Financial Advice

32 Ways to Save Money on Your Utility Bills

I remodeled my house a few years ago, replacing old single-pane windows and beefing up the attic insulation. This cut my heating bill by almost 50%! That was so inspiring, I challenged myself to see how much money I could save by conserving energy elsewhere in the house.

Here is what I’ve learned, either first-hand, through research or by talking to other frugal folks. Some of these things are more expensive than others are. You do want a high return on your investment (ROI), so crunch a few numbers to see how long it will take for your upgrades and purchases to pay off. I have listed them approximately from least to most expensive.

Make Your Home Tighter

  • Caulk around the trim on all windows and doors, inside and out.
  • Weather-strip exterior doors.
  • Spray foam insulation around your electrical outlets.
  • Insulate your ceiling and sub-floor.
  • Seal and insulate your ductwork.
  • Window coverings keep heat in during winter and out during summer.
  • Replace single pane and older double pane windows with energy efficient, low-e windows.

Save on Electricity

  • Unplug small appliances and electronics when not in use, or put them on a power-strip that you turn off. When your TV is “off,” it still uses energy, so the remote control will work.
  • Turn off lights in rooms that aren’t being used.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs, which use 75% less energy and last 10 times as long. Now LEDs are getting less expensive, are more efficient, and have a longer life.
  • When your old appliances need replacing, buy Energy Star appliances.

Save on Heating and Cooling (HVAC)

  • Turn down your thermostat in winter and up in summer. If you are chilly, put on a sweater!
  • Ceiling fans distribute heat in winter and remove it in summer. They also pull in cool night air in summer.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. You can set it to heat the house only when necessary, and you won’t have to remember to turn the thermostat up or down every day.
  • Have your systems checked once a year, and replace the AC and furnace filters as recommended for best performance.
  • Plant shade trees on the hot side of your home. This is southwest and west, but will be determined by the orientation of the building. If you are heating with passive solar, don’t plant trees due south. Even the shade from the bare limbs cuts the efficiency of the sun.
  • Upgrade to an energy efficient furnace.
  • Install windows on the south side, or the sunniest side, of your house, and let the sun heat it for free!

Save Water and The Energy It Takes to Heat It

  • Turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater.
  • Put an insulating blanket on your hot water heater to keep the heat from escaping.
  • Take five-minute showers.
  • Keep water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap until it’s cold.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.
  • Hang your clothes on a clothesline or drying racks.
  • Catch rainwater for irrigation or domestic use. For the garden, you can use simple five-gallon buckets recycled from a contractor or donut and ice cream shops. For domestic use, you can install a catchment system with gutters and barrels or a cistern. This water needs to be filtered and tested regularly.
  • Use low-flow showerheads and faucets.
  • Replace old toilets with low-flush or dual flush. Most toilets are water savers these days, and they aren’t expensive.
  • Install an on-demand (tankless) water heater. Water is heated only as you use it, running through a series of tubes that get heated by your fuel source. There is no 40-gallon tank to heat all day while no one uses it.
  • Buy a front-loading washing machine. These use 1/3 the water of a top-loader, saving water and fuel. They usually pay for themselves in a couple of years.
  • Install drip irrigation. Water will go directly to the base of the plant instead of all over the yard as with a sprinkler.
  • Landscape with native plants and grasses. Native plants are accustomed to your climate, so they will survive on the available water. They also need less fertilizer and maintenance, saving you even more money.
  • Install solar hot water. This drastically cut my gas bill, and my system will pay for itself in six years.

Don’t try all of these things at once. You may get overwhelmed! Take on one or two at a time, starting with the least expensive. Sometimes the simplest solutions are enough. If you can do them yourself, you can save the cost of a contractor or handyman on top of the money you will save on your utility bills.

This article by Nan Fischer first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

How Do I Get Inquiries Off My Credit Report for a Loan I Didn’t Apply For?

Question:

Dear Steve,

My husband filled out several car loans applications without my knowledge and put me in as co-applicant, now I have 8 hard inquiries on my report and can’t get them off

How do I get them off, equifax took them off but TransUnion won’t.

Gail

Answer:

Dear Gail,

The issue here has less to do with the credit bureau. If they voluntarily elect to remove the inquiry, they are not required to.

The reality here is the inquiry is authentic but fraudulent. Technically you are a victim of identity theft by your husband. Actually a large amount of identity theft is caused by familiar persons.

Here is what TransUnion says about such fraudulent items, “Now it’s time to reach out to the major credit bureaus. TransUnion has a special phone number for fraud victims — 800-680-7289 — that you can call to place a fraud alert on your credit report. An initial alert lasts for 90 days and notifies all potential creditors that you do not authorize any new credit in your name. An extended alert lasts for seven years and entitles you to two free copies of your credit report in the first 12 months. Creditors are obligated to take extra precautions to verify your identity if anyone — including you — attempts to open new accounts in your name during that time.”

Once you do this it will be up to TransUnion to decide if they elect to remove the items since you still have not have addressed the actual fraudulent entries. Would you be willing to go as far as filing a police report against your husband for the identity theft?

You can visit IdentityTheft.gov for specific steps to deal with being a victim of identity theft and mitigating the results.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

Credit Card Debt Relief Offers Are Confusing Me. What Should I Do to Make the Right Decision?

Question:

Dear Steve,

I have credit card debt and private loans and I keep getting calls from many debt settlement companies.

I want to see if these companies are legit and are truthful, so I wanted to see what the legalities are and see if the programs there really offering me are really beneficial and can truly help my situation. I would also love to know the pros and cons if I do move forward with a debt settlement program, any help would be great

John

Answer:

Dear John,

Credit card debt relief tools like debt settlement are one of the solutions you can use to deal with debt. That’s not in dispute. What is in dispute much of the time is if the debt settlement solution is being pitched to you in your best interest or just to close a sale.

There are two major issues you need to keep in mind.

1. Sales Filter – Generally the sales person who is reaching out to you is a commissioned salesperson who is motivated to sell you their widget so they can make money. You need to filter all the promotional messages through that filter. That commissioned salesperson is not a financial advisor, they are a salesperson. Just take a look at recent job openings naming debt settlement and see what skills and experience they are typically looking for. You’ll see job descriptions that include, “We need salespeople who have sold successfully in the past and know how to close with a consultative approach” or “We are growing, We Need Closers!”

2. Run From a One-Size-Fits-All Recommendation – If any company is selling you a one-size-fits-all solution with debt settlement, I’d be inquisitive. As I mentioned before, debt settlement is a tool that can work but it is best utilized in the right situation. It might not be right for all of your debt. So what I suggest you look for is a company who can create a custom solution based on your current overall financial situation and future financial goals.

Credit Card Debt Relief Calculator – Click Here

Credit card debt relief can impact your retirement savings in a bad way.

You can compare your general debt relief options by using my online calculator. This will give you the pros and cons about each option.

If you want to check out any company that is contacting you then maybe my free guides below will help.

In a perfect world the person you decide to work with to deal with your debt should consider a number of factors, including how much you have in an emergency fund and what is your plan for retirement savings. This is particularly important if you are not really saving for retirement now. Enrolling in an extended debt repayment plan, like debt settlement or credit counseling, can wind up costing you a substantial amount of money in lost savings when you will need it most. You can use this calculator to see how much you would lose.

The best framework I can give you is to think about your situation like you are coming into an emergency room and not feeling well. If an emergency room doctor was trying to sell you an arm cast for all your ailments, you’d think that was ridiculous. What you would expect would be for the doctor to examine your situation and come up with a custom treatment plan based on your overall situation. Then to bring the right tests and resources together to treat your individual symptoms and problems.

Right now you might be drowning in debt and need an emergency room financial doctor to evaluate your situation and prescribe a financial treatment plan to deal with each of your debts using the right tool or solution.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

U.S. Marshals Won’t Call You About Jury Duty

United States Marshals protect the federal courts, track down dangerous fugitives, and transport thousands of prisoners. They don’t make calls and threaten to arrest people or fine them for missing jury duty. But scammers posing as Marshals have been making calls like that and tricking people into sending money. The imposters use spoofed phone numbers that look official, and steal the names and badge numbers of legitimate law enforcement officials. They warn people they might be arrested — unless they buy a prepaid debit, iTunes or gift card and pay the fine immediately. If you buy a card and tell a scammer the card’s code, the scammer takes the card’s value; your money is gone. If a “U.S. Marshal” calls you with a jury duty warning, hang up. It’s a scam.

If a fake Marshal — or any other government imposter — calls and tells you to send money to avoid arrest:

  • Don’t send money by prepaid card and don’t wire money. Wiring money is like sending cash. You usually can’t reverse or trace the transaction.
  • Don’t share your financial or personal information. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft.
  • Don’t trust a name or number that appears on your phone. Scammers can fake caller ID information.

If you received a call like this, please report it to the FTC and to your local Marshals Service District Office. If you sent money to an imposter on a prepaid card, report it to the card company’s fraud department. Read more about the tricks government imposters use and how to beat their scams.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

Do-It-Yourself Career Counseling

Melanie is tired of celebrating Fridays and dreading Monday mornings. At work, she is spending large chunks of time checking online job boards and calculating how many years left before retirement. She is toying with the idea of hiring a career counselor or coach, but cannot afford the additional strain on her budget.

I would advise Melanie and anyone else contemplating a career change to begin a process of self-discovery. DIY career counseling can be very rewarding and economical.

  1. Invest in a journal or create an online personal blog. Each morning or evening set aside at least 20 minutes and write about your day. What caught your attention? What brought you joy? Frustration? Write quickly and do not linger over each page. Do not worry about proper grammar and sentence structure.
  2. Visit the nearest college or university and obtain the latest calendar. Carefully read each page and highlight any courses that appeal to you. Do not think too long or analyze any of your choices. At the end, go back and look for patterns. Why do these courses appeal to you? Have you resurrected an old dream or discovered a new passion? Devote a few pages of your journal to your findings.
  3. Flip through your favourite magazines. Cut out any pictures that appeal to you. Set them aside for at least one evening. Later, sort the pictures into categories. For example, you may sort into travel, work, hobbies, and family. Position them on a large board. You have created a vision board. Display the board in a prominent area and look at it daily.
  4. Take some time to make connections between your journal entries, course selections, and vision board. Are there any patterns? Can you list any career areas that would incorporate your findings? Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics online for the latest version of the Occupational Outlook Handbook and search for clusters of jobs that match your interests.
  5. Examine specific careers within the selected clusters. The Handbook provides a comprehensive description of the duties, requirements, training, and future outlook of each career. Select at least ten careers that appeal to you, regardless of your present qualifications.
  6. Examine your own skill set. List all the full-time and part-time jobs you have held. If you are a recent graduate or have limited work experience, focus on hobbies and volunteer activities. Create two lists. One will contain the positive aspects of each position while the other contains the negative aspects. Review the list of careers from Step 5 and eliminate any that contain many of the less favorable aspects of past and present positions.
  7. Focus on the remaining careers. Reread the job descriptions, keeping track of your feelings. Do you feel energized or apprehensive? In your journal, rank these careers and start visualizing yourself in those workplaces.
  8. Arrange informational interviews with human resource personnel or other professionals in your top five careers. Bring a copy of your resume and a list of questions to each of these interviews. Test the fit of each workplace. Does it feel comfortable? Will your skill set be valued? Do you need additional training? Use your journal to record these answers.
  9. Develop a personal action plan for the new career that best meets your needs, desires, and priorities. Establish specific, measurable, and achievable goals and a realistic time frame for achieving them. For example, you could take a course, join a professional organization, apply for an internship, or volunteer. Continue to journal and evaluate your progress on a daily basis.

It may take a few months or longer to find a new career. Along the way, you may also find yourself altering or changing career direction. Do not be afraid to restart the process for the second, third, or tenth career on your list. Keep in mind that you probably spent thousands of dollars and several years of your life pursing your present career. Be patient and persistent. And, maintain a positive attitude. A fulfilling new career is within your grasp.

This article by Joanne Guidoccio first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

IRS Problems? Tax Professionals Reveal Top Tips

As Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Every April, federal taxes bring a sense of dread and anxiety, especially if you are facing an audit or struggling with tax debt.

In 2016, 1.2 million Americans were audited by the IRS. This situation can be stressful, especially if you are unfamiliar with federal tax laws and policies. Owing taxes is equally frustrating. Unpaid taxes carry severe consequences such as liens, levies, wage garnishments, and asset seizures.

If you receive a letter from the IRS claiming unpaid taxes or performing an audit, what should you do? Should you seek help or represent yourself? Here are some tips from top tax professionals for dealing with the IRS and specific advice to help you determine if you need to seek representation:

How Should I Deal with the IRS?

Act immediately

As soon as you receive a letter from the IRS, take action. Grace Molo-Ang (@taxdefense), a licensed tax professional for Tax Defense Network advises, “Don’t be overwhelmed. If you get notices, don’t wait to act. Start coordinating, and strategizing how to deal with the notice.”

Gather evidence

Documentation is critical when dealing with the IRS, especially during audits. Mike Habib (@TaxReliefExpert), an enrolled agent and owner of MyIRSTaxRelief.com, strongly recommends readiness. He says, “The audited taxpayer must understand the scope of the audit, have clear copies of the supporting documents such as mileage logs, invoices, statements and proof of payments. These should be grouped and organized by category with a clear description of the deduction.”

The same principle applies to overdue taxes. “To get the best deal, taxpayers must be ready with full financial information regarding their living expenses such as housing expenses, food and clothing, medical, etc. This way they cover their expenses and only pay the tax agency with what’s left over from their disposable income,” recommends Habib.

Preparation should start even before you are contacted by the IRS. Molo-Ang suggests, “Keep a good record of your back-up for what you claim on your taxes and a copy of the tax return filed (it is a good practice to hold on to your returns filed and the back-up, for three years after you file them, such as receipts showing what you paid, canceled checks, bank statements, logs (example: mileage log), bills/statements showing the amount paid. If you did not keep this information, you can back track and try to collect as much back-up as possible prior to the examination/audit.”

Educate yourself

Part of your preparation should include research. The IRS’s website may be able to answer some of your questions. The more you understand the laws that govern your specific situation, the better prepared you will be to fight for your rights.

“Research the issue you have with the IRS, do some reading so that you have some knowledge on the issue and what rights you may have. To know whether you received a notice that is an actual audit or not, call a tax professional (attorney, accountant, enrolled agent),” Molo-Ang advises.

Josh Kahn (@Anthemtax), co-founder of Anthem Tax Services says, “It is important that a tax payer know what expenses the IRS allows and disallows based off of which state and county where tax payer resides. These are called national standards and could be located easily on the internet.”

If you have tax debt it is extremely important to understand your payment options. Habib counsels, “…consider an alternative such as payments plans, or partial pay agreements or possible a compromise as a lump sum settlement.” Study your options so you don’t get stuck with the first offer presented by the IRS.

Learn your rights

Americans are entitled to certain rights outlined the in the IRS’ taxpayer bill of rights. It is critical to understand these rights and your options. One important right is the ability to appeal IRS decisions.

Molo-Ang states, “If you decide to go through the process alone, know that, if you disagree with the handling of your matter, you can ask for a supervisor. If you do not agree, the examiner will explain your appeal rights. If the examination occurs at an IRS office, you may request an immediate meeting with the examiner’s supervisor, or possibly do so after, within a certain period of time.

“Generally, if you cannot reach an agreement with the supervisor, or if the examination took place outside an IRS office or was conducted through correspondence with an IRS employee, a report is generated explaining your position and the IRS’s position. You will receive a 30-day letter notifying you of your appeal rights, which is followed by a 90-day Notice of Deficiency letter, if you do not respond, or respond and do not reach an agreement with an appeals officer. This letter gives you 90 days to file a petition to Tax Court.”

Seek representation

Chris Hardy (@chrishardyatl) managing director of Paramount Tax and Accounting, LLC recommends, “If a taxpayer is being audited, they should immediately seek representation from a qualified professional. From personal experience representing taxpayers, IRS auditors are paid to extract as much money as possible during an audit and a taxpayer can very easily be boxed into a corner by a line of questioning. Many times a taxpayer may try to be a “nice guy” and offer up items voluntarily only to realize later those are being used against them. When a taxpayer has back tax debt and trying to work out an arrangement for repayment, they do not need to accept the IRS’s demands. It is beneficial to have a tax professional build the case on what is reasonable for repayment and take into account any extenuating circumstance that is outside the norm.”

Jeffrey Schneider (@SFSTaxAcct), an enrolled agent and owner of SFS Tax Problem Solutions, says, “A taxpayer who is under audit or in collections should not do this alone. Taxpayers do not know what to say or when not to say something. Once it is out of their mouth, they cannot retract it. They also do not know the laws and how the process applies to them. The tax paying public has to understand that IRS employees work for the government and everything they do, is with that in mind. My job, as an Enrolled Agent and a Certified Tax Resolution Specialist, is to be the advocate for the taxpayer.”

When Can I Represent Myself?

You only owe a small balance

The amount of tax debt is one of the biggest factors when deciding if you need professional assistance. Kahn believes, “It makes sense financially for a tax payer to deal with the IRS or state if they generally owe less than 5k. IRS and state taxing authorities are a lot more lenient with the tax payer due to the small size of the debt. Most tax resolution specialists charge at minimum $1500 or more to represent a tax payer, it does not make sense to incur a cost that is about one third of what’s owed in tax debt.”

Your tax issues can be resolved quickly

The time period is another big factor. Hardy suggests, “If a taxpayer has a small balance and they are able to pay it off in full in a short period of time, they can certainly handle it themselves.” If the tax debt can be resolved quickly, you may be able to hand it on your own.

When the IRS only needs proof of something

Schneider cautions, “The only time that a taxpayer can deal with the IRS on their own is when the IRS asks them for proof of something (like a missing 1099 or W-2). Nothing more complicated than that. Even if it is a consultation to ask professional questions, is worth the fee.”

When Do I Need to Seek Representation?

You have a large balance or cannot pay in full

Hardy says, “Once a taxpayer realizes they have a large balance or have received collection letters from the IRS and don’t have the ability to pay in full, they should immediately contact a professional for guidance. Even though a taxpayer can call the IRS and ask questions regarding their case, the IRS is under no obligation to explain to the taxpayer all of the options of repayment and the benefits of each. Working with a professional, the taxpayer can fully understand their options and protections allowed under the IRC.”

There are several repayment options, such as installment agreements and offers in compromise. Professionals can review your circumstance and determine which option best fits your needs.

You are unsure of the tax laws

Habib suggests, “Tax representation is a very powerful tool to even the odds when facing a tax controversy. Taxpayers should consider representation if they can not research the tax laws that would protect their rights based on their particular situation.”

You have special circumstances

Molo-Ang also suggests seeking representation when you have major life changes. She cites separation or divorce, a newly opened business, or self-employment. She recommends if you seek help if you have “life changes, which may affect your ability to pay tax debt still due and owing, even if you are already on a payment plan with the IRS. Don’t wait, get help to prevent the situation getting worse than it needs to be.”

Anytime you feel uncomfortable

Finally, Molo-Ang recommends seeking professional help “when the IRS has notified you of an audit, if you do not feel comfortable representing yourself, or need assistance preparing for the audit or responding to an under reporting notice.”

Whether you represent yourself or work with a tax professional, be sure to act quickly, gather the appropriate documentation, and educate yourself on tax rules. The more educated you are, the better you can defend yourself. If you are unsure for any reason, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Many tax relief companies offer free consultations. If you are audited by the IRS or have tax debt, now is a great time to receive help.

This article by Amber Westover first appeared on Best Company and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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Financial Advice

After Years of College and Federal and Private Student Loans, I Just Can’t Make It

Question:

Dear Steve,

So, I had both private and Federal loans for my 4 years of college. I didn’t get a job right out of school, it took a few months and then when I did get a job it was a tiny amount. I struggled financially for a while, and then when it came time to pay, I did.

Along the way things happened. My federal loan was IBR because I made such a small amount annually, which was great – at least they were willing to work with me. I’m not the type of person that just doesn’t want to pay for things, but when it gets down to the wire on my bills – student loans don’t seem as important.

Then I fall out of the low paying job because it was absolutely miserable – that’s not an exaggeration. I was serving at a restaurant to get by until I found another Graphic Design job (that’s what I went to school for).

I moved to Indianapolis (larger city than where I was originally from) because it had more opportunities. It took me 3 months to get a full time job. Absolutely insane and I was literally trying SO hard. It paid a little bit better than my first job, but I got in the bad habit of living outside of my means – because I was used to having nice things etc and I didn’t want to give that up.

Thinking I would be able to make more money soon I took out a private loan with Upstart so that I could keep my head above water. My parents were no longer interested in helping me financially.

I had that job in Indianapolis for a year and a half and then the real kicker happens. I get laid off. I get a severance package of like $740 – (for insight my rent alone was $830 a month). So it left me with nothing. I tried to get a serving job ASAP to at least have some money to live off of. It was exactly that – hardly enough money and very unpredictable.

This whole time I was trying my best to get a full time job again – that is what helps me be most stable. Of course while I was unemployed and having no income I’m kicking myself for ever having loans or credit cards or anything because I physically just could not make the payments. It was an impossible situation. My private student loan payment was $228 a month and I had already deferred it previously – I had the help from the private loan I got that was to help pay for everything in life and then I couldn’t pay for that either.

I got myself in an unfortunate situation about a year and half ago and had an OWI – which drained me of any money I had saved. I just had to email my federal student loan holders and tell them I got laid off and they deferred my payments – thank god! Wells Fargo is who I have my private loan through. My parent’s co-signed on this loan with me while I was still in school. They owned a business and it went crashing down (small business). They weren’t able to help me and I wasn’t able to help myself. I talked with Wells Fargo and we applied to get the payments lowered. We applied two separate times and they denied us both times. In October I did manage to finally get a graphic design job. It was my plan to get all of my credit cards up to date because I had not paid on most of them for 3 months. I have no done that but these student loan payments and past due balances are outrageous!!!

WHAT SHOULD I DO?! I am stuck. I have no idea what to do at this point. I have 2 jobs – full time graphic design making 34,000 gross and then part time serving. I’m trying to come up with even more ways to make money, but it’s not helping the fact that I need these delinquencies out of the way asap. I even moved out of my apartment in September when my lease was up because I obviously could not afford any part of that. I am very confused why people are not willing to work with me. My upstart loans are in the process of being negotiated and are ridiculously out of control because they have just accrued so much interest and late fees at this point that I can’t make the minimum payments anymore. My parents are nagging me 24/7 to pay my Wells Fargo loan because now the delinquencies are affecting their credit scores since they were co-signers.

I just have absolutely no idea what to do next. Even if I got a third job I wouldn’t have enough money to start paying this major loan debt off. I am up to date on my credit cards – which is a plus, but I still have to pay my friend rent to live there – $466 a month and I make 2,000 a month total. I have about $400 in credit card payments a month and then car insurance of $100 – I pay $100 for my storage unit that is holding everything I own and I live out of suitcases. There is more that I have to pay for – medication, gas, etc. Should I try to sell all of that in my storage unit? It probably wouldn’t even amount to much. I’m working as much as I can and I just can’t get ahead.

The private loans are KILLING me. I sit down and do the calculations and each month I can’t afford the now $240 payment on the wells fargo student loan. I can pay like $150 and then I’m left with about $20 to live off of. I don’t see the point in paying part of the $240 when I’m still going to get penalized for not having the full payment. I’m close to $2,000 behind now with Wells Fargo as I haven’t been paying since I lost my job.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!?! PLEASE HELP ME – this is SO out of control and these loan places are not willing to work with me. Even as I beg them to take what I have available if they just lower the monthly payment amount.

Natalie

Answer:

Dear Natalie,

I was curious you said the stuff in your storage unit wasn’t worth much but consider the fact you are paying $1,200 a year to keep it around. Just something to consider.

It sounds to me you might have made the classic mistake most people do, paying the credit cards first. If you had to rank your debts in order of priority the federal student loan on the IBR and its recertification each year would come first, the private student loan would be second, and credit cards third.

I can feel for your parents who cosigned on one or more loans. Unfortunately when they cosigned on the loan(s) they agreed to accept full financial liability and responsibility if you were unable to pay the loan. I know they think that part sucks but that’s what they signed up for.

Your apparent desperation and panic is palpable and that leaves you subject to the paralysis of analysis and even can result in depression which makes your life even toughter to endure.

So considering that debt problems are really just a bit of math wrapped in emotion, let’s step back and look at what is going on.

It sounds like you have about $8,000 or so of credit card debt. If you didn’t have that $400 a month going out it might be much easier to make ends meet. However, if you are using the credit cards to make it month to month that’s a problem. In fact it’s an issue you’ll have to deal with now or when your credit cards balances get much higher and you can’t afford them anymore.

So if you ditched the storage unit and filed bankruptcy on the credit card debt you could have an extra $500 a month to help you move forward.

If you were mentally prepared to face the onslaught of potential debt collection I might even suggest a strategic default on your private student loans as part of a solution.

And when it comes to private student loans there are questions to deal with regarding the school you went to and if the loans were used for expenses above the cost of attendance. If so, then part or all of those loans might be dischargeable in bankruptcy with some effort.

Here is what I can tell you absolutely. Your situation is like most. There is not a one-size-fits-all solutions that is going to be best. It’s going to be a hybrid solution that deals with some of your debts differently. The problem is nearly all the debt relief providers out there are going to try to sell you that magic widget known as the one-size solution.

Another tough reality is any good debt coach who can put together than custom hybrid solution is going to cost you some money for their professional assistance. Money you might not have.

So let me steer you to three resources to look at, investigate, and consider.

1. Talk to a local bankruptcy attorney for free about your options and debt.

2. Talk to a student loan attorney in your state about options and potentially a review if your private loans were higher than the cost of attendance. You can look for a student loan attorney in your state, here.

3. Look at your larger debt relief options by using the Get Out of Debt Calculator.

Realistically I can see a path to a better future but the big question is if you can muster together the right professional help to get you there. In situations like this it’s a bit like those facing a legal problem. I’m sorry to break it to you but generally people only get as much good justice as they can afford.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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