Frequently Asked Questions

Every year, American Financial Solutions receives calls from thousands of people with questions about how to change their financial lives for the better. Working with people on credit problems, budgeting, spending and savings, and comparing debt management as a better alternative to debt consolidation, we most often hear the following questions:

Don't see your question here? Ask a Counselor! Submit your question using the form on your right and a certified credit counselor will provide a personalized response within two business days.

What is a bankruptcy and how does it work?

The primary purpose of bankruptcy is to give a person who is unable to repay their debts a chance to start over financially. There are two (main) types of individual bankruptcy.

Anyone considering bankruptcy is required by law to receive pre-bankruptcy credit counseling, which is offered by American Financial Solutions.  Learn more about our bankruptcy counseling service.

What is a settlement and how does it work?

In a settlement, the creditor agrees to accept partial repayment of the debt you owe them and stop further collection efforts. Unfortunately, if the amount you did not pay is over $600, the creditor must report the amount to the IRS or the creditor may sell the remaining portion to another collection agency. Amounts reported to the IRS may increase your tax liability and amounts sold to another collection agency may do further damage to your credit report.

If you are going to agree to a creditor settlement, make sure you request that the creditor mark the accounts as “paid in full” on your credit report and that the residual on the account is not sold or forwarded to another collection agency. Also make sure to have the creditor put the negotiation agreement in writing before making the payment.

What is a debt negotiation company and how does it work?

These companies work with your creditors to try and reach a settlement agreement. The settlement company establishes a payment that you make each month directly to them. The payment goes into a savings account until the balance reaches an amount that the creditor will accept as a settlement.

While you are making payments to the debt settlement company, your creditors are not receiving any money. This means the creditor may send the account to collections (which will result in a negative mark on your credit report) or proceed with legal action. Legal action may result in a court judgment and wage garnishment. In addition, your credit report will be updated with late fees and other derogatory marks.

Before using any debt settlement or debt negotiation company, check them out with the Better Business Bureau.

What is a home equity loan and how does it work?

Refinancing, second mortgages and home equity lines of credit are methods people use to pay off their unsecured debt. A home can be used as collateral for a loan to pay off unsecured (credit card) debt. Repaying the loan may mean lower payments than credit cards because payments are spread out over 10-30 years. This process turns low priority (unsecured) debt into high priority debt and could result in someone losing their home.

This option is best for people who have the ability to stop incurring more unsecured debt and for people with good credit that qualifies them for a loan at a favorable interest rate.

What is a Debt Management Plan and how does it work?

A Debt Management Plan consolidates all of your unsecured accounts into one monthly payment which is then sent to each of your program creditors. All of the accounts on the Debt Management Plan are closed or inactivated and a Debt Management Plan may impact your ability to open new types of credit while you're on the program.

Because a Debt Management Plan provides you the opportunity to repay your unsecured debts without taking on additional debt, many creditors are willing to provide benefits to help you pay off the debt and get back on track. Those benefits may include stopping late fees and/or over-the-limit fees, reducing or eliminating high interest rates and stopping collection calls or court proceedings.

Debt Management Plans typically last three to five years and can help you reestablish a consistent payment history.

What is a consolidation loan and how does it work?

Consolidation loans typically benefit people who have the ability to stop incurring more unsecured debt and want the convenience of one monthly payment. Unsecured consolidation loans typically have higher interest rates because there is nothing the creditor can take if the person fails to pay the loan as agreed.

Most banks prefer to lend secured consolidation loans. Qualifying for an unsecured consolidation loan, at an interest rate better than the current creditors, may be difficult unless you have good or excellent credit. Qualifying for an unsecured bank loan will also be difficult if you have any late, collections, or derogatory information on your credit report.

Finance companies may provide unsecured consolidation loans to people with less than perfect credit but it will come at the cost of a higher interest rate. Higher interest rates equal higher payments which may make a loan a poor choice for getting out of debt.

I let my mother have 2 credit cards in my name about 5 years ago. She completely messed up my credit. I know that it is my name on the cards and I am responsible but I don't have the money to pay them. What can I do?

Unfortunately, you are liable for the debt your mother accrued since you allowed her to use your credit cards. Unless you can come to an agreement with her to pay these back, you will have to make payment arrangements.

We encourage you to call and speak to one of our counselors who may be able to assist you with this. They will take a close look at your budget and try to work out a way for you to set up payments. If you simply ignore the problem, you run the risk of the creditors taking you to court, which could result in a judgment against you and garnishment of your pay.

How can you re-establish/establish credit if no one will give you a credit card?

A secured credit card is ideal for those re-establishing credit. To get a Visa Secured card, you'll need to deposit money in a savings account or certificate of deposit (CD) in your name. Your money will earn interest, but it must remain in the account to serve as security for the card. This type of card is accepted for purchases everywhere that Visa credit cards are welcome, up to your deposited amount. You should contact your bank or credit union and find out if they issue secured credit cards. You can also apply for a secured card on line at www.usa.visa.com. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the account carefully as these cards sometimes charge unexpected fees.

What's the difference between a non-profit credit counseling agency and a for-profit agency?

As more and more Americans have slipped into financial difficulty, many companies have emerged to provide solutions. Unfortunately, many have also emerged to profit off of others' misfortunes. Working with a non-profit credit counseling agency assures you of two things. First, non-profit credit counseling agencies are now regulated closely by the Internal Revenue Service. This government oversight affects all aspects of how the agency works with clients and assures you a high level of integrity and competence. Second, non-profit credit counseling agencies provide most of their services for free. This makes them a tremendous resource for most clients who pay nothing for their help. To verify that a non-profit credit counseling agency is reputable and trustworthy, check for their membership in the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies http://www.aiccca.org or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling http://www.nfcc.org and contact the Better Business Bureau.

I have a credit card account from 2001 on my credit report. I thought things can only stay on for seven years?

Most negative items can stay on your credit report for seven years from the date of the last activity on the account. Bankruptcies or judgments can remain on the report for 10 years. If your credit card account was a positive item (you paid on time and closed the account with a zero balance), it can remain on your report indefinitely.

If the item is negative and it is still on your report, it may be that you have made a payment on the account, told the collection agency that you do still owe the money, or it is a mistake. There are things you can do to extend the seven years something remains on your credit report. Making payments and, in some cases discussing the debt with the collector, can extend that time.

If it is a mistake, dispute the error through the credit reporting agency that provided you with the report.

I heard that part of my credit score is how much of my credit limit is open. Since my card is maxed out right now, should I ask the bank to raise my limit?

Your credit card limit can be raised in two ways. First, if you make on time, steady payments and have excellent credit, the issuing bank may raise your credit limit without you even asking. The other option is for you to ask for a credit limit increase. The bank will look at your payment history, how much you owe, how long you have had the card, and your overall credit situation. A maxed out credit card is usually an indicator of credit problems and the bank may turn you down.

This is a situation where talking to a certified credit counselor can help you develop a plan to reduce the amount of debt you owe and work towards improving your credit.