Severe debt and bad credit are a recipe for nightmares. If you have bad credit, it’s hard to climb out of debt. If you have severe debt, it’s hard to establish the good credit you need for solutions that can make dealing with debt a whole lot easier, like debt consolidation loans.
This can make trying to get out of debt with bad credit feel like an endless cycle, but bad credit is more common than you might think. About 30% of credit users have bad credit scores, according to Credit.com. That’s 68 million people.
Surely, they can’t all be doomed to a lifetime of high interest rates and fees? They are not, and neither are you.
No matter how deep you are in debt, you have options for dealing with it. The higher your credit score, the more options you have. To get out of debt with bad credit you need to know what options your credit score affords you. This way you can take the best approach, the one that will save you the most time and money.
What Is a Bad Credit Score?
If knowing the options your credit score affords you is the first step to getting out of debt, you may be wondering: “How bad is my credit score, anyway?”
nAything from 300 to 559 is considered poor. Anything between 560 and 669 is considered fair, and anything above 670 is considered good. The 740 to 799 range is very good, and if your score is above 800, you’re reading the wrong article.
You have multiple types of credit scores. The three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, all keep a score that will vary slightly from one another. However, 90% of lenders are more interested in your FICO score, or scores, rather. You have more than one, depending on who’s asking and how much you’re trying to borrow. In fact, FICO has offered more than 60 separate scores for borrowers since 2011, according to the Consumer Financial Protections Bureau (CFPB).
Lenders often use specific models tailored to their industry to determine your creditworthiness. A lender may use your FICO Auto Score for a car loan or your FICO Bankcard score for a credit card. Slight variations in the scoring models explain why you may be approved for the one and denied for the other.
All that being said, your base FICO score or one of the educational scores from TransUnion, Equifax or Experian can give you a good idea where you stand.
It’s important to understand how your daily purchases and lifestyle affect your credit score. If you improve your credit score from bad to fair or from fair to good, a host of debt relief options open up for you.
The bigger question, ultimately, is How to Get an 800 Credit Score?
Factors that determine your credit score:
- Payment history: Missing payments is the surest way to damage your credit score. Conversely, making payments on time is the best way to improve your credit score. Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. How late the payment is (a week vs. a month vs. a year), the frequency of late payments and how long since your last late payment, are all taken into account. If you have one late payment from four years ago it’ll mean much less to the credit bureaus than one from last month.
- Credit utilization: This counts for 30% of your credit score. The credit bureaus want to know you’re using your credit responsibly. FICO sees a maxed-out credit card as the sign of a rash, sometimes desperate consumer. Keep your usage well below your limits. Spread your purchases across your lines of credit and use no more than 30% (e.g. $300 on a card with a $1,000 credit limit) of the available credit on each line.
- Credit history: Don’t close those old cards! Credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score. Even if you’ve stopped using a card, hold on to it. The longer you’ve had an open line of credit, provided you’ve kept up with the payments, the better it reflects on your score.
- Credit mix: This one is worth 10% of your credit score. FICO looks at your credit cards, auto loan, mortgage, student loans and rewards you for having a diverse financial portfolio. Don’t apply for these all at once. You’ll want to make these acquisitions gradually, otherwise you’ll appear desperate for credit.
- New credit: If you’ve recently opened a new credit card you might have noticed a positive spike in your credit score. New credit accounts for 10% of your score, but the same rules from above apply here as well. Don’t apply for too much credit at once.
Bad Credit Debt Relief Options
Rebuilding a credit score may take months or years. Currently, there are no recommended “get out of debt in a day” hotlines to call for help. However, there are always steps you can take to get out of debt no matter how bad your credit score is.
Here are a few options to consider.
A debt settlement lets you settle your debt for less than what you owe. You can hire a company or lawyer to negotiate with the lender, or you can do it yourself. Some debt settlement companies claim they can settle your debt for 50% less than what you owed, but, of course, they’ll want payment for their services. They’ll usually charge 20%-25% of the amount saved.
When it comes to debt settlement, it is possible to “Do It Yourself.” A DIY debt settlement requires you to take action without the help – or expense – of settlement companies or lawyers. That means doing some of the difficult work that those groups are trained to handle: assessing your debt, identifying your creditors and knowing your rights at each step along the way.
It is important to have a realistic idea of how much you can afford to pay in a settlement. Approach the creditor with an amount of the debt you are able to pay and negotiate from there. Patience may be difficult, because creditors and debt collectors are often aggressive, but maintaining your position may pay off.
A DIY debt settlement is harder than placing the process in the hands of an attorney, but it can save you money. You will need a strong sense of financial awareness and the dedication to see the process through.
Clearly, there are a few drawbacks to debt settlement, otherwise, why pay debts in full in the first place?
First off, it can take two to three years to settle the debt. Debt settlement companies will tell you to stop making payments on credit cards while they negotiate, but that doesn’t stop interest and late fees from piling up.
Also, lenders and collection agencies are not required to accept your offer. If they do accept your offer, they’ll report back to the credit bureaus that you paid less than what was owed and you’ll have a negative mark on your credit report for seven years.
Let’s not forget about Uncle Sam, either. The IRS counts forgiven debt as income. So, if you settle a $20,000 debt for $10,000, you’ll still owe the IRS taxes for that $10,000 you got out of paying.
A debt consolidation loan is a loan you use to pay off credit card debts. It lets you streamline multiple debts into one convenient monthly payment. If you can get a debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate than what you’re paying on high-interest debt like credit cards , you will save a lot of money.
If you have good credit, you can get a debt consolidation loan at around 7% APR, but if you’ve read this far, your credit probably ranges in the “fair” to “not-so-fair” range, which means paying interest rates in the 15%-20% range.
The lower your credit score is, the less a debt consolidation loan will make sense for you as a way out of the hole. Lenders will either be unwilling to give you yet another loan, or they’ll offer you one with crippling interest rates attached.
If the interest rates are so high that they rival or exceed the rates of your current credit card debt than it’s time to look at an option other than a bad credit debt consolidation loan.
» Learn More: Personal Loans for Bad Credit
Debt Management Programs
Most options for getting out of debt seem to cater to people with good credit or little debt. Debt management programs offer an avenue for people with really bad debt and not-so-good credit. They are a good place to turn when your financial situation has become either dire or so convoluted, you’re unsure of the next best step.
A debt management program can provide credit card consolidation without the loan. You make one monthly payment to the debt management agency and they, in turn, repay your creditors at an agreed upon amount.
A counselor from a nonprofit credit counseling agency will work out reduced interest rates and monthly payments with your lenders that might also include dropped late fees. The counselor can go over your finances and help create a budget that you can afford and includes room for paying down debt.
At the very least, a debt management program will provide a level of order in what may otherwise be an uncomfortable and chaotic situation.
Home Equity Line of Credit
If you own a home, you should look into a home equity line of credit or HELOC. A HELOC is a line of credit that matches up to 80% of the equity in your home.
Interest rates are lower for home equity loans and HELOCs than personal loans, since your home is being put up for collateral. The obvious downside here is if you default on the loan than the lender can foreclose on your home.
Lenders will also take your credit score and payment history into account when deciding on loan terms. So, it may be best to work on raising your credit score for a few months before going forward with this one.
Credit Card Debt Forgiveness Programs
If missing payments and attracting the attention of creditors and debt collectors leads to bad outcomes, then the best outcomes can be reached by acknowledging legitimate debts and addressing them proactively.
With a Credit Card Debt Forgiveness Program, up to 40% to 50% of your credit card debt can be forgiven if you make consistent payments for 36 months. After three years, your debt is magically gone.
OK, not magically. The program is a form of nonprofit debt settlement that consolidates credit card bills into one fixed monthly payment. For the credit card companies, it means collecting a portion of what they are owed rather than paying collection agents and winding up with little or nothing. In exchange, such a plan can leave you debt-free in 36 months.
The problem with this debt-relief option is that there are some strict qualification standards and only a few nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer it and a few credit card companies agreed to participate. Check with a nonprofit credit counseling agency to see if you qualify.
There’s nothing magical about how a debt forgiveness program affects your credit score. Your score will take a hit when the credit rating bureaus see that you have had debt forgiven. But the bureaus will also see that you have taken positive action and reduced your debt obligations to zero at the end of the process.
Filing for bankruptcy is never the advice people want to hear, but depending on your situation, it may be the wisest option.
It should, however, be your last option.
Don’t take filing for bankruptcy lightly. Your credit score after bankruptcy will plummet. Loans will be hard, if not impossible to come by, and the stain of bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years.
Even with these negative aspects considered, bankruptcy can give you a fresh start by allowing you to rebuild your financial portfolio. The whole point of bankruptcy is to give people a second (albeit hard-fought) chance, not to punish them.
» Learn more: How Does Debt Relief Work?
How to Improve Your Credit Score
The best way to improve your credit score is to make all payments on time and keep your credit utilization in check (spend less than 30% of available line of credit). These two factors make up 65% of your credit score.
Applying for new credit and diversifying your portfolio can help, but you can’t go applying for new loans every week or month. There is a balance you must keep in order not to raise eyebrows at the credit bureaus.
Instead, do whatever you can to stay on top of your payments. This often means you’ll have to budget and cut expenses. This may mean eating out less or traveling less for a time. It may mean buying generic over name brand products, but all of it will pay off when you see your credit score going up.
Nonprofit credit counseling agencies are a valuable resource whether you’re trying to get out of a bad debt situation or avoid one in the first place. While they may not be the best option for relief from bad credit debt, credit counselors may help to improve your credit score and overall financial situation.
Nonprofit credit counseling can take the form of financial coaching or of counseling to help you get out of a difficult situation. Such agencies offer sliding pay scales and expertise – counselors have training and access to solutions that may not be readily apparent.
For help finding a nonprofit credit counseling agency, you can check out some of the top-rated credit counselors.
About The Author
Bents Dulcio writes with a humble, field-level view on personal finance. He learned how to cut financial corners while acquiring a B.S. degree in Political Science at Florida State University. Bents has experience with student loans, affordable housing, budgeting to include an auto loan and other personal finance matters that greet all Millennials when they graduate. He has a prodigious appetite for reading, which he helps feed with writing from Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, the “Father of Capitalism.” Bents writing also has been published by JPMorgan Chase, TheSimpleDollar and Interest.com.
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- Berger, R. (2017, January 6) Which Credit Score Do Lenders Actually Use? Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertberger/2017/01/06/which-credit-score-do-lenders-actually-use/#5b35ed8130b1
- NA. (2017, January 3) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU. Retrieved from: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Equifax-consent-order.pdf