Consolidating debt with a

Debt consolidation is a third-party payment system. Agencies range in quality so make sure you shop around. Most debt consolidation plans are structured the same way. They ensure member agencies pass rigorous standards set forth by the Council on Accreditation or another approved third party, and that their counselors pass a comprehensive certification program. Financial institutions don't give preferential treatment to any one organization, nonprofit or otherwise.

However, if you just happen to have accounts with creditors that don't offer any concessions, that benefit is reduced. Look for a nonprofit credit counseling organization that belongs to either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

Plug the numbers into a good debt repayment calculator to know how long it will take to become debt free.

Pay more to the accounts with the highest interest rate, and when one is paid off, add the payment the next most expensive debt.

Should you go further and refinance the entire loan into a lower interest rate, lowering your monthly payment and extracting money beyond what is needed to pay your debt?

Here are the steps you should take to determine the best financial path to take in this situation.

If you have enough cash left over after subtracting expenses from income, consolidation will be presented along with other options. How do you know if a debt management plan will work in your favor?

When a counselor is knowledgeable and compassionate, these sessions can be enlightening and motivating. If he or she acts bored, judgmental or pushy, request a different counselor. First, the bulk of your balances should be in unsecured debts, such as credit and charge cards, personal loans and, sometimes, collection accounts.

You can stop the plan at any time, and you can also pay more -- and get out of debt faster -- when you have extra funds. You wouldn't, which is the reason consolidation begins with a counseling appointment where your entire financial situation is assessed.

Many clients get a rude awakening when they think they're all paid off, only to find they still are in the hole for thousands. This can be a mighty difficult adjustment if you're used to whipping out the plastic on a daily basis. After all, if you are still charging while repaying, you're spinning your wheels.

In case of emergency, you're allowed to leave one card, which is typically a general purpose account with a low or no balance that you can use anywhere. A debt management plan is not bankruptcy, but lenders may perceived it negatively.

Consolidation is not right for everyone, make a decision that's right for you. Your payments will remain the same until all the creditors are paid off. You must keep up with your monthly statements and forward them to the consolidation agency. You can't use your credit card until you're done with the debt management plan. A debt management plan is not bankruptcy, but it will appear negatively on your credit report. Here's what you need to know about consolidating accounts through a debt management plan with an agency. Instead, they have preset arrangements with most financial institutions, many of which lower interest rates and fees, so more of your payment goes toward the balance rather than finance charges. With something as precious as your finances, be exceedingly careful about who you work with.

Their debt management plans can help you get back on track -- but they can also be unnecessary and even detrimental when done through a poorly run organization or for the wrong reasons. These agencies do not make loans, nor do they settle debts.

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If most of your liabilities include other types (tax debt, unpaid child support or old parking tickets, for instance), these plans won't help.

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