Are you in debt and worried? You're not alone. Millennials ages 21 to 34 owe $1.1 trillion of the $3.6 trillion owed by U.S. consumers, and 52% of people worried they'll default during the next year are in this age group, UBS research revealed.
1. Find hidden money in your budget
The only way to get out of debt without hurting your credit is to pay it off. To get your debt paid down, take a careful look at ways to put more money toward debt repayment.
You'd be surprised at how much extra money you can scrape up. For example, raising insurance deductibles to lower your monthly premiums can free up literally hundreds of dollars a month. You can also save on groceries and other household items by using coupons: Just print online coupons or order ones that are cut from the Sunday paper for you and match them up with sale ads for the best deals. Lastly, use apps that negotiate lower bills on your behalf by analyzing your spending and contacting companies for you.
2. Negotiate your payment plan
Creditors are a lot more flexible than you probably realize. Some of the many things they are willing to do for you include lowering monthly payments, waiving late fees and even deferring a payment or two, Entrepreneur noted.
Be smart about your approach when you call to negotiate. "Avoid being rude or obnoxious — collectors can outclass anyone in those categories," debt settlement and bankruptcy lawyer Robertson B. Cohen told Mic by phone. Also avoid "threatening bankruptcy — they hear it all the time — or taking a woe is me attitude." Instead, treat the call like a business transaction, Cohen advised.
Start by asking, "Do you have the power to change my interest rate or terms," Lynnette Khalfani Cox, author of Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom told CreditCards.com. Next, propose a plan, like "I can't pay the $150 minimum, but can pay $100."
3. Put burden of proof on the collector — then check the statute of limitations
Creditors sell delinquent debt to outside collectors. Outsiders often don't know much about accounts they're collecting on, Magnify Money explained. This benefits you, because collectors must prove you owe. "In dealing with collectors, you should begin by questioning whether the debt is legitimate and accurate. You can also ask who owns the debt and how they obtained the right to collect it," Magnify Money advised.
Challenge the right to collect within 30 days of first contact. No further collection efforts are permitted until you're sent written verification. A collector who cannot prove you owe cannot collect — and you can sue if they try.
Also, find out how old debt is. If the state statute of limitations has expired, creditors legally cannot collect. The time limit is usually three to six years, but varies by state. If the statute expired, pay nothing because partial payments restart the clock.
4. Get a discount on your debt
Collectors often settle debt for a fraction of what's owed because they buy debt cheaply and are profitable if they collect 16% to 24% of the total amount owed, according to Magnify Money. "You can negotiate with the original creditor, but it’s usually easier once the debt goes to collections," Cohen said.
Unfortunately, many people don't try to settle. "Only a small number of consumers who we contact choose to engage with us," Encore Capital Group, the nation’s largest debt buyer, explained to Magnify Money.
5. Get outside help to reach a settlement
Not paying your debt could lead to creditors taking aggressive steps to collect. Collectors may eventually win the legal right to require your employer to automatically take money from your paycheck before you ever see it. Known as wage garnishment, this is when part of your paycheck is sent directly to the debt collector.
If you're seriously delinquent, get help from a non-profit credit counselor — Justice.gov has a list — or a debt settlement lawyer. Whatever you do, be proactive before the situation escalates.
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