Consumer debt is at an all-time high, and record numbers of Americans are filing for bankruptcy, according to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consumer alert. “In your effort to get solvent, be on the alert for advertisements that offer seemingly quick fixes,” says the alert. “While the ads pitch the promise of debt relief, they rarely say relief may be spelled b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t-c-y.”
Though bankruptcy is a legitimate option for dealing with financial hardships, it should generally be an option of last resort, as it has long-term negative impact on your credit rating. A bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years and can hinder your ability to get credit, a job, insurance or a place to live. Some advertising lines to be wary of, according to the FTC:
“Consolidate your bills into one monthly payment without borrowing.”
“Stop credit harassment, foreclosures, repossessions, tax levies and garnishments. Keep your property.”
“Wipe out your debts! Consolidate your bills! How? By using the protection and assistance provided by federal law. For once, let the law work for you!”
Such phrases often involve bankruptcy proceedings, which not only hurt your credit, but can also cost you attorneys’ fees. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, the FTC recommends you consider the following options before filing for bankruptcy:
• Talk to your creditors. They may be willing to work out a modified payment plan.
• Contact a credit counseling service. These organizations work with you and your creditors to develop debt repayment plans. You deposit money each month with the counseling service and the service pays your creditors. Some nonprofit agencies charge little or nothing for their services.
• Carefully consider a second mortgage or home equity line of credit. While these loans may allow you to consolidate your debt, they also require your home as collateral.