How to Find All My Debt
When you’re on a mission to clean up your finances, paying off debt can be the biggest challenge.
It’s easy to give up before you even get started since you’ll have to answer tough questions like where to come up with the extra money, which debts to pay or how to find all debt owed.
If you’re not sure how to track down all of your accounts, whether it’s active credit cards or old collection debt, you can follow these steps to help you get started.
Steps for Finding All Your Debts
You’ll need to look in several places to find all your debt, since there’s no one place where every active and closed account is listed. Here’s a list of places to be sure and check:
Check Your Credit Report
The best place to start your search for information about debt is on your credit reports.
Each credit report may contain slightly different information, so it’s important to check all three ⇀ Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion ⇀ but they all contain information going as far back as far as 7-10 years, including:
- Credit cards and loan debt: Credit card and loans, including active and closed mortgages, retail credit cards and student loans. You can also find contact information for each creditor.
- Collection debt: Unpaid bills, including utility and medical bills, which went to in-house or third-party collection agencies.
- Applications: Applications for credit cards and loans that you’ve submitted within the last two years.
There are several websites where you can view summaries of your credit information or pull just one of your credit reports for free, but the only reliable source for all three of your complete credit reports is the federally authorized website AnnualCreditReport.com, and it’s completely free to use.
Check for Letters or Emails from Creditors
Another way to find information about your debt is to check your mailbox or e-mail.
Creditors send monthly statements, whether via your inbox or snail mail, which include your account balances, transaction details, terms (like your interest rate and payment due date) and more.
If you fall behind on a payment, the creditor may send additional letters or emails. Reading these can help you understand how to get current on your payment, inform you of available assistance and tell you who to contact for support.
For accounts that are severely overdue, you may get letters from debt collectors, too. As tempting as it can be to ignore these stressful letters, you should always open them. Failing to respond can leave you vulnerable to serious consequences, including lawsuits and wage garnishment.
Check Your Financial Account Statements
Reading your financial account statements is another way to stay informed about all your debts.
You can find your statements by logging into online profiles for your accounts, or by reading the monthly paper statements that come in the mail.
For federal student loans, you can view a summary of your accounts by logging into the U.S. Department of Education’s website, at StudentAid.gov.
Reviewing your bank statements can also help you find useful information, since you may find debt payments that are being automatically billed to your account.
Contact Your Creditors
Another way to find information about your debts is by contacting creditors directly. If you’re struggling to find the right contact information, look for a phone number on the back of your credit card, or find the contact information in your credit reports (listed under each account name).
While calling a creditor can be an effective way to get information, keep in mind that you should NEVER share your account information to anyone who calls, texts, DMs or emails you. Don’t even confirm your account information or personal details like your date of birth.
Instead, avoid potential scams by hanging up and contacting the creditor yourself, through a verified phone number or web address.
How to Pay Off Debts Once You’ve Identified Them
Now that you’ve tracked down all of your debts, you’ll need to figure out if and how you should go about paying them back. Here are some steps that can help you get organized and save money in the process:
Prioritize Your Debts
When you’re stressed about money, and you’re short on cash, it can feel impossible to decide which debt needs your attention first.
Before sending a payment to a creditor, you’ll need to decide which debt is the most important to your financial and personal security. Try following these guidelines to determine which debts have the highest priority:
- Secured debt: If you fall several months behind on a debt that’s secured by your property, such as your mortgage or your car loan, you could lose the property. But before sending a payment, try calling the creditor to ask for help. If they can’t delay your payment or enroll you in an assistance program, making the payment by the due date should be your first priority.
- Legal liabilities: If you receive a notice stating that a debt collector plans to sue you, it’s crucial that you respond. You’ll need to verify the debt and look into your legal protections before agreeing to send payment (see more on that below). If the debt is legitimately yours, you may need to offer full or partial payment in order to avoid a lawsuit.
- Fees and other consequences: For the remainder of your debts, prioritize them according to the consequences you’ll face for a missed or late payment. Generally, this means prioritizing the debts with the highest interest rates. But you should also keep in mind things like late fees, account closure, and your credit scores since your scores could take a severe hit if you fall behind by 30 days or more.
Create a Budget
Before you send any money to creditors, you’ll need to check your budget and see what you can afford. Yes, paying debt is important, but it’s not the most important expense you have. These necessities should always come first in your budget:
- Medical needs
- Work-related expenses (these may include transportation, WiFi and/or cell service)
After necessities, review each item you spend money on and ask yourself what you can eliminate, even if it’s just temporarily. Consider ways to bring in extra cash too, like a part-time job, renting out a room or selling old workout equipment or jewelry.
Choose a Payoff Method
When it comes to certain types of debt, choosing a payoff method can help you get on track and stay on track.
Experts tend to recommend either the debt avalanche method or the snowball method for paying off credit cards and unsecured loans. With the debt avalanche method, you prioritize accounts with the highest interest rates, which is a way to save money on your debt repayment and eliminate all of your debt faster.
With the debt snowball method, you’ll prioritize the accounts with the smallest balances first, which is a way to eliminate accounts faster and keep yourself motivated to stick to your goal.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to take the following steps:
- List your debts in order of priority.
- Pay as much as possible toward the first debt on your list while maintaining minimum payments on all of the others.
- Once the first debt is eliminated, roll your available cash toward the second account on your list.
- Continue this pattern until all debts are paid off.
What If the Debt Is in Collections?
When it comes to paying collections, you’ll need to follow a different set of guidelines than for paying loans and credit cards. With the exception of preventing a pending lawsuit, there are very few benefits to paying off collection debts. For example, paying off the debt might not improve your credit scores.
If you’re concerned about a debt in collections, take the following steps:
- Ask for verification: If a debt collector contacts you, do not provide any information and do not confirm that the debt is yours. Instead, ask them to send you verification in writing.
- Research the debt: Check your credit reports and personal records to confirm that the debt is legitimate and belongs to you.
- Determine if you have to pay: Look up the statute of limitations in your state and check to see if you’re judgment-proof, due to things like limited or fixed income or a pre-existing wage garnishment.
- Save up for a settlement: If you can afford it, save around 40%-50% of the total balance on the collection account so you can negotiate a settlement with the debt collector.
- Wait. If the collector isn’t reaching out to you and has not notified you of the intent to sue, you may not need to pay the debt. Continue saving for a settlement so that you’re prepared if the collector does take action.
- Contact the debt collector: If you determine that you do need to pay, contact the collector, and negotiate a settlement. Ask for the settlement details in writing, and once you receive it, make your payment with a cashier’s check via certified mail.
- Maintain your records: Keep records of the transaction so you can dispute incorrect or outdated debt collection information that may appear on your credit reports.
Speak to a Credit Counselor About Your Debt
If you’re still not sure how to find out all your debt or how to pay what you owe, don’t fret.
Most of us are in the dark when it comes to strategies for paying off debt. Between a lack of financial education and the stress of owing money, there’s a lot of room for error.
The good news is that you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Instead, you can reach out to a certified, nonprofit credit counseling agency for free or low-cost guidance. Not only can a credit counselor help you find all of your debt, but they can walk you through some options you might not have considered, ranging from enrolling in a debt management program to filing bankruptcy.
About The Author
Sarah Brady is a Personal Finance Writer and educator who's been helping people improve their financial wellness since 2013. Sarah writes for Experian, Investopedia and more, and she's been syndicated by Yahoo! News and MSN. She is a workshop facilitator and former consultant for the City of San Francisco's Affordable Home Buyer Programs, as well as a former Certified Housing & Credit Counselor (HUD, NFCC). Sarah can be contacted via sarahcbrady.com.
- N.A. (ND) Debt Collectors. Retrieved from https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/debt-collectors
- Ulzheimer, J. (2020, February 2) Can Paying off Collections Raise Your Credit Score? retreived from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/can-paying-off-collections-raise-your-credit-score/