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1. Create a budget. Calculate your total income and your total expenditures. The best way to figure your expenses is to track your spending habits for t least 30 days. Find out how much money is going to leisure activities such as going out to eat or the movies. Then figure out how much money you can set aside each month to bring down your debt.
2. Be aware of what is in your credit report. By federal law, you can get one copy of your credit report from each credit agency, (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union), each year. You can get all three at once, or spread them out through the year. Thoroughly review your credit reports for accuracy. It's tough enough paying for your own mistakes -- you don't need to be penalized for someone else's. Look for: late or missed payments, (especially recent ones), and maxed-out credit lines.
3. Contact your creditors. Preferably not after months of harassing calls, but as soon as you realize you won't be able to make the requested payments. Most creditors are not as cut-throat as you think, and they will work with you to schedule smaller payments that fit your budget. After all, they'd much rather receive $20 payments for the next year than risk getting nothing in bankruptcy court. Tell them you've worked out a budget and can afford to pay them X amount of dollars, and offer to send them a copy of your budget. They are much more likely to accept your offer of lower payments if you can show good faith.
4. Get all agreement in writing. If you are able to negotiate lower payments, interest rates, or balance payoffs, request that they send a letter confirming it. Having it in writing is your defense against changing minds, lost records, new management being more aggressive, or any number of other things. Once you pay off your debt, make sure you get a settlement letter and send a copy of it to the credit bureaus so they can update your credit report.
5. Cut up your cards or else, stop charging. Keep paying at least the minimum on everything. Eventually, you will get them all paid off. Keep one card available for those times when you have to have a credit card.
7. Pay off your debts. Once you have decided how much you can pay against your debts, and negotiated lowered payments, you must allocate that portion of your budget to each creditor. Pay the minimum (or agreed amount) to each and every creditor, every month, on time. Then pay any extra against the lowest outstanding balance. Total debt outstanding constitutes nearly one third of your credit score.
8. Get a secured credit card, if you do not have a traditional one, and need to build up your history. You're unlikely to be turned down because you supply the money up front as a collateral. If you deposit $500 with the bank, you'll have $500 credit limit on your secured card. Beware of the high interest rate and various fees often associated with a secured card. Pay in full, on time, every month to avoid most of those fees.
10. Make all payments on time. Don't arrange a lowered settlement amount you can't pay. It will only reflect badly on your credit. Payment history is the number one factor in your credit score -- over one third of your score.
1. Avoid bankruptcy if at all possible; it shows up on your credit for 10 years. Don't take the easy way out now, you'll pay for it later. It takes a lot more hard work and dedication to rebuild your credit than it does to declare bankruptcy, but you will thank us for it.
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