Divorce or a breakup with a live-in partner can be one of the most vulnerable times in life — including when it comes to your credit score and online identity.
In this post you will learn:
- How to protect your credit during a breakup or divorce
- Why it is so important to monitor your credit during a breakup or divorce
- What to do if you or your children are are the victim of identity theft
- How to rebuild your credit
When Mandi broke up with her longtime partner and the father of her daughter three years ago, she had many stresses: How would she care for her baby daughter? How would she stay on top of bills? What kind of life and future would her family now have?
One thing that didn’t cross her mind at the time was her credit score. But today that is one of her biggest worries.
Do you know your credit score? Check your credit score now for free >>
Need credit repair, fast? For just $9, The Credit People matches you with a personal care assistant, who works to get any errors from your credit report.
A secured credit card can also help repair or build credit quickly. A secured credit card requires you put down a cash deposit, then you charge against that sum. Find a 0% secured credit card now >>
“I was such an idiot, and did not to pay attention to my credit,” says Mandy, 31, a nurse. “My boyfriend had access to all the accounts we shared, my social security number and other important information, and it was so easy for him to rip me off.”
The boyfriend racked up debt on a couple of credit cards that Mandi had let go dormant, financed a new motorcycle and got a new cell phone contract — and on all of these accounts, he failed to make the monthly payments.
Mandi's her FICO credit score dropped from 740 to 500, and when her 12-year-old Mazda needed to be replaced, and she couldn’t get financing to buy a new car. Mandi and her daughter need to find a new apartment in a few months, and she has no idea how she will land on her feet with such low credit.
“Not only did he break my heart, but he messed up my life and our daughter’s life,” Mandi told me. “I am so mad him, but I am also mad at myself for not paying closer attention.”
Unfortunately, it is often too late to learn that significant funds are missing from your shared account, or what you thought was your car, isn’t actually in your name — all during a time when your credit score and personal finances are more important than ever.
Plus, the fact that you are more likely to make financial transactions during this transition — opening a new savings account and a checking account, buying and selling a car or home, or seeking out student and personal loans — means strangers have higher-than-usual access to your personal data.
7 steps to protect your credit and identity in a divorce or breakup
Divorce or breakups are one of the times in a person's life when people are most likely to fall victim to a credit crime. Sometimes the ex, abuses access to accounts and personal information to open new accounts.
Often, divorce or separation coincides with an unusual number of financial transactions, like opening new bank accounts and applying for mortgage, car and personal loans. This can create opportunities for thieves to nab personal information, open accounts in your name, and destroy your credit when they fail to pay those bills.
It is illegal for anyone to steal your identity and use it for any purpose — including getting a loan, access to your tax return, or to create fake social media accounts. This crime is punishable by jail time and fines, which vary by state.
Child identity theft
It is also common for adults — including parents — to steal the identities of children, even young children, and take out loans in their names — especially in divorced families. Your child’s social security number can be used to create fake accounts of all kinds, so when you’re filling out forms for school, camp or the doctor, and they ask for a social security number, make sure to ask if they really need it. If they do, ask what they are doing to keep the information safe. Remember, child identity theft often goes undetected for many years because kids simply don’t check their credit scores, or have reason to keep an eye on credit reports.
Child identity theft can go undiscovered for years. Often the theft only comes to light when the children apply for student loans or their first credit card many years later.
Here is how to protect yourself and your chilren's credit and identity:
1. Know your credit score and numbers
If you don’t already know it, get clear about your credit score and report. Pull your credit history right away.
Understand which accounts are in your name, which are in your partner’s, and how much is owed. You may discover accounts you did not know about.
You may also get a wake-up call about how involved you actually were (or were not) in the family finances.
2. Understand how debt is divided in divorce
Talk to a lawyer or otherwise research how property, assets and debts are divided in a breakup or divorce. You may be legally protected from credit card, medical student and other debt your partner took on — or maybe responsible.
You may choose to file divorce without a lawyer, in an uncontested or DIY divorce with or without the help of an online divorce app like CompleteCase. CompleteCase provides unlimited document creation, online storage, and filing instructions in your state, for a flat rate of $299. Check out CompleteCase now >>
3. Open new accounts in your name
If you don’t already have a checking account and credit card that are in your name, and your name only, go to your local bank branch and do that today.
Deposit paychecks into these accounts, and start charging on the new card — as well as paying it monthly before the due date (set up auto payments to make this easy).
This build credit fast if you have none, or can quickly improve your score if it is low.
4. Get rid of shared accounts
Closeout joint accounts. Also, remove your ex from any of your accounts for which he or she is an authorized user, and ask your name be removed from their accounts if you are an authorized user there.
If both your names are on a checking or savings account, then both of you can take out all the money.
Likewise, if you share a credit card, line of credit (like a home equity loan) or personal loan, your partner can max out the debt without your approval, and you could be legally responsible for it.
Also, if your partner promises to make timely payments, but does not, that could affect your credit score as well.
A secured credit card is a good way to get a credit card if you have a low credit score, or no credit history. A secured credit card requires you put down a cash deposit, then you can charge against that sum. Find a 0% secured credit card now >>
5. Contact your lenders
For accounts on which both you and your partners’ name appear, officially notify lenders, banks and credit cards of your divorce.
Send a certified letter with a copy of the divorce decree, ask that they provide a current account statement and tell them that you do not intend to be held liable for any debt accumulated after the date of the letter.
Request the account be put on inactive status so no new additional charges may be added, and that once the balance is paid in full, the account is to be closed completely.
6. Stay diligent about your finances
One of the most common-sense — and also tedious ways — to protect your credit — is to stay on top of all finances like a hawk.
Regardless of what your soon-to-be ex-promises, or what a separation or divorce decree requires, take responsibility for paying bills on time each month. Your credit score will be affected if they are not, and that will cost you.
Get all statements sent directly to you each month. Open them all. Set up automatic payments. Create a budget that you can stick to, easily.
Create a financial plan for both the short- and long-terms. While you may need to repay debt and build a savings cushion now, set your sights on big goals, too. This can include starting a business, going back to school, buying a house or condo, and investing for retirement.
Ellevest is an roboadvisor investment platform specifically built by women, and to help women grow their money. Ellevest's free financial planning tool will help you understand what it will take to reach your goals, and create steps for you to follow to get there. Set up an Ellevest account now >>
7. Manage your breakup emotions
Be practical. During a big breakup or divorce, you’re likely be experiencing a lot of emotions.
It can be easy to focus on your anger or sadness for your ex. Those are real feelings and you should work through them.
Therapy can be a great option. If time and money are a challenge, consider online therapy apps and sites. Sites like BetterHelp allow you to choose from thousands of licensed and certified counselors, who provide therapy via phone, text, email or video (your choice) for fees starting at $49 per week, unlimited. This is a great time-saver, since you don't have to drive to appointments. Check out BetterHelp online counseling now >>
Remember that pillow talk is not enforceable in court, and trying to get him to uphold responsibilities he does not want to embrace is wasted energy.
Focus on what you can control, and keep your eyes on building a career, finances, and life of your own — the most beautiful opportunity divorce affords you. In short: It is up to you to protect your credit.
I know first-hand that going through a divorce can make you feel vulnerable in nearly every facet of your life, but financial vulnerability can be managed with some diligence.
What happens if you are indeed the victim of identity theft and fraud during a divorce or breakup? What if your child is the victim of identity theft?
Why is so important to make your credit score priority if you’re going to divorce?
Divorce is usually very stressful, and even if you are glad to be splitting up, there are a lot of details they have to be taken care of. This means that it’s easy for bills to slip through the cracks. One late payment can cause an otherwise excellent credit score to drop by 50, 75 points or more. So it is important to try to make sure that bills are paid on time.
In addition, after divorce you will often need good credit to rent or buy a new place to live or get utility services without a deposit. You may decide to hunt for a better paying job or start a small business, both of which may involve credit checks. And let's face it: if your credit does take a nosedive, it's not going to be fun having the reminder of that time in your life coming back to haunt you haunt you several years later when you’re filling out applications for credit.
Related: How to repair your credit
Credit scores are one of the most critical finances pieces of recovering financially from a divorce. Credit scores are also one of the most overlooked pieces of post-divorce, as I've found by communicating with thousands of my dear blog readers.
How big of a problem is your credit scores in divorce?
Repair your credit after divorce or theft
If errors, late payments, identity theft, charge offs, repossessions, bankruptcies and other dings on your credit score can limit your options in life. Hiring a credit repair company can be a quality investment in your time and future — especially considering how much money you can save on a home, car or student loan if you have a high credit score.
Commit to making credit management a priority. Consider investing in an online identity monitoring service.
Your credit scores can take a big hit when you divorce, usually for one of three reasons:
One, your income may drop and/or your expenses may increase since you are no longer splitting them with a spouse. This may mean it’s harder to keep up with bills.
The second is that most couples have at least one joint account when they split. If the debt isn’t paid off right away it will usually end up being the responsibility of one spouse, and if he or she doesn’t pay it both credit reports (and by extension credit scores) will suffer. The third problem is identity theft. It’s surprisingly common for an ex to “borrow” the other person’s information in order to get new credit, utility services, etc.
What if your credit is in the pooper and you need to repair it, ASAP?
You are not alone. A few years ago Experian reported that 30 percent of scorable people in the United States, or 68 million, have bad or poor credit scores lower than 601.
To improve or repair a bad credit report long-term, there are two things to keep in mind:
1. Remove errors from your current report
2. Adopt good credit habits long-term. This includes:
- Improve your credit ratio, by paying down your debt, and asking your credit card company to increase the maximum
- Pay all your bills on time — or early!
- Get a co-signer and / or become an authorized user on the card of someone with a good credit history
With that in mind, let's take a deeper look at this issue:
- When do you need credit repair?
- How do you repair bad credit?
- How credit repair companies work
- Use a credit-builder loan to improve your credit score
- Secured credit cards to build your credit score and history
- Do credit repair companies really help?
- What are some things to look out for with credit repair companies?
- What are the laws about credit reporting and credit repair companies?
- Should I hire a credit repair company?
- How much do credit repair companies cost, and how long does it take?
- How to find a legit credit repair company
You need to repair your credit when your score is below 600, and/or you have pulled your credit report and see that there are errors. Common credit report errors include:
- Basic information like the spelling of your name, birthdate, address or other information is incorrect
- Your credit history includes duplicate accounts
- There are late payments or other delinquencies that are wrong
- There are lines of credit or other loans that are not yours — or belong to someone with the same name
- Delinquencies that should have aged off the report still appear
- Debts that were allocated to someone else in a divorce agreement or other legal proceeding appear on your history
How do you repair bad credit?
There are two ways to repair errors, redundancies and mistakes on your credit report: Do it yourself, or hire a credit repair company. First, let’s explore DIY credit repair:
DIY credit repair:
Many people chose to tackle credit repair themselves — and do so successfully. This takes time and diligence, and educating yourself on credit law.
Pros of DIY credit repair include:
- It’s free
- You will learn a lot about consumer credit laws, and how credit scores work
- It may inspire you to improve your money management habits long-term
Cons of DIY credit repair:
- It is tedious, and most people don’t enjoy it
- Like doing your taxes and fixing your car – sometimes it makes sense to pay an expert to do this, because they are inherently better at it than you
- If money management is not your strong-suit, then credit repair probably is not within your core competency
How credit repair companies work
Credit repair companies comb through your credit reports, find errors and try to get them removed, potentially bump up your credit score.
Credit repair companies hunt for things like accounts and legal actions that aren’t yours, incorrect dates, debts that are too old to be on the report, debts that can’t be verified and even misspellings that could have a negative impact on your score.
These companies find these discrepancies on your behalf and then dispute with creditors so you don’t have to.
Credit repair companies usually charge monthly during the credit repair process.
Credit repair companies serve as a middleman between you and your creditors.
In general, credit repair companies work like this:
- Credit repair services get your credit report from each of the three big credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
- They go through your credit reports, applying a laser focus to anything that looks out of the ordinary or that could be disputed.
- They go ahead and file disputes for you. That means writing dispute letters — and while you can do this on your own, keep in mind that the pros have more experience.
- They’ll negotiate back and forth if needed with your creditor. That includes responding promptly — something that can be difficult for the average person whose full-time job is not dealing with credit bureaus.
- They will also follow up with your creditors directly.
- Importantly, a good credit repair company will do this month after month, as long as it takes to determine whether all the debts in your report can be validated.
- Another hallmark of a good credit repair company is that, while they can’t promise to build your credit score (that’s something only you can do), they can offer you some tips. For example, The Credit People, one of the most trusted companies in the business, offers a personalized credit score improvement analysis every month a designated support person to work with you — for $9 to get started.
- Since this is a process that takes months, good credit repair companies will also keep monitoring to keep an eye out for any other disputable items.
Secured credit cards to build your credit score and history
Secured credit cards are a great tool for those with low, no, or new credit. If you're stuck in the trap that you can't get credit because of lack of credit history, and you can't build a credit history because of lack of credit, a secured card may be a good, low-fee option.
What is a secured credit card?
A secured credit card requires you put down a cash deposit to open an account. This sum is your credit limit. This deposit protects the credit card company, since any unpaid bills are taken out of your deposit.
Example: if you deposit $300, your credit limit is also $300.
How does a secured credit card work?
Apply for a secured credit card with $0 annual fees. The best secured credit card for building credit are those with the lowest fees, of course, though annual fees are common. Don't pay more than $50 for an annual fee for a secured credit card.
To open a secured credit card account, you will make a deposit via bank transfer, or if you open a card in person, at the retail bank or other issuer.
To make the most of this secured credit card, set up a recurring, small bill to the card, such as a cell phone bill, or gym membership.
Then, set up automatic payments in full on the secured credit card, so that your monthly balance is always paid in full.
Keep an eye on your credit score, which should climb steadily.
If you miss a bill, the balance will accrue interest—which is typically higher than other forms of credit. So be careful! Eventually, the balance will be taken out of your deposit—plus interest.
If you always pay your bill on time, you will eventually get your balance back.
If used responsibly, your secured credit card will help you graduate to use of an unsecured card, which doesn't require a deposit, likely has lower interest rates, and even cash-back and other point value. Best of all: your credit is now improved, so you have infinitely more options to finance the life you desire and deserve.
Do credit repair companies really help?
Debt is a stress-inducing and crushing weight on your daily life, so you can imagine how relieving it can be when someone offers a helping hand. That’s where credit repair companies come in.
Unfortunately, not all credit repair companies have your best interest in mind.
There have been reported scams and even federal legal action against some companies offering credit repair services.
Because there are so many out there, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by services claiming to offer a solution to your credit problems.
However, there are some quality services — especially ones that have a clear record, easy-to-access customer support and a background in law.
One in particular with a great track record in credit repair is The Credit People, which will help you repair credit report errors, and raise your credit score, for $9 to get started.
What are some things to look out for with credit repair companies?
Credit repair isn’t instant. It can take months — and sometimes more than a year.
That’s because people — consumers or credit repair companies — have to go back and forth with credit bureaus in order to straighten things out.
So, if a credit repair company is offering to get you results within a very specific time frame, that could be a bright red flag.
It’s also illegal for credit repair companies to ask for payment up front, so that’s another huge indicator that something’s not right.
Before hiring a credit repair company, you’ll want to do some digging on the company’s site — is it easy to connect with a real live person? Is it easy to learn about the company, or is their site full of vague promises?
If you do choose to go with a company instead of disputing your credit DIY-style, always go with a company that fully explains your legal rights when they’re describing their services.
Another thing: Credit repair only works if what’s being disputed is legitimately disputable. If the company is telling you to dispute something that you know is accurate, that’s a bad sign.
What are the laws about credit reporting and credit repair companies?
Lots of states have their own laws that regulate credit repair companies, but there are also federal regulations.
This law also limits who exactly can run your credit report, sets a time limit on what shows up on your report and sets general rules for how credit bureaus handle consumer complaints, including responding in a timely manner — typically 30 days.
You should also know about the Fair Credit Billing Act, which forces creditors to bill correctly and completely, and the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.
The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act sets behavioral standards for collections agencies, lets consumers request collections agencies cease and desist most communication, and outlines consumers’ rights to get more information about their debts.
There’s also the Credit Repair Organizations Act, which falls under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
It forbids “untrue or misleading representations and requires certain affirmative disclosures in the offering or sale of ‘credit repair’ services,” according to the Federal Trade Commission, and it also prevents credit repair services from requiring payment up front, makes them provide written contracts, and gives consumers some rights to cancel contracts.
In short, there are a lot of laws that protect people like you and me from unfair and unethical credit reporting.
Should I hire a credit repair company?
Credit repair companies can be a great option for some people, but you can also tackle credit repair on your own — especially if you’re prepared to spend a lot of time and energy learning how and executing the necessary steps.
If you have the money to spend (which you may not if you’re in debt), using a credit repair service like The Credit People could save you lots of time and hassle.
On the other hand, if you’ve got access to the internet and some time to study, you can be your own advocate rather effectively.
Another option here — and one the FTC actually advises — is seeking out a reputable nonprofit credit counseling organization.
Those can still cost you money, but it’s a good idea to find one that’s set up through universities, credit unions and other reputable institutions. In general, they can help you work out a plan to fix your finances.
Here are two scenarios in which hiring a credit repair company can make sense:
1. There are errors on your credit, you have no time, but extra money, and hate the idea of DIY.
Look: there is a reason why you work hard to earn money.
One of those reasons is so that you can hire other people to do things you can’t, or don’t want to do yourself.
Clean your house. Sew your own clothes.
Renovate the kitchen. Etc.
In the event there are incorrect or old dings to your credit history, you have lots of legal protection that allows you to take control of the situation and make steps to repair those errors, thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Those laws assert that your credit report should not contain inaccurate entries, out-of-date information, or duplicate reports the same debt (this happen when debts are sold to collection agencies or secondary lenders).
Also, all info on your credit report has to be proven.
To clean up any mess requires understanding some of these laws, writing letters to the three individual credit bureaus, and keeping track of every step of the process.
It is entirely within your legal rights, as well as most people’s intellectual capacity to do this work.
However, credit repair requires a lot of information that most people don’t know, who then have to research it.
Plus, if you struggle with money management, the grind of credit repair is not likely within your scope of strengths.
Just keeping it real.
On the other hand, a reputable credit repair company like The Credit People know all about them — plus all tools and resources that it takes to get erroneous, old and unprovable items off that report.
That is what they do all day, every day.
They are good at it, and it takes them less time and effort than it would take you.
Plus: You hate that kind of thing, so just outsource it already.
2. You need to boost your credit score ASAP (but have better things to do)
Here are some scenarios in which you really, really need to improve your credit score:
- You’re getting kicked out of your home and need to sign a lease / buy a new home within the next month or two
- Your car is on its last leg and you need to get a car loan
- You’re going through a divorce and need every single financial tool you can get your hands on
By removing errors from your credit report, you can boost your score by tens or even more than 100 points.
That can make a big difference in whether you qualify for a loan, as well as the interest rate on a mortgage, car note or credit card.
Remember, the higher your credit score, and the lower your interest rate, means the less you pay.
Also within this reason to hire out credit repair: You may have been aware of those errors for a long time, planned to take care of it yourself, but have procrastinated for months or even years.
It is like the hem on my fuchsia Diane Von Furstenberg dress that fell out: I kept swearing I’d repair the hem for more than six months, but instead, the frock sat in the back of the closet, unworn.
Finally, I took it to the dry cleaner across the street, paid the very nice and competent owner $12, and now have a new dress in circulation.
How much do credit repair companies cost, and how long does it take?
Credit repair services are typically charged by the month — and expect it to take a minimum of six months to see movement of 100 points or more on your credit score. Here are some reputable credit repair companies, and monthly fee:
The Credit People, $9 to try for 7 days, then $79 per month
Lexington Law, $89.95 per month and up
How to find a legit credit repair company
I am not going to lie: there are a lot of really shady credit repair companies out there.
However, there are some very reputable, ethical companies that help people improve their lives and financial security through credit repair. Some people opt to work with a local lawyer near them to repair their credit. However, there are some excellent national companies with easy-to-use online portals that can be more affordable, with better service, and many more clients who report good service.
Here is what to look for:
- Does not promise to remove credit history items that are not errors. If you legitimately did not pay your credit card bill, no one can remove that.
- Only charges you money after they have done the work. If a company asks for a fee up front, run.
- Does not promise a time frame in which errors will be removed, or how much your score will improve.
- Does have good customer service, including a phone number that will connect you with a human to help you choose the right services for you. This company should also coach you on how to manage your current accounts to best improve your credit score now, and moving forward.
- Does not promise free credit repair services. After all, credit repair is a long and tedious process — you get what you pay for!
These are all reputable companies that I endorse:
Credit repair companies
The Credit People, $9 to try for 7 days, then $79 per month. You are matched with a personal care assistant, who will work to get any errors, aged-out demerits and duplicate items removed from your credit report. You get access to an online dashboard, which tracks all three of your credit bureau scores. Very high customer service reviews. Learn more through our Credit People review.
Lexington Law, $89.95 per month and up, this team of lawyers and experts know the law, and work to correct any errors, duplications or aged-out items on your credit report. You have unlimited access to your credit score during your engagement.
CreditRepair.com, starting at $99.95 per month. Get a free phone consultation, dashboard that breaks down your current credit score, and a game plan on how to improve you score. From there, your score and any changes will be monitored, and you will receive updates via the mobile or online app, as well as text and email alerts.
The Credit Pros, start at $119 up-front fee, plus $119 monthly, this service has good reviews, and similar services as its competitors, but a high fee. Extra fees for couples and guarantee deletions.
Credit Saint, initial fee starting at $99, plus monthly plans starting at $79.99, Credit Saint sets itself apart by offering help removing a large number of credit report items, including charge-offs, liens, bankruptcies, repossessions, collections and judgements—plus a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Best credit repair company: The Credit People
Maybe you have missed payments, racked up too much debt, or maybe there are errors on your credit reports that you don't know how to fix.
You need credit now, but repairing your credit, increasing your credit score and cleaning up your reports is daunting — complicated, expensive, and time-consuming.
Yes and no.
Credit is overwhelming for a lot of people. But it is not unmanageable. You can teach yourself how credit clean-up and repair works. It is certainly not impossible, or even hard. It just takes time and discipline.
And let's get real: If your credit is poor, credit management is probably not your jam.
Hiring a credit repair company can seem even more overwhelming. So many have horrible reputations, are expensive, and it is hard to know which ones are scams that will just waste your precious time and money.
The Credit People review
The Credit People works like this:
1. Sign up. Fees start at $9.
2. You quickly get access to a dashboard, which, within 48 hours, will have reports from all three of the major credit agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. The Credit People at this point have generated a credit-repair program for you.
3. The Credit People will ask you to verify the info on the dashboard, and upload proof of identity, like a copy of your passport (I had one handy), or your driver's license.
4. You are matched with a service rep, who will call you to tell you about the process. He or she then starts to aggressively challenge and have removed any questionable items on your credit reports. These include:
- Late payments
- Identity theft
- Duplicate items
- Debts that should have aged off your report
- Misspellings and other errors
5. The whole time, you have access to a personal dashboard, so you can see what The Credit People is doing to repair your credit report and score, and watch your score improve.
Here is a quick (funny and cute) video that explains how they work:
5. Once you achieve your goals (refinance loans, consolidate credit cards, get a mortgage on a home, or buy a car, get a high credit score — whatever your dream), then cancel your subscription, and go on with your badass, high-credit life.
I became a Credit People customer, even though my credit score is 810. My experience was great. Here is what I liked [my Credit People review]:
- Founded in 2001 — so it's not a silly startup.
- Great customer service. I used the chat on the home page when I had questions even before I bought a membership, and found it quick, thorough and helpful. The call with my customer service representative was helpful, friendly and he knew his stuff.
- The site promises: “You’ll continue seeing improvements in your credit each month for as long as you’re with us. We will continue working on your credit until we’ve accomplished the best results possible for you.”
- Simple pricing (no weird ‘report fees' or other nonsense you might see with other companies).
- Industry's lowest pricing.
- The company's “Ultimate Guarantee” aligns with industry best practices, in which you never pay for work upfront and can cancel anytime.
- Credit People reviews in the New York Times, SmartMoney, USAToday and other publications I trust.
- Many positive Credit People reviews and testimonials on their site.
How much does credit repair cost using The Credit People?
This is the most important question, right? In the case of The Credit People, the initial 7 days is $9, and then $79 per month after, or a full 6-months of service for $419 — a $55 savings. These rates are lower than most of the top-rated competitors, and with a money-back guarantee.
The welcome video underscores that it can take six months or more to really repair your credit report, and improve your credit score, so that turns into hundreds of dollars invested in something that you are legally allowed to do yourself.
But consider this: If you were good at managing your credit, you likely would not be in this spot. Don't take it personally — millions of people struggle with lousy credit.
Also, this is an investment in time and money. If, say, you wanted to buy a $25,000 car, and your credit is below 620, you are likely to pay close to 18% interest, or $13,000 in interest over a 5-year auto loan. If you could raise your score to 720, you would qualify for 6.5% interest, and only pay $4,350 — a $8,650 difference.
In other words, a $400 investment could save you $8,650 with just the purchase of a car. That could be many times higher if you were refinancing loans, or buying a home.
Over a lifetime, the difference between good or even average credit, and bad credit, could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Plus, as I am a huge proponent of outsourcing, a professional credit repair company has the expertise, time and manpower to devote to beating your credit score into shape. The Credit People claims it has successfully worked with more than 100,000 clients.
You can also call The Credit People at 1-866-938-4299.
Debt from divorce
Assuming that any debt you have, you actually accrued during or after your divorce or relationship, you are responsible for it. Here is a primer on marital property, which includes debt.
If that debt is totally unmanageable, you have to manage it — after all, you likely have high-interest rates, which are accumulating, while your credit score is tanking. Many people file for bankruptcy after divorce. But first, seek out debt-relief services, which can help negotiate down your credit card, medical, and personal loans, and consolidate them into one manageable payment.
Freedom Debt Relief — the largest such company in the United States claims they can save you 15% to 35% and help you pay off your debt in as little as two to four years. Sound too good to be true?
Here’s the scoop:
How does Freedom Debt Relief work?
Freedom Debt Relief bills itself as the largest debt negotiator in the United States, and it’s been around long enough to attract scores of reviews — both good and bad, though the company does have an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
The service is meant for people with unsecured debt — credit card charges, personal loans, unsecured student loans and medical bills are the most common examples of unsecured debt.
Freedom Debt Relief is not the best option for those looking for direct relief on debts like secured student loans, car notes or mortgages. (Though it is certainly worth noting that getting your other debts in order can ultimately help your bottom line as well.)
To begin the debt relief process, you’ll answer some basic questions during your free consultation. Right out of the gate, you’ll tell the company how much debt you have and and whether you’re behind on payments.
Then, Freedom Debt Relief sets you up with a personalized plan to make payments to a FDIC insured dedicated account in your name.
You must have at least $7,500 in debt, and you can add multiple credit cards, medical providers or other creditors to the program.
The consultant helps determine how much you will pay based on your income and other bills.
Freedom Debt Relief's goal is to talk your creditors into accepting less money than the total amount of debt you owe.
Once an amount is agreed to, you must approve the arrangement before a formal settlement becomes a binding agreement.
The first settlement usually happens within two to four months of the program — which is dependent on you consistently making payments to your account at the planned rate. Still, that's much faster than you'd pay it on your own.
You then stop payments on your bills, which means you will accrue interest changes, late fees and serious credit bruises.
However, Freedom Debt Relief offers that if you make their agreed-upon payments, plus fees of 18% to 20% of the enrolled debt, you will still pay off your debt faster than if you managed payments directly to the creditors, on the original terms.
Is debt resolution bad for my credit?
This part is kind of a double-edged sword. According to Freedom Debt Relief, your ability to build up money in your dedicated account (rather than slowly chipping away at your debt on your own) helps the company’s negotiators ultimately resolve your debt.
Of course, the flip side is that you pay directly to Freedom Debt Relief instead of meeting the schedule for payments to your individual credit cards and other creditors. That typically hurts your credit.
It’s important to weigh how much your credit score matters in your life right now — and what it’s going to matter in the coming years.
You should be able to build your credit back up over time, but it could take years (negative information can stay on your credit report for up to seven years).
And that’s assuming you are in a place financially where you can practice really good credit habits.
How much does Freedom Debt Relief Cost?
You don’t pay a fee until a debt is negotiated — and even then you’ll have to give your approval of the negotiated amount.
Once you OK the deal, a fee (included in the monthly savings program) is processed. Fees typically range from 18% to 20%, but that can vary according to your state.
Keep in mind that the IRS considers forgiven debt to be taxable income, but it’s worth asking a tax professional to help you find an exemption.
Freedom Debt Relief claims that clients who make all their monthly payments pay, on average, 50 percent of their enrolled balance before fees, or safe 25% to 32% after fees, over the 2- to 4-year repayment program.
Also, any time you let accounts become delinquent (which can happen if you stop making minimum payments to your credit card or other creditor accounts), your creditors will start tacking on interest and late fees, ultimately increasing the balance you owe.
Obviously, the goal with a debt-settlement program is to pay less, even if your balance goes up before a settlement is reached.
Technically, though, your balance would increase anyway if you only made the minimum monthly payments.
What is Freedom Debt Relief's reputation?
Freedom Debt Relief has been in business since 2002. While the company is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, it holds an A- rating with the agency, which isn’t too shabby.
While 90% (that’s a lot!) of its ratings from consumers on BBB are favorable, there are also a lot of negative reviews, too. Its composite score is 4.3 stars out of 5.
Unsurprisingly, as with so many quick solutions, there’s also some controversy here you should know about:
The federal government sued Freedom Debt Relief in 2017, alleging that the company “took advantage of vulnerable consumers who turned to the company for help getting out of debt” by misleading consumers about creditors’ willingness to negotiate, deceiving consumers about the extent of services and fees, and failing to disclose rights to funds.
The company obviously disagreed, and responded by saying the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “fundamentally misunderstands how debt settlement works and has acted without proper regard for the consumers it is charged with protecting.”
There are two sides to every story, but there’s a lot going on there to carefully consider.
What is debt resolution / settlement?
There are several common types of debt relief. Debt resolution, sometimes called debt settlement, is one of the most popular.
Instead of dealing with creditors yourself, which is exhausting, time-consuming, and often very confusing, a debt resolution company, like Freedom Debt Relief, does the legwork.
They handle negotiations, and you make monthly payments into a specially designated account.
You'll later use that money to pay off your debts at the lower cost that the company has bargained.
Debt resolution can help you to pay off your debts faster, which will save you money in the long run when you consider the interest rates you won't be responsible for.
What is debt consolidation?
Debt consolidation, on the other hand, involves taking out yet another loan into which you'll be consolidating your other debts.
The loan may carry a lower interest rate, but it ultimately won't affect the principal amount you owed in the first place.
On the positive side, it won't affect your credit score – but you must have very good credit in the first place to qualify. In most cases, this isn't likely if you've got a lot of unresolved debts.
PROS AND CONS OF FREEDOM DEBT RELIEF
- You can pay off your debt early, for less than you really owe, and avoid bankruptcy — as long as you stick closely to the schedule and do not default. Yes, please!
- It’s super easy to sign up.
- You’ll make only one monthly payment, which is a welcomed change if you’re used to juggling several debts and their individual payments!
- Freedom Debt Relief lets you keep track of the progress on its dashboard and claims it won’t charge you until a deal is made and you approve it.
- You’ll be out of debt faster than if you just keep making minimum payments on your own.
- You feel good for taking action on an issue that is stressing you out, and holding you back: debt.
- There’s no guarantee that Freedom Debt Relief will actually settle your debts. Remember: They’re negotiating, and there’s always a chance that negotiation just won’t work.
- Your credit can be impacted. If you’re planning on buying a house or a car anytime soon, you’ll want good credit. Beyond that, credit scores can have an impact on your utility services or even your lease if you rent. That could be especially bad if, as just mentioned, the negotiation doesn’t work in the first place.
- Using debt-settlement services might result in you being subject to collections or even getting sued by creditors or collectors.
- The service is not available in every state (according to NerdWallet, borrowers in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming are out of luck), and fees may vary based on state.
Is Freedom Debt Relief right for you?
Ultimately, make sure you are as aware of the consequences as possible first.
If your credit is already poor, and you have struggled with debt for many years after yoru divorce, and do not see an end in sight, Freedom Debt Relief can be a solid solution.
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Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.