Debt Collection

My husband and I have several bills that have been turned over to collection [agencies]. We don’t have the extra funds to pay off these bills. Several of the collection agencies have called with settlement amounts. If we settle, would that harm our credit further? What advice can you give?
–Via the Internet

If you settle the debt, it can be viewed negatively on your credit profile, says Lydia Sermons-Ward of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org; 301-589-5600). Before you do anything, seek help. The NFCC offers free and affordable financial advice to consumers. For your situation, the NFCC might suggest a debt management plan, which takes your monthly bills and consolidates them into one payment for a monthly fee of $14, with a $23 startup fee. According to a member activity report by the NFCC, the average debt management client is 35 years old, and 95% of his or her income is debt. Therefore, this plan may be a viable option.

If negotiating with the lender yourself, remember to (1) keep good records of whom you spoke with and when, as well as the terms of the agreement; (2) don’t make repayment promises you can’t keep such as making a lump sum payment within a week; (3) stay calm by listening to the collection specialist to find a solution that’s mutually beneficial to both parties; and (4) and don’t create any new debt while in repayment status on old debts.

For more information, contact the Association for Credit and Collection Professionals (www .acainternational.org; 952-926-6547) and read The Fix Your Credit Workbook: A Step by Step Guide to a Lifetime of Great Credit by Todd Bierman (St. Martin’s Press; $12.95).

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