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Debt relief won’t hurt your credit alone. However, closing your oldest accounts can drastically lower your standing.
Debt relief and debt settlement options don’t hurt your credit score on their own. These programs aim to help reduce your debt and if that debt is revolving credit, it can reduce your credit utilization and improve your credit. However, a debt relief program could accidentally drop your score if it closes your account with the longest payment history.
There are many debt relief options available, so it’s important to consider your unique financial circumstances when choosing a plan. We’ll help you weigh those options and share several resources that can help you learn how to reduce debt over time.
- Credit utilization makes up 30% of your credit score.
- Each debt relief option has its pros and cons.
- Having good credit can help you secure better loans.
How Debt Relief Programs Affect Credit
Your credit utilization rate makes up 30% (roughly one-third) of your overall credit score. When you pay off revolving debt, your credit score often will improve if that is the area most impacting your credit. TIf you’ve nearly reached your credit card’s total credit limit. Keeping your utilization rate below 10% is ideal, but less than 30% is also a strong move.
Below is a breakdown of the five factors that influence credit, according to the FICO® credit scoring model:
- Payment history (35%)
- Credit utilization (30%)
- Age of credit (15%)
- Credit mix (10%)
- New credit (10%)
The type of debt relief program you use can also positively or negatively affect your credit. Debt settlement, for example, utilizes some tactics that generally have a more negative effect than other types of debt relief programs.
Credit.com’s free credit report card tool can help you better understand your current creditworthiness and which factors you need to work on to help you improve your standing.
The Main Approaches to Debt Relief
Once you have a clear picture of your credit history, you can choose one of the six main approaches to debt relief to help you get out of debt. Each option has its advantages and drawbacks as well as a distinct impact on your credit score, both short term and long term.
|Debt Relief Option
|Immediate Credit Impact
|Long-Term Credit Impact
|Debt Snowballs and Avalanches
|Small impact (positive or negative)
|Debt Management Plan (DMP)
|Moderate impact (positive or negative)
|Debt Negotiation or Debt Settlement
Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche
- Immediate credit impact: None
- Long-term credit impact: Reliably positive
The debt snowball is when you pay off your debts one at a time, starting with the ones that have the lowest balance. This eliminates those debts from your credit record quickly.
The debt avalanche is when you pay off your debts one at a time, but you start with those that have the highest balances instead. While it takes longer to clear debt from your credit history, the debt you clear takes a larger chunk out of your overall balance owed.
As long as you stick to the minimum payments needed on all of your other credit accounts while you work to pay down your debt, this method has little immediate impact on your credit report and a reliably positive one in the long term.
- Immediate credit impact: Small (positive or negative)
- Long-Term credit impact: Minimal
Debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards can help you manage your debt by combining multiple lines of credit under one loan or credit card. While this helps by making one payment out of several, it’s not a strategy that directly gets you out of debt. It’s more like a tool to help you get out of debt faster and easier.
Consolidation loans often offer lower interest rates than the original credit lines, enabling you to pay off your debt faster. In addition, having one lower monthly payment makes it easier to avoid late or missed payments.
Balance transfer credit cards let you transfer debt from other cards for a minimal fee. These cards sometimes require that you pay off the balance transfer balance within a certain time frame to avoid incurring interest. If you choose a balance transfer card, choose one with terms favorable to your situation and needs.
A debt consolidation loan adds a new account to your credit report, which can briefly cause your score to drop. On the other hand, adding a loan or credit card to your credit history could improve your credit mix. You’ll need to consider these factors when determining whether a debt consolidation loan is right for you.
- Immediate credit impact: None expected
- Long-term credit impact: None expected
A credit counselor is a professional adviser who helps you manage and repay your debt. Counselors may offer free or low-cost consultations and educational materials. They often lead their clients to enroll in other debt relief programs, such as a debt management plan, which generally require a fee and can affect your credit.
Be sure you fully understand the potential impact of any debt relief program suggested by a credit counselor before you sign up. Ask as many questions as you can, like “Will this debt relief program have high interest rates?”
Counselors can also help you avoid accumulating too much debt. Seeking advice from a counselor about a loan that you’re interested in can save you money in the long run. Learning how to choose a credit counselor who can meet your needs is essential.
Debt Management Plan
- Immediate credit impact: Moderate (positive or negative)
- Long-term credit impact: Minimal
A Debt Management Plan is typically set up by a credit counselor or counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to that agency, and the agency disburses that payment among your creditors. This debt management program can affect your credit in several ways—mostly positively.
While individual lenders may care that a credit counseling agency is repaying your accounts, FICO does not. Since FICO is the leading data analytics company responsible for calculating consumer credit risk, a DMP will not adversely affect your credit. Of course, delinquent payments and high balances will continue to bring your score down, even if you’re working with an agency.
When you agree to a DMP, you have to close your credit cards. This will likely lower your scores, but how much depends on how the rest of your credit report looks. Factors such as whether or not you have other open credit accounts that you pay on time will determine how much closing these lines of credit will hurt your score.
Regardless, the negative effect is temporary. Ultimately, the impact of making consistent on-time payments to your remaining credit accounts will raise your credit scores.
Debt Settlement and Debt Negotiation
- Immediate credit impact: Severe damage
- Long-Term credit impact: Slow recovery
Some creditors may allow you to settle your debt. Negotiating with creditors allows you to pay less than the full balance owed and close the account.
Creditors only do this for consumers with several delinquent payments on their credit report. However, creditors generally charge off debts once they hit the mark of being 180 days past due. Since charged-off debts are turned over to collection agencies, it is important to try to settle an account before it gets charged off.
Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors on your behalf, but their tactics often require you to stop paying your bills entirely, which can have a severe negative impact on your credit. In general, debt settlement is considered a last resort, and many professionals recommend bankruptcy before debt settlement.
- Immediate credit impact: Severe damage
- Long-term credit impact: Slow recovery
Filing for bankruptcy will severely damage your credit and can stay on your credit report for as long as 10 years from the filing date. However, if you are truly in a place of debt from which all other debt relief programs cannot save you, bankruptcy may be the best option.
Moreover, working diligently to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy can help improve your credit scores. Depending upon which type of bankruptcy you file for—Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13—you will pay back different amounts of your debt, and it will take varying timelines before your credit can be restored.
Learning the difference between bankruptcy types can help you choose the right one. A qualified consumer bankruptcy attorney can help you evaluate your options.
Boost Your Personal Finance Knowledge With Credit.com
Whichever method of debt relief you choose, the ultimate goal is always to pay off your debt. That way, you can save and invest for your future goals. For some, taking a hit to their credit temporarily is worth it if it means finally getting their balances to zero.
Credit.com has an extensive library of personal finance resources that can enhance your knowledge and help you determine if a loan or line of credit is right for you. Plus, you’ll find plenty of resources to help with your debt relief goals.