If getting out of debt and staying out of debt were easy, everyone would do it. With over $3.5 trillion in consumer debt outstanding, that's clearly not the case. Here are some answers to readers' most common questions about dealing with debt.
Should I borrow from my 401(k) or IRA to pay off debt?
By jumping ahead directly to solutions, you might end up solving the symptom but never addressing the cause of your problem. My advice is to fix today's problems with today's resources and look forward to a better life tomorrow. Read more
My ex-spouse was assigned certain debts in our divorce, but is not paying and is ruining my credit. What can I do?
If you are a joint owner on the account, the creditor is within its legal rights to try to collect the debt from you, and the charge-off for this debt will stay on your credit report. Ask your attorney about having the court hold your ex in contempt for not executing his divorce decree. Read more
Worried that your debt is hurting your credit? Check your credit score for free at myBankrate.
Are my Social Security benefits protected from bank levy or garnishment?
The U.S. Department of the Treasury requires banks to protect federal benefits from being garnished. However, in order for the federal benefits to qualify for protection, they must be directly deposited into the bank account, and the protected amount is restricted to the total of the previous 2 months of benefits deposited immediately preceding the garnishment order. Read more
Will my fiancee's creditors come after me for her bills after we are married?
Any debts that were incurred before the marriage remain the sole responsibility of the owner of the debt after the marriage. However, should your new bride's creditors sue in court to collect and receive a judgment, it could be used to garnish a joint bank account that you share with her. Read more
I co-signed a car loan for my relative, and he has stopped paying on the loan. How do I protect my credit?
If you are worried about preserving your credit, and even if you're not, you may need to make payments on the auto loan. Because you are the co-signer, the lender has any and all collection remedies to pursue to get you to pay, just as if the car were yours. Read more
Why is my debt that is past the statute of limitations still being reported on my credit report?
The statute of limitations on debt varies by type of debt and by state. It has nothing to do with credit reporting. Read more
I have several payday loans that I cannot pay. What happens if I don't pay?
If your debt is with a lender who is a member of the Community Financial Services Association of America, a group of payday lenders who subscribe to a code of conduct, you can ask for an extended payment plan. My advice to break the payday loan cycle is to determine if you can borrow the total amount you need to pay the lenders from another source. Read more
I have an offer to settle my credit card debt for less than half of what I owe. Will it help my credit to settle?
Once an account is significantly past due, the real damage is already done. Paying off or settling your debts are just different flavors of frosting on your debt-filled cupcake! Read more
Thinking of consolidating your debts? Check out the personal loan rates at Bankrate.com.
I was laid off my job and my unemployment benefits have ended. I can no longer pay my bills. What do I do?
While you await an email from your next employer, I want you to conserve as much of your available cash as you can and rely on credit for living expenses. If the worst happens and you end up with your unemployment benefits as your sole source of income and no savings, you will need to prioritize your debts. Read more
I am a college graduate and have not been able to find a job. I have settled for a low-paying job, and I can't afford to pay my student loans. Can I file bankruptcy?
Student loans do not have a statute of limitations. Partial or full discharge or forgiveness of student loans is possible, but the court will have to be convinced that not only your present income, but also your income for a long time to come, will prevent you from paying back the loan. Read more
When you begin researching student loan rates, first look at Bankrate.com.
Ask the adviser
To ask a question of the Debt Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page and select "Debt" as the topic. Read more Debt Adviser columns and more stories about debt management.