Alternatives to Filing for Bankruptcy[yoast-breadcrumb]
Alternatives to Filing for Bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy can seem like the only option when you’re drowning in debt. But it can also do deep, lasting harm to your credit history for up to 10 years or more. Before taking that drastic step, it’s worth exploring some alternatives that could help you get out from under your debts without destroying your credit.
This article will walk through some of the main options to consider before resorting to bankruptcy. I’ll also talk about the pros and cons of each approach, so you can decide if any might be a good fit for your situation.
Work with a Credit Counselor
One of the best first steps is to consult a non-profit credit counseling agency. They can help you evaluate your total debt burden and monthly expenses to create a personalized debt management plan.
The counselor may be able to get your interest rates reduced and have late fees waived. They’ll help you consolidate multiple payments into one monthly payment that better fits your budget. Many people find counseling helps them finally get out of debt without needing bankruptcy.
The downsides are that you may still need to cut expenses dramatically to make the plan work. Late or missed payments could also result in penalties and a damaged credit score. But it’s worth exploring this option early on.
Debt Consolidation Loan
If you have decent credit, you may qualify for a debt consolidation loan from a bank, credit union or online lender. This type of loan rolls all your balances into one account with a fixed monthly payment.
The key benefit is getting a much lower interest rate, which saves you money each month. You also simplify your finances with just one payment to make instead of many.
Just be sure to close the old accounts you consolidate so you don’t run up the balances again. A debt consolidation loan works best for those with good credit and steady income to qualify and repay the loan.
Debt settlement involves working with a for-profit settlement company to negotiate down your balances. They contact creditors and try to get them to agree to settle for a portion of what you owe – usually 30-60%.
This can wipe out balances quickly when it works. But there are risks, like owing taxes on the forgiven debt. Debt settlement also won’t stop collection calls or lawsuits in the meantime. So it’s not a quick fix, and results aren’t guaranteed.
Use Home Equity
If you have substantial equity built up in your home, tapping into it with a home equity loan or line of credit can provide funds to pay off high-interest debt.
The advantage is getting a much lower interest rate to reduce your monthly payments. The risk is putting your home on the line – if you default, you could lose it. So only consider this option if you’re very confident you can make the payments.
Liquidating assets is a last resort, but can generate funds to pay off debts if you have investments, a second car, valuable jewelry or collectibles. The downside is losing assets you’d rather keep.
But if the choice is between that and bankruptcy, it may be worth it. You’ll at least get value from assets that would be seized anyway if you filed for bankruptcy.
Negotiate with Creditors
If you have non-mortgage debt like credit cards, medical bills or personal loans, you may be able to negotiate your own settlement. Contact each creditor and explain you’re facing financial hardship.
Many may be willing to agree to settle for a portion of the balance, waive fees, reduce interest rates or create a payment plan. It takes time and effort, but can work if you have a reasonable offer.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is sometimes called “reorganization” instead of “liquidation.” You get to keep assets like your home and car while repaying a portion of debt over 3-5 years.
This can stop foreclosure and collection calls while also discharging some debts. But you must have regular income to fund the repayment plan. It also stays on your credit for 7 years.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidates your assets to pay back creditors, except those exempt like your homestead. Remaining dischargeable debts like credit cards and medical bills are erased.
The pros are quickly resolving debts and stopping collections. The cons are losing non-exempt property and damaging your credit for 10 years. Chapter 7 should be a last resort if alternatives like the above don’t resolve your situation.
The Bottom Line
Bankruptcy shouldn’t be the first option you turn to when facing unmanageable debts. In many cases, one of the alternatives covered here can help you reduce or eliminate debts without destroying your credit for so long.
The key is acting sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until your debts spiral out of control. Seek help from a credit counseling agency or bankruptcy attorney to go over your options. There are ways to get out from under debt without bankruptcy if you take action in time.
With some effort and sacrifice, you can get your finances back on track while protecting your credit and assets. Weigh all your options carefully before deciding if bankruptcy is truly the only way out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.