card to keep.

If you have debt sitting at a high interest rate, you should move it now. There is no reason to drown in high interest rate debt, and there is no reason to work hard only to pay interest to the bank.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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21% of Divorcées Cite Money as the Cause of Their Divorce, MagnifyMoney Survey Shows

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Magnifymoney - Divorce and Debt Survey

In MagnifyMoney’s 2017 Divorce and Debt Survey, we polled a national sample of 500 divorced U.S. adults to understand how money played into the end of their relationship.

Here are our key findings:

AMONG ALL SURVEY RESPONDENTS

More money = more problems

Among all respondents, 21% cited money as the cause of their divorce.

In fact, the more money a respondent earned, they more likely they were to cite money as the cause of their divorce.

Among people who earned $100,000 or more, 33% cited money as the cause of their divorce.

By contrast, only 25% of people who earned $50,000 to $99,999 cited money as the cause of their divorce. And the lowest income-earners, those earning $50,000 and under, were the least likely to say money was the cause of their divorce at just 18%.

Money might cause more stress for younger couples

While rates of divorce rose along with the amount of a couple’s’ earnings, the opposite seemed to be true when it came to age. Younger couples reported that financial issues drove them to divorce, while the rate went down for older couples.

  • Among 25-44 year olds: 24% cited money as the cause of their divorce
  • Among 45-64 year olds: 20% cited money as the cause of their divorce
  • Among those 65 and over: 18% cited money as the cause of their divorce

AMONG SURVEY RESPONDENTS WHO CITED MONEY AS THE REASON FOR THEIR DIVORCE…

Divorce often led to debt 

AMONG SURVEY RESPONDENTS WHO CITED MONEY AS THE REASON FOR THEIR DIVORCE

Between legal fees, paying for your own expenses instead of sharing the burden with a partner, and other costs that come up when you choose to end a marriage, divorce gets expensive. For couples who already faced financial problems, the added expense often meant getting into even more debt.

Well over half (59%) of respondents who cited money as the cause of their divorce also said they went into debt because of their divorce. And a whopping 60% said their credit score fell after the divorce. By comparison, just 36% of the total survey group said they went into debt because their divorce, and only 37% said their credit score suffered.

Among those who cited money as the cause of their divorce…

  • 2% of respondents said they got away with $500 or less in debt.
  • 13% said they racked up debts of $500 to $4,999.
  • 14% said they took on between $10,000 and $19,999 worth of debt
  • 23% said they owed $20,000 or more

Among all survey respondents…

  • 2% were less than $500 in debt
  • 8% were $500 to $4,999 in debt
  • 6% were $5,000 to $9,999 in debt
  • 8% were $10,000 to $19,999 in debt
  • 12% were $20,000 or more in debt

Overspending was the biggest source of tension

Overspending was the biggest source of tension

Nearly one-third (30%) of those who said that money was the reason for their divorce also said overspending was the most common problem they faced. Overspending can easily add up to carrying credit balances when the cash runs out — and in fact, credit card debt was the second most common money problem these respondents cited.

Bad credit was also a problem, along with other types of debt like medical and student loan debt. Most financial issues seemed to stem from bad cash flow habits, however. Only 3% said bad investments caused trouble within their relationships.

Financial infidelity was rampant

Financial infidelity was rampant

When overspending and debt become issues within a marriage, partners may feel compelled to hide mistakes and bad money habits from each other. In fact, 56% of survey respondents who said money was the reason for their divorce also admitted that they or their spouse lied about money or hid information from the other person. By comparison, just 33% of all divorcees surveyed said they lied or were lied to about money during their marriage.

Among the survey respondents who cited money as the cause of divorce…

  • 37% said their spouse lied to them about money
  • 8% said they lied to their spouse about money
  • 10% reported that they both lied to each other.

Among all survey respondents…

  • 24% said they their spouse lied about money
  • 3% said they lied to their spouse about money
  • 5% said they both lied about money

Most would rather keep separate bank accounts

Separation of finances

With financial stress causing trouble in relationships, it’s not too surprising that 57% of people who cited money as the cause of their divorce said married couples should maintain separate bank accounts. Forty-three percent maintained that within a marriage, couples should keep joint accounts — even though their marriages ended in divorce.

Most failed to keep a budget

Budgeting and divorce

A whopping 70% of respondents who said their marriages ended due to money said they didn’t stick to a budget during their marriage. A budget is such a simple tool, but one that’s essential to tracking cash flow and understanding where money comes from — and goes.

Most don’t believe prenups are necessary

Prenups and divorce
Dealing with divorce is never easy, especially when financial problems caused the separation and continue to plague couples after the paperwork is signed thanks to new debts.

Still, 58% of survey respondents whose marriage ended in divorce due to money said they didn’t think couples should get a prenuptial agreement before tying the knot.

How to deal with your finances after divorce

Here are a few tips to help you get back on your feet, financially speaking, once your divorce is finalized:

Recognize your bad money habits. Money issues can negatively impact a relationship, and even cause it to end. But they can hurt you as an individual, too.

Create a budget. Remember, most people whose marriage ended due to financial stresses didn’t keep a budget during their relationship. Doing so now will help you stay on top of your money and know exactly where it goes. That will allow you to make better spending decisions and help prevent taking on even more debt.

Don’t make major money decisions right away. If you just finalized your divorce, you may feel like you need to make major changes or choices right away. But take a moment to slow down and give yourself time to heal. You shouldn’t make emotional decisions with your money — and going through a divorce is an emotional time. Wait until you can think more clearly and rationally before doing anything with your assets, cash, or career.

Money should not be your therapy. Because divorce can do a number on you, mentally and emotionally, you may need help with the healing process. But that does not mean retail therapy! It’s tempting to spend on material things in an effort to make yourself feel better, but any happiness you feel from shopping sprees is temporary and fleeting. It can also leave you into even more debt. Put away your credit cards, stick to cash, and use your budget to guide you.

Work to rebuild your credit. 60% of people reported their divorce hurt their credit. If your credit suffered too, take steps to rebuild it. Pay down debts, make all payments on time and in full, and don’t continue to carry balances on credit cards. Try to avoid taking out too many new loans or lines of credit all at once.

You should also work through this checklist of important actions to take after your divorce:

  • Update your beneficiary information on your accounts and insurance policies.
  • Update your will and estate plan.
  • Make sure all of your assets are in your name only and no longer jointly held.
  • Cancel accounts or services you held jointly, like utilities or cable. Open new accounts for you in your name.
  • Allocate a line item for savings in your budget. You want to start rebuilding your own cash reserves. Set an automatic monthly transfer from your checking to your savings so you don’t forget.
  • Close joint credit cards and get a new line of credit in your name.
  • If you have children, keep careful records of expenses for them that you plan to split with your ex, in case of disagreements. Ideally, make sure your divorce agreement includes an explanation of how child care will be split and who is responsible for what, financially.
  • Think about whether you need to hire new financial professionals to help you. You may want to find a new financial planner and certified public accountant. You’ll want to update your financial plan to reflect the fact that you’re no longer married.

Survey methodology: 500 U.S. adults who reported they were in a marriage that ended in divorce via Google Surveys from Feb. 2 to 4, 2017.

MagnifyMoney
MagnifyMoney |

MagnifyMoney is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email MagnifyMoney at info@magnifymoney.com

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Balance Transfer, Pay Down My Debt

The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt

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Before you read on, click here to download our FREE guide to become debt free forever! 

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 1.30.44 PM

Digging out of the debt hole can feel frustrating, intimidating and ultimately impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be any of those things if you learn how to take control.

Paying down debt is not only about finding the right financial tools, but also the right psychological ones. You need to understand why you got into debt in the first place. Perhaps it was a medical emergency or a home repair that needed to be taken care of immediately. Maybe you’d already drained your emergency fund on one piece of bad luck when misfortune struck again. Or maybe you’re struggling with a compulsive shopping problem, so paying down debt will likely result in you accumulating more until the addiction is addressed.

Understanding the why and how of your debt isn’t the only reason psychology plays a role in how you should create your debt attack plan.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your debt in the absolute fastest amount of time possible that will save more money or do you want to take some little wins along the way to keep yourself motivated?

The common terms for these debt repayment strategies are:

  • Debt avalanche: starting with the highest interest rate and working your way down, which saves both time and money.
  • Debt snowball: paying off small debts first to get the warm and fuzzies that will motivate you to keep going.

Whichever version you pick needs to set you up to be successful in your debt repayment strategy. Now it’s time to find the proper tools to help you dump that debt for good.

The first step in crafting a debt repayment strategy is to understand what you’re eligible to use. Your credit score will play a big role in whether or not you’ll qualify for products like balance transfers or competitive personal loan offers.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for a personal loan and will eliminate you from taking on a balance transfer offer.

If you have a credit score above 600, you have a good chance of qualifying for a personal loan at a much lower interest rate than your credit card debt. With new internet-only personal loan companies, you can shop for loans without hurting your score. Use this tool to see if you can get approved for a loan without hurting your score. Click here to get rates from multiple lenders in just a few minutes, without a credit inquiry hurting your score. For people with the best scores, rates start as low as 4.80%.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers.

[Click here if you’re looking to rebuild your credit score.]

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how to find out.

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add into your debt repayment strategy in order to dig out of the hole.

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt, and are stuck paying 18% interest on it.

You already know that putting as much spare cash as you can toward paying down your debt is the most important thing to do. But once you’ve done that, so what’s next?

Use your good credit to make banks compete and cut your rates

MagnifyMoney’s Paying Down Debt Guide has easy to follow tips on how to put banks to work for you and get your rates cut.

You could save $1,800 a year in interest and lower your monthly payments based on several of the rates available today. That means you could pay it off almost 20% faster.

Here’s how it works.

Option One: Use a Balance Transfer (or Multiple Balance Transfers)

If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro APR. You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.

Your own bank might not give you a lower rate (or only drop it by a few percent), but there are lots of competing banks that may want to steal the business and give you a better rate.

Our favorite offer is Chase Slate®. You can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee and get 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

Chase Slate Credit Card

If you have excellent credit, another great option is Barclaycard Ring – which also offers a $0 intro balance transfer fee and 0% APR for 15 months. Consider Barclaycard if your credit card debt is with Chase already, or if Chase is not able to approve a big enough credit limit.

If you think it will take longer to pay off your debt, consider Discover, which offers an intro 0% APR for 18 months (with a 3% balance transfer fee). MagnifyMoney keeps the most complete list of the longest and lowest rate deals available right now, including deals with no fees. Just answer a few questions about how your debt and much you can afford to pay, and you’ll get a personal list of the deals that will save you the most.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has six tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by beating the banks at their game.

You might be scared of a balance transfer, but there is no faster way to cut your interest payments than taking advantage of the best 0% or low interest deals banks are offering.

Thanks to recent laws, balance transfers aren’t as sneaky as they used to be, and friendlier for helping you cut your debt.

Sometimes the first bank you deal with won’t give you a big enough credit line to handle all your credit card debt. Maybe you’ll get a $5,000 credit line for a 0% deal, but have $10,000 in debt. That’s okay. In that case, apply for the next best balance transfer deal you see. MagnifyMoney’s list of deals makes it easy to sort them.

Banks are okay with you shopping around for more than one deal.

Option Two: Personal Loan

If you never want to see another credit card again, you should consider a personal loan. You can get prequalified without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster. With just one application, you can get multiple loan offers with rates as low as 5.99% here.

Personal loan rates are often about 10-20%, but can sometimes be as low as 5-6% if you have very good credit.

Moving from 18% interest on a credit card to 10% on a personal loan is a good deal for you. You’ll also get one set monthly payment, and pay off the whole thing in 3 to 5 years.

Sometimes this may mean a higher monthly payment than you’re used to, but you’re better off putting your cash toward a higher payment with a lower rate.

And you’ll get out of debt months or years faster by leaving more money to pay down the debt itself. One of our favorite lenders is SoFi, which has some of the lowest interest rates on the market if you have good or excellent credit. Variable interest rates start as low as 4.99%*. You can apply now on their website, without impacting your credit score, by clicking on the apply button below.

SoFi logo

Apply Now

Brian Karimzad
Brian Karimzad |

Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at brian@magnifymoney.com

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Featured, Pay Down My Debt

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm

If you’re deep in debt, you may have looked into getting some outside help to find relief. Frequently, your search for aid will bring you to debt settlement firms.

Debt settlement firms negotiate directly with your creditor to reduce your debt. If they succeed in settling your debt for a lesser amount, you will then be required to make one lump-sum payment, effectively wiping out your obligation.

Using these firms may sound like a lifesaver to someone struggling to pay off many debts at once. But debt settlement firms can actually cause more harm than good to your finances if you aren’t careful.

“Based on all the evidence we’ve seen, it is extremely rare that anyone benefits from using a debt settlement firm,” says Andrew Pizor, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Before you agree to work with a debt settlement firm, it’s important to know the risks:

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement Firm

1. You will have to stop paying your debts. When you begin working with a debt settlement firm, many firms will encourage you to stop paying your debts and start paying into a third-party bank account. The idea is that you will eventually build up enough money in that account to be ready to make a lump-sum payment when the firm succeeds in convincing your lender or collections agency to settle.

This, of course, means that your accounts are going to become increasingly delinquent. It can take up to 36 months to fully fund a debt settlement firm account, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

While you are not paying your debt, your creditor can send your account to collections or even file a lawsuit against you before the settlement firm gets a chance to negotiate. You could also be responsible for any interest, late fees, and legal fees that have accrued over that time as well.

2. They may not succeed in settling your debt. Once you have saved up enough money to make a lump-sum offer to the creditor, the debt settlement firm will attempt to enter negotiations. What they may not tell you is that some creditors will not work with these firms as a rule. That means it’s possible that after you’ve saved enough money for the payment — meanwhile, allowing your accounts to become severely delinquent and your credit score to tank — you could be left without a resolution at all. To avoid this, call your lender or collections agency directly to ask if they work with debt settlement agencies before you sign up for their services.

3. They’ll take a portion of your debt savings. If the firm is able to successfully negotiate, they will often take a cut of your savings in return. For example, if you owe $10,000 and they are able to negotiate a lump-sum payment of $8,000 with $2,000 of your original debt forgiven, the firm would take a percentage cut of that $2,000.

4. Your credit will tank. It is important to note that debt settlement shows up on your credit report when it is reported to the credit bureaus. It will serve as a red flag to future lenders that in the past, you have not paid your debts in full. This could result in higher interest rates, smaller lines of credit, or even failure to get approved for credit at all.

5. You could face a hefty tax bill. If the amount forgiven is $600 or more, you will most likely have to report it as taxable income. Let’s look back at our earlier example. When that person settled their $10,000 debt for $8,000, the lender effectively forgave $2,000. To the IRS, that forgiven debt could be treated as additional income and you could owe taxes on it.

What to Look for in a Debt Settlement Firm

There are six things you should consider red flags when it comes to debt relief services, according to the FTC:

  • The company charges any fees before it settles your debts
  • The company advertises that they are part of a “new government program” to bail out personal credit card debt. There are no such programs.
  • The company guarantees it can make your unsecured (credit card) debt go away
  • The company tells you to stop communicating with your creditors, but doesn’t explain the serious consequences
  • The company tells you it can stop all debt collection calls and lawsuits
  • The company guarantees that your unsecured debts can be paid off for pennies on the dollar

Almost all states have some form of regulation for debt relief services. Some states ban them altogether.

A debt settlement firm may be licensed to operate in your state, but that does not mean they are necessarily the best for your needs. Because state licensing agencies are not federally regulated, quality standards can vary widely from state to state.

What should you look for, then?

A best-case scenario, according to Pizor, is finding a company that only takes a percentage of your debt reduction in exchange for their services. “This setup helps better align their interests with your own,” Pizor says. If you do well, they do well.

How to Avoid Debt Settlement Scams

Most debt settlement firms focus on unsecured consumer debt, like credit card debt. The most common scams in these situations involve telemarketing. You’ll receive a call from a company posing as a debt settlement firm that promises to reduce the amount of debt you owe as long as you pay an upfront free. They may even tell you that you don’t have to pay a fee until later as long as you’re saving money in a third-party account.

The latter sounds legitimate, but in both these situations, the supposed debt settlement firm can easily run with your money. There was a flurry of these telemarketing scams following the 2008 financial crisis, prompting the FTC to add further federal regulations under their Telemarketing Sales Rules.

If you can’t sit down with someone in person, it’s difficult to judge their legitimacy. In these situations, it’s best to just hang up.

Another tactic scammers perpetrate is using a lawyer as a front. This lawyer may be licensed to practice in your state, but will outsource your debt woes to companies across the country, or even the world, that have no legal background.

In order to avoid this scam, make sure you can sit down with the lawyer face to face in their office. Pizor recommends asking probing questions to get a feel for their legitimacy, including, “Who will be working on my case?”

If the lawyer or a paralegal in their office will be doing the work, that is much more acceptable than someone they cannot immediately supervise in person, or someone without a background in law.

Scams also frequently happen in the student loan sector. You’ll often see settlement firms advertising that there is a “new government program” that could help you settle your student loan debt. This is tricky because there are legitimate government programs that can help those with federal student loans defer payments or even forgive their remaining debt, but you should never have to pay anyone a fee in order to access these programs.

In late 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau prosecuted two companies that were preying on those with student loans.

Try Negotiating Your Own Debt Settlement

As long as you’re aware of the effect it may have on your credit, you can negotiate a settlement on your own. Many creditors have a floor for how much they’ll reduce your debt in favor of a lump-sum payment. This floor applies to debt settlement firms and consumers alike. By entering negotiations without a third party, you can save yourself the fees and potential victimization that you would risk by working with a debt settlement firm.

There are two important things to remember before you settle your debt:

  1. You will likely need to provide a lump sump payment right away. It’s unlikely a debt collector or lender will accept installments. Also, having the ability to make a lump sum payment could give you additional bargaining power.
  2. As we mentioned before: If the debt is settled for a lesser amount, you may be taxed on the portion of the original debt that was forgiven.

Consider Paying Your Debt in Full

Debt settlement leaves a scar on your credit report that will take years to fade. If possible, attempt to negotiate a lower interest rate and/or longer terms that may decrease your monthly payment. Just be aware that a longer term may lower your monthly payments but increase the amount of interest you pay over the course of your loan, even if your interest rate goes down or stays the same. However, you’ll more likely be able to afford your payments and possibly save your credit report.

That being said, some debts may have passed their statute of limitations in the state in which they originated. Once that statute of limitations has been passed, it is no longer possible for the lender or collections agency to sue you for those unpaid debts. Furthermore, they may have already fallen off your credit report. However, if you make any further payments, the clock will restart and the debt will be revitalized. Consult a consumer law attorney or a credit counselor before deciding whether to make a payment on an old debt.

Brynne Conroy
Brynne Conroy |

Brynne Conroy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brynne at brynne@magnifymoney.com

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These Women Paid Off $262,000 Worth of Debt Using Accountability Groups

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Just a few short years ago, Janet Lombardi of Long Island, N.Y., was mired in debt. Her husband of 25 years was recently sent to prison, and she was left to face their $485,000 mortgage and $60,000 of credit card debt alone.

“Once I realized the astounding levels of debt he had accumulated, I resolved to get solvent, and I did,” Lombardi told MagnifyMoney.

Help came from an unexpected source: an accountability group. Lombardi joined a support group for people struggling with debt called Debtors Anonymous (DA), an offshoot of the well-known support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Using a process similar to the 12-step program made famous by AA, the DA process includes making amends to those wronged and becoming aware of compulsive habits and characteristics that can lead to overspending. People can attend meetings at no cost with the options of face-to-face, online, or phone meetings in several languages.

After joining DA, Lombardi made some big strides in her finances: She sold the home she couldn’t afford, negotiated her credit card debt down from $60,000 to $20,000, and paid it all off over the next two years. She says she now lives solely on cash and enjoys the kind of financial stability she’d never experienced before.

Lombardi

“Having a place to openly discuss feelings around money is enormous,” Lombardi says. “And having partners to help you go over your finances and help you with day-to-day management is super helpful.”

If getting out of debt has been difficult for you, joining an accountability group might be a simple way to get the support you need. Whether you are trying to lose weight, overcome addiction, or fix your finances, those who work in a group setting are more likely to reach their goals, research has shown.

Things like stating a goal and having accountability along with action steps make all the difference in reaching that goal.

In this post, we spoke to Lombardi as well as three other women who have paid off a collective $262,000 worth of debt with the help of debt accountability groups.

3 Reasons Accountability Groups Work

The Group Effect

Studies reveal that those who explicitly state a goal or an attempt to solve a problem are 10 times more likely to reach their goal than those who don’t. In a group setting, there’s no negotiating: You’ve got to be up front about your problems along with your resolve to fix them.

Positive Peer Pressure

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist who studies the power of social influence, is noted for observing the effects of positive peer pressure: It helps us make difficult decisions and attempt to one-up our peers (in a good way). In other words, you are more likely to strive toward a goal if you see people similar to you achieving (or going toward) the same goal.

Powerful Problem Solving and Inclusion

Group therapy is common in the world of psychotherapy and can be an effective tool for dealing with the behavioral root of money problems. A group approach to problem solving involves talking, reflection, and listening to people with different backgrounds and viewpoints. Groups can also remove the stigma and loneliness of dealing with a problem like money mismanagement.

Jessica Garbarino, 39, of Wellington, Fla., completed a popular course on money management called Financial Peace University (FPU) in 2010. The class isn’t free, with a fee of $109 to $149 to enroll. FPU was created by debt-free guru, Dave Ramsey. FPU’s course is typically taught at churches, community centers, or schools, but people can also complete the course online. For Garbarino, the group approach of tackling debt helped her pay down $8,000 while in the class and gave her the tools to get rid of another $26,000 worth of debt that same year.

Jessica Garbarino

“It made you feel like you were not alone in your financial journey,” Garbarino says. “We were all able to talk openly and honestly about our current financial situation and encourage each other.”

How to Find a Debt Accountability Group

Debt accountability groups and forums exist all over the internet. Many, like Financial Peace University and Debtors Anonymous, mainly operate as in-person meetings. Some of your favorite financial gurus might have groups you can participate in as well. Look for personal finance authors, bloggers, or experts who discuss money regularly. They may have a debt accountability group or be able to direct you to one they can vouch for. These groups can be offered in a variety of formats: in person, online (Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, webinars, website forums, etc.), or even on group conference calls.

Leslie Walsh, 48, of Sparks, Nev., is a government worker who says she paid off over $28,000 with the help of her accountability group. She found support in an unconventional arena: Facebook. Walsh joined a group started by personal finance blogger Jackie Beck of The Debt Myth. Walsh says she received support and encouragement through the Facebook group, via email, and through a debt repayment app the group’s founder created.

Leslie Walsh
Leslie Walsh

When searching for an accountability group, make sure that it’s is a good fit and that you are comfortable with the way it operates. For example, some groups have rules around confidentiality and want participants to check in regularly. Some groups are more relaxed in terms of updates and accountability. Choose a group approach that works for you and will help you reach your goal of paying off debt.

How to Get the Most Out of an Accountability Group

Rachel Gause, 38, of Richlands, N.C., completed Financial Peace University twice and now teaches the class herself. She believes firmly in the power of a group to fix your finances. After paying off $180,000 in debt as a single mom, she believes coming clean and taking responsibility helps you get the most out of a group setting.

Rachel Gause
Rachel Grause

“[Group members] must acknowledge that they have an issue with managing their personal finances,” says Gause. “People with all types of incomes have issues regardless of race, age, and education level.”

There are many ways to participate and get value out of an accountability group, but the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it.

Here are some tips that should help:

  • Remain committed to check-in times, assignments, and times to share.
  • Be as transparent as you possibly can but avoid sharing personal details like account numbers, passwords, etc. with group members.
  • Have a plan to share with your group, but be realistic (and open) about your progress.
  • Though group advice will be helpful, remember that debt problems can be financial and legal in nature, so engage professional help when necessary.

The evidence is compelling: An accountability group could help you make strides toward eliminating your debt once and for all. But although accountability groups can be good for people who need an extra nudge toward their financial goals, remember to seek professional help when necessary. Done the right way, group accountability could be just the thing you need to make a dent in your debt.

Aja McClanahan
Aja McClanahan |

Aja McClanahan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Aja here

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Credit Cards, Featured, Pay Down My Debt

Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

It’s no secret that financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S. However, this does not mean that you can’t seek financial education from reputable sources. If you have little to no knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your finances, then you may consider credit counseling.

Credit counseling can involve a variety of services including educational materials and real-world application to your finances. Credit counselors can help you to set a budget and advise you on how to manage debt and your money in general.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address the money issues you are facing.

Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.

How Do You Find a Credit Counselor?

Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and the consumer protection agency present in your state to see if there have been any complaints filed.

When looking for a good credit counseling agency, first ask about what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide you.

You do not want to be pushed into a debt management plan simply because that is their top service. And make sure you understand the organization’s fee system, not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.

MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which are a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.

How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?

Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice has said that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has suggested that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.

Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ requires that if the household income is less than 150% of the poverty line, then the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction. While the poverty line varies depending on household size, it ranges from $11,880 for a single person family household to $24,300 for a family of four.

Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant fee reduction or waiver, may also be set forth by your state.

How Long Does Credit Counseling Last?

While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will then follow up to ensure you understand the actions you needed to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary if you see a significant change to your financial situation.

What Do You Accomplish with Credit Counseling?

According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are starting. Second, an analysis of the factors that contributed to the financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. This gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.

What Is the Difference Between Credit Counseling and Debt Management Programs?

A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.

A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which will, in turn, apply it to your debts. The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month as well as negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those things for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.

Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated with the debt management plan and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may have you agree to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.

How Does Credit Counseling Impact Your Credit Score?

Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that fact does not affect your score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling can impact your score. For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit the payment on your behalf late to your creditors, which can damage your credit score. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, it is possible that the credit counseling agency will issue a late payment on your behalf. This is why it is important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.

Who Should Consider Credit Counseling and When?

While credit counseling is sometimes required, like in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling. Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin, based in Boston, Mass., explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”

Anyone struggling with personal finance should consider credit counseling as a viable option so long as they use a reputable credit counseling agency. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities, and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to ‘save’ the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.” If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyway, but it could also help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.

Liz Stapleton
Liz Stapleton |

Liz Stapleton is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Liz here

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Featured

1 in 4 Americans Plan on Racking Up Holiday Debt in 2016, Survey Shows

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

1 in 4 Americans Plan on Racking Up Holiday Debt in 2016, Survey Shows

In a new survey of 1,147 American adults conducted by MagnifyMoney, more than one in four (26%) Americans said they plan to rack up holiday debt during the 2016 holiday season that will linger more than a month. Among the 26% who will rack up debt, 66% expect they will take three months or more to pay off the debt.

Holiday debt can quickly spiral out of control. MagnifyMoney found the average shopper surveyed who added debt during the 2015 holiday season racked up $1,073.

Using a credit card with average APR of 16% and making monthly minimum payments of around $25, it would take that person more than five years (61 months) to get out of debt, according to MagnifyMoney’s Credit Card Payoff Calculator. Over that time, he or she would pay an additional $496 worth of interest charges.

Nearly one-third (32%) of this year’s survey respondents said they incurred holiday debt during the 2015 shopping season. People who took on holiday debt in the past are much more likely to take on debt this year because they can’t afford to pay cash, our survey found, with 74% saying they will incur debt this year. They are also more likely to feel financially stressed.

Among those respondents who incurred credit debt during the holidays in 2015 , the average shopper added $1,073 of holiday debt. And a staggering 74% said they will likely take on more credit debt again this year.

More debt = more financial stress

More than half (59%) of respondents who took on debt over the holidays in 2015 said they accumulated $500 or more of debt. Among people who said they racked up $500 or more in holiday debt in 2015, MagnifyMoney found greater trends of financial stress and a greater likelihood of incurring additional debt in 2016.

 

Check out our full survey findings below or download a fact sheet here.

Magnifymoney Holiday Debt Survey

Contact:

Kellie Pelletier, Public Relations
kpelletier@magnifymoney.com

Mandi Woodruff, Executive Editor
mandi@magnifymoney.com

MagnifyMoney’s Tips on How to Avoid the Holiday Debt Trap:

1. Steer clear of store credit cards

The holidays are prime time for retailers selling store credit cards to customers. Customers are often wooed by promises of upfront discounts on purchases, helping them save on their holiday shopping in the short term. But store credit cards notoriously have some of the highest interest rates on the market — an average APR of 23.84% versus 16.28% for regular credit cards. People with poor credit may be saddled with store cards with interest rates as high as 27%.

Store credit cards can also come with onerous deferred interest fees — they may offer no-interest promotions for a certain amount of time. But if you fail to pay off the entire balance by that date, you can be slapped with the entire interest balance in one lump sum.

If you want to get a discount on your purchases and signing up for a store credit card is the only way to get there, just be sure you have enough cash on hand to pay your bill right away. With most discounts only 10% to 20% off, you’ll actually wind up losing whatever you saved if you get slapped with a 20% or higher interest rate later.

2. Make a budget and stick to it

The downfall of most holiday shoppers is that it is incredibly easy to get swept up into the excitement of shopping. Before you know it, your budget is blown, and it isn’t until after the giddiness of the holidays winds down that you realize the extent of the damage. Avoid the holiday debt hangover by creating a budget early and sticking to it no matter what.

3. Exchange ‘Secret Santa’ gifts with family and friends

Secret Santa is a fun and smart way to drastically reduce your holiday gift-giving budget. Ask your siblings or friends to draw names from a hat rather than buying gifts for everyone individually. You can all agree on a price limit so no one feels like they over- or underspent.

Can’t draw names in person? Try a Secret Santa online tool like Secret Santa Generator or DrawNames.com.

4. Get rid of last year’s holiday debt first

The average shopper racked up $1,073 worth of credit card debt last year, our survey found. If you have credit debt left over from last year’s shopping, don’t pile on more debt and continue to let interest accrue. Consider signing up for a 0% APR credit card and making a balance transfer (check out the best ones of the year right here). You’ll buy yourself additional time to pay off last year’s debt, and you’ll improve your credit score in the process.

5. Start saving for next year’s holiday shopping today

If you felt unprepared for holiday shopping this year, it might be because you didn’t have enough time to save up. Going into next year, open a savings account and label it “Holiday Shopping.” Then estimate how much you’ll need to save — $500? $1,000? Divide that number by 10 and set up a direct deposit from your paycheck into that savings account for that amount. For example, if your goal is to save $1,000, you’d need to contribute at least $100 per month for 10 months to reach that goal.

Why only 10 months? That way you can start shopping a bit earlier than December, giving you plenty of time to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones.

Mandi Woodruff
Mandi Woodruff |

Mandi Woodruff is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mandi at mandi@magnifymoney.com

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