The COVID-19 pandemic has had dire economic consequences for many people, and there have been protections put in place to help people survive this difficult time. Those aren’t going to last forever, though, and you may be looking at your financial situation and wondering just how you’re going to manage. If you feel overwhelmed with debt, it’s important to think things through now and have a plan in place while you still have a number of options. There are basically three different approaches you can take: debt consolidation, debt management, and bankruptcy. This post explores each of them.
Debt consolidation is just what it sounds like: you gather all your debts into one place so that you’re making one payment a month. There are several ways to consolidate your debt. If most of your debt is unsecured credit card debt, you can take out another credit card that offers 0% interest for a period of time (often 12 to 18 months) and then transfer your other credit card debt onto that new card. You then have that given time to pay down the principal. This method only works if all or most of your debt is credit card debt. If you have other sources of debt, you may need to take out a consolidation loan. These loans are financed by banks, and the main concern here is that you trade your unsecured debt for secured debt, as most will require collateral. Even if your consolidation loan doesn’t require specific collateral, it may well have a cross-collateralization clause. That means that if you get a consolidation loan from the same bank that financed your auto loan, and you fall behind on your consolidation loan payments, the bank can repossess your car. So debt consolidation can certainly work, though it has some important limitations, and poses some significant risks.
There are a number of debt management companies that will act on your behalf to manage your financial situation. The debt management company negotiates with the credit card companies on your behalf, and establishes a repayment plan for you. It’s important for you to know that agreeing to a debt management plan comes with a number of hidden costs – monetary and otherwise. You will be expected to pay an enrollment fee as well as a monthly fee for each credit card on the plan. Also, most credit card companies will require that an account entering into a debt management plan be closed, so you lose your access to credit. And the fact that you’re engaged in a debt management plan will be noted on your credit report. Most debt management plans run for three to five years, and at least half of clients do not successfully complete the plan.
Individuals usually file either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is known as “liquidation” bankruptcy, and in order to qualify for it, you must not make more than your state’s median household income. In Wisconsin, that amount is $67,355 (as of 2019, the latest available figures). Although the word liquidation sounds threatening, the truth is that there are exemptions and you will almost certainly keep your home (if you have a mortgage) and your car. If you have a second home or other luxury item, those may be sold to pay your debt. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is quick, usually taking three to four months, and it eliminates all your unsecured debt. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as “wage-earner’s” bankruptcy. It functions a lot like the debt management plan; a trustee appointed by the court drafts a plan, you and your creditors agree to it, and then the trustee administers the plan. It lasts between 3 and 5 years. There is no means test like Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but there is a cap on how much you owe. To be eligible to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must have less than $419,275 in unsecured debt, like credit cards or medical bills, and you also can have no more than $1,257,850 in secured debts, which includes mortgages and car loans.
If you’re overwhelmed by debt and considering your financial future, you have options. Contact the experts at Burr Law to talk through your specific situation, and have them help you chart the best course forward.