Having trouble paying your bills? Getting past due notices from creditors? Are your accounts being turned over to debt collectors? Are you worried about losing your home or your car?
You’re not alone. Many people face financial crisis at some time in their lives. Whether the crisis is caused by personal or family illness, the loss of a job, or simple overspending, it can seem overwhelming, but often can be overcome. The fact of the matter is that your financial situation doesn’t have to go from bad to worse.
If you or someone you know is in financial hot water, consider these options: realistic budgeting, credit counseling from a reputable organization, debt consolidation, or bankruptcy. How do you know which will work best for you? It depends on your level of debt, your level of discipline, and your prospects for the future.
Developing a Budget: The first step toward taking control of your financial situation is to do a realistic assessment of how much money comes in and how much money you spend. Start by listing your income from all sources. Then, list your “fixed” expenses — those that are the same each month — such as your mortgage payments or your rent, car payments, or insurance premiums. Next, list the expenses that vary, such as entertainment, recreation, or clothing. Writing down all your expenses — even those that seem insignificant — is a helpful way to track your spending patterns, identify the expenses that are necessary, and prioritize the rest. The goal is to make sure you can make ends meet on the basics: housing, food, health care, insurance, and education.
Your public library has information about budgeting and money management techniques. Low cost budget counseling services that can help you analyze your income and expenses and develop budget and spending plans also are available in most communities. Check your Yellow Pages or contact your local bank or consumer protection office for information about them. In addition, many universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities operate nonprofit counseling programs.
Contacting Your Creditors: Contact your creditors immediately if you are having trouble making ends meet. Tell them why it’s difficult for you, and try to work out a modified payment plan that reduces your payments to a more manageable level. Don’t wait until your accounts have been turned over to a debt collector. At that point, the creditors have given up on you.
Dealing with Debt Collectors: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is the federal law that dictates how and when a debt collector may contact you. A debt collector may not call you before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m., or at work if the collector knows that your employer doesn’t approve of the calls. Collectors may not harass you, make false statements, or use unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. Debt collectors must honor a written request from you to cease further contact.