Financial Literacy 2008 - Debt Management
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6-step debt-elimination program

Remember that creditors will apply your payments to the amount with the lowest interest rate first, so to get the most from the transfer, you really need to steer clear of new purchases. Also, be on the lookout for other balance transfer trip-ups.

6. Seek counsel 
If you don't have the time or know-how to get results on your own, turn to a good credit counseling company rather than stalling or feeling frustrated by ineffectual attempts at vague behavioral changes.
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"Once you're in debt and you're in a position where you can't save, it's almost impossible to get out from it," Viale says.

A consultation with a good credit counselor takes an hour or so -- you can even phone in. A credit counselor can get you on a budget or refer you to other options.

Signs that you need help:
  • You're over the limit on any of your accounts.
  • You've missed a payment.
  • After budgeting, you can't pay more than the minimum.
  • You're behind on your debt.

Good credit counseling agencies construct an individualized budget and repayment plan for free. For less than the penalty fees you might already be facing, a credit counseling agency can put you on a debt management program and intervene on your behalf.

Working with a counseling agency may also help you negotiate with creditors, making them more likely to reduce high rates, waive fees going forward and offer other concessions.

"We're the validation tool, and once we've determined that someone needs some help from the creditors, negotiations with the credit card companies are a lot easier," Viale says.

"We can get the consumer out of debt for less than it would cost on their own."

Watch out for bad agencies that charge more but don't do a lot of the intervention work and counseling necessary to construct a good plan. Find a reputable agency through your local Better Business Bureau or state licensing department. The banking department of each state will have a list of all the accredited agencies in that state.

If you're struggling with debt, don't wait too long before asking for help.

"Unfortunately, many consumers come to us too late and we have to recommend they speak with a bankruptcy attorney," Viale says.


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