3. Need More Help? Good Ways to Get Help Now.

If you still think you need more help or feel like you might have trouble qualifying for a balance-transfer offer, ask for help now. Many people have found themselves in this situation for a wide variety of reasons. What matters now is how to get on the road to recovery.

Signs You May Need Extra Help

  • You're struggling with multiple forms of debt, such as credit cards, home mortgage, auto loan, utilities and/or medical bills.
  • You cannot make the minimum payments on all your credit cards and other bills, or are making late payments.
  • You're using your credit cards to pay other bills, such as utilities.

Strategy 1 — Call Your Lenders Directly

Lenders want to work with their customers. If you're having trouble making your payments, they probably know this and may have already tried to reach out to you to start a conversation about how to work together in a way that works for both the bank and for you.

Here are some ways to start this kind of conversation.

  • Call your issuing bank's customer service line. Tell them why you're calling, that you want to take responsibility for your finances, but you cannot do it under the current terms. Ask to speak to someone who can explore some options with you.
  • Focus on what you can do when you begin a detailed conversation with the right kind of banking representative. When you've initiated the contact, they already know you're having trouble with the current plan and terms. At this point in time, they're most interested in what you can suggest as possible new plans and terms, so be prepared to share some ideas. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference, such as asking to shift your due date to a better time of month if you're frequently struggling to make your payments just before your payday.
  • If your issuing bank tries to contact you — respond, and have this type of conversation. Don't be afraid to talk with the bank, which may be able to make some changes that could make it easier to pay off the debt.

Strategy 2 — Make An Appointment with a Reputable Credit Counseling Agency

If your attempts to negotiate with your lenders have not been successful, then a credit-counseling agency may be helpful. These organizations can review your overall financial and credit situation, discuss your options with you, help you prioritize your bills, and may ultimately negotiate with your creditors to make concessions on the finance charges and late fees and develop a repayment plan that will work for you.

Interview Several Agencies

If you know someone who has used such an agency in the past, ask them for a recommendation. Or, ask friends or relatives who they would consider if they needed budgeting advice. You can also find credit counselors in the Yellow Pages, by contacting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (www.aiccca.org) for a list of members or by using an Internet search engine.

Signs of a Reputable Credit-Counseling Agency

  • Recognized as non-profit by the IRS.
  • Counselors are required to maintain all proper licenses.
  • Provide reviews of customers' income and debts, along with written plan for reducing and eliminating debt.
  • Disperse the proper payments to creditors at proper times, typically twice a month.
  • Provide clients with written statements at certain intervals.
  • Offer various educational programs and other ways to help consumers overcome debt.

BBB Alert

BBB urges caution with any company that makes any of these statements:

  • We can remove your debt
  • Do not communicate with your creditors
  • Pay us and we’ll pay your bills
  • Pay us a percentage of the bills we eliminate
  • We can eliminate negative marks on your credit report
  • Use our system and you’ll avoid bankruptcy

Questions to ask before you make an appointment

  • Is this agency a non-profit organization?
  • Is your agency accredited? By whom?
  • Are your counselors certified? By whom?
  • Are your services confidential?
  • Will I be notified — in advance — of any fees associated with services being offered?
  • Will you develop a plan that's customized to fit my financial circumstances?
  • Will my funds be protected? How?
  • Are budget and credit education opportunities offered?