Debt Consolidation Vs. Bankruptcy: Which Should You Choose?

January 24, 2020 &• 4 min read by Karin Price Mueller Comments 0 Comments

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TL;DR: Debt consolidation and bankruptcy are two options for debt relief available to you.

  • Bankruptcy involves discharging or restructuring all your debts—but it stays on your credit report for seven to ten years. It’s generally considered a last resort when no other debt relief options are available.
  • Debt consolidation means consolidating multiple older debts into a single new loan. You will still have debt, as you need to pay off that new loan now, but consolidation may help you minimize late payments and other fees incurred from multiple loans.

Which debt relief option is right for you depends on numerous factors, but we’ve gathered together the information you’ll need to help you make the best choice for you.

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Still confused? Ask Tiff: What Are My Debt Consolidation Options?

Bankruptcy is a legal restructuring of your debts. When you file for bankruptcy, the court considers your debts and your income. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you file, you may need to submit a plan for paying back some of your debts. However, the end result of finalizing the bankruptcy process is that all the debts you entered with are considered discharged.

Whether you file Chapter 7, 13 or 11, if your bankruptcy is successful, you can start with a “clean slate” as far as what you owe. However, you don’t start with a clean slate with regard to your credit score. The late payments and issues leading up to the bankruptcy may still be reflected on your credit history. The bankruptcy itself will also stay on your credit report for a number of years.

Debt consolidation involves paying off one or more
debts with another type of debt. Like all other debt relief options, debt
consolidation has pros and cons.

debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer credit card. That means you need to be able to qualify for the credit, which can be difficult if you’ve been late or payments or have collection accounts on your credit report. It also means that you still owe the same amount.

However, when you consolidate, the new debt is just that. It’s new. It’s not in collections and you’ve now paid off the old debt, so it can show up as paid in full on your credit report. If you continue to make payments as agreed upon on the new debt, you may see your credit score increase over time.

Looking for other options? View our guide on how to choose a debt relief service.

Curious how debt relief options affect your credit? Discover everything you need to know about debt relief and your credit score.

Before you decide on bankruptcy, look at some options for debt consolidation. If you’re primarily dealing with high-interest credit card debt and you feel like you’ll never get ahead on it, you could consider a balance transfer card.

Balance transfer cards typically come with low introductory APR offers. You can transfer existing balances to the new card and not pay interest on it for a certain amount of time—sometimes for a year or two. That lets you make payments on the balance and pay it off faster and cheaper. Balance transfer cards aren’t always the right choice, but if you find the right one for your needs, it can help you get a handle on debt without drastic financial choices.

See our expert guide: Balance Transfer Credit Cards

If you’re not dealing with credit card debt or don’t want
to open another credit card account, then you might consider a debt
consolidation loan. These loans let you convert your debt to a single loan,
which makes managing your financial life that much easier.

Whatever debt relief option you choose, Credit.com has
your back. Sign up for our Free
Credit Report Card to keep track of your finances and additional tips and
tricks for improving your financial health.


Sign up now.

Source: credit.com

Most Affordable Beach Towns – 2021 Edition

Most Affordable Beach Towns – 2021 Edition – SmartAsset

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Living by the beach can be expensive. Mortgage payments, property taxes and space can make your dream home unattainable. But if you know where to look, you can find a shore home without breaking the bank. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the U.S. has over 95,000 miles of shoreline, which includes all the coastal states and Alaska, as well as the island state of Hawaii. SmartAsset took a look at popular oceanfront communities in America to rank the most affordable beach towns in 2021.

We compared data for 218 beach towns and ranked them by four key real estate metrics: median home value, average number of rooms per house, median monthly property taxes paid and monthly housing costs. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s sixth annual study on the most affordable beach towns in America. Check out the 2020 version here.

Key Findings

  • The best deals are still in the South. The top 10 cities in this study are located in three Southern states: four in Florida, four in Mississippi and two in Texas. While Florida may be an obvious choice for many people, the prevalence of Mississippi and Texas on our list shows how thinking outside of the box can help you find affordable deals to fulfill your beach home dream.
  • Low property taxes and cheap monthly costs: Homeowners in the top 10 beach communities on our list take advantage of low property taxes and affordable housing costs. Median annual property taxes for these cities are just $1,185, and median monthly housing costs are $746. By comparison, those figures are $8,677 and $2,956, respectively, for the study’s bottom 10 cities.

1. Biloxi, MS

Biloxi, Mississippi, ranks at the top of our list as the most affordable beach town in America. It overtook 2020’s winner Gulfport, a Magnolia State neighbor located approximately 13 miles west. The Gulf Coast city has a median home value of $161,700, which is the ninth-lowest value for this metric in the study. Biloxi ranks sixth overall for its low monthly housing costs, at $737. Median property taxes in Biloxi are $1,196, finishing just outside the top 10 at 13th, but still well within the top quartile of our study.

2. Gulfport, MS

With almost seven miles of white sandy beaches, Gulfport, Mississippi, ranks as a strong second. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 80 miles northeast of New Orleans, its median home value is $122,300 (fourth-lowest across all 218 cities in our study). Property taxes and monthly housing costs are also fairly low, ranking 11th overall for median tax payment, at $1,069, and ninth for monthly housing costs at $811.

3. Port Arthur, TX

Historically known as a prosperous oil refining city in the Gulf of Mexico, Port Arthur, Texas, ranks third. Located less than 90 miles east of Houston, this Gulf city has the lowest median home value in the study, at $65,800. Port Arthur also ranks first for its low monthly housing costs, at just $455. But overall, the city comes in at No. 3 because it falls in the bottom half of the study for average number of rooms per house, at just 5.7.

4. Pensacola, FL

Located on the Florida panhandle, Pensacola has a long-standing military history that helped earn its nickname as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It ranks in the top quartile for three metrics – 18th for median property taxes at $1,291, 19th for median home value at $182,800 and 22nd for monthly housing costs at $940.

5. Ocean Springs, MS

Just east of Biloxi and Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Mississippi ranks in the top quartile for all four of the metrics we analyzed. It has the 15th-lowest median home value at $174,000 and ranks 24th out of 218 for median property taxes at $1,445. The average monthly housing cost in Ocean Springs is $1,021, ranking 33rd for this metric in our study. For its 6.8 average number of rooms per house, the beach town ranks 27th.

6. Bay St. Louis, MS

Known for its white sand beaches and charter fishing, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is located a little more than 60 miles east of New Orleans. This Gulf city places in the top 20 for three of our metrics, ranking eighth for monthly housing costs at $782, 12th for median property taxes paid at $1,140 and 14th for median home value at $172,600. Bay St. Louis homes tend to be slightly smaller, though, ranking in the bottom half of the study (tied at 118th place) with an average of 5.9 rooms per house.

7. Freeport, TX

Located almost 62 miles south from Houston, and about 45 miles southwest of Galveston, Freeport, Texas, has the second-lowest median home value across all 218 cities in the study, at $81,000. And the town also has the second-lowest median monthly housing costs, at $479. Freeport homes, however, are on the smaller side, ranking in the bottom half of this study with just 5.6 rooms on average.

8. Melbourne, FL

Melbourne, Florida, is the highest-ranked beach town on the Atlantic Ocean shore. Located approximately 35 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center, Melbourne residents average $853 on monthly housing costs, ranking 12th for this metric. This city also ranks just outside of the top 10, with the 13th-most affordable median home value, at $169,000. However, Melbourne houses tend to be on the smaller side, ranking in the bottom half of this study (tying with Bay St. Louis, Mississippi at 118th) with an average of 5.9 rooms.

9. Daytona Beach, FL

Widely recognized as a mecca for automobile racing, Daytona Beach, Florida, is located almost 57 miles northeast of Orlando. This Atlantic Coast city is a popular vacation destination, but with a median home value of just $153,000 – the seventh-lowest in our study – it is an attractive option for those who want to live on the beach full-time for relatively cheap. Daytona Beach residents pay only $723 in median monthly housing costs, the fifth-lowest across all 218 cities we considered.

10. Fort Pierce, FL

Rounding out the top 10 on our 2021 list of most affordable beach towns, Fort Pierce, Florida, is located approximately 54 miles south of Melbourne. Homeowners in this city pay only $908 in median property taxes, ranking seventh for this metric. Fort Pierce ranks third overall for its affordable median monthly housing costs, at $655. And the median value of a Fort Pierce home is $113,600, also ranking third. But the city falls near the bottom of the study for house size, with an average of 5.3 rooms per house.

Data and Methodology

In order to find the most affordable beach towns in the country, SmartAsset compared 218 cities located directly on an ocean (including bays and sounds). Specifically, we examined the following four metrics:

  • Home value. This is the median home value in each city. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Number of rooms. This is the average number of rooms per house. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Property taxes. This is the median property taxes paid. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Monthly housing costs. This is the median monthly housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 5-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Next, we found each city’s average ranking, assigning an equal weight to each metric except for the average number of rooms, which received a half weight. We then ranked the cities according to this average. The city with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Buying a Home

  • Want to live in a beach town? Start saving now, and think about getting some help from a financial advisor. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Make sure your budget allows for your ideal home. Before you start looking at homes, figure out how much house you can afford so that you aren’t wasting any time looking at places that aren’t right for you.
  • Time and tide wait for none. If you want to move to the shore in retirement, start saving now, and make sure to take advantage of a workplace retirement plan like a 401(k) if you have access to it.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/benedek

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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What to Know About Medical Bills Sent to Collections

May 20, 2020 &• 8 min read by Gerri Detweiler Comments 328 Comments

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If you think you’re immune to damage from a collection account on your credit report because you pay your bills on time, think again. Medical bills that you don’t know about could be hurting your credit—and the odds are not in your favor.

In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that around 31.6% of adults in the United States have collections accounts on their credit reports. That’s almost one in three Americans! Medical bills account for over half of all collections with an identifiable creditor. Chances are good that you too have a medical bill in collections.  

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  • I just watched a documentary on the dark web, and I will never feel safe using my credit card again!
  • Luckily I don’t have to worry about that. I have ExtraCredit, so I get $1,000,000 ID protection and dark web scans.
  • I need that peace of mind in my life. What else do you get with ExtraCredit?
  • It’s basically everything my credit needs. I get 28 FICO® scores, rent and utility reporting, cash rewards and even a discount to one of the leaders in credit repair.
  • It’s settled; I’m getting ExtraCredit tonight. Totally unrelated, but any suggestions for my new fear of sharks? I watched that documentary too.
  • …we live in Oklahoma.

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Many times, medical bills hit collections because you didn’t even realize you owed anything. Here are four common medical bill myths that can cost you dearly and the truth you need to manage your credit and medical expenses more proactively.

Your Insurance Won’t Cover Everything

It’s a consumer’s obligation to know what they’re responsible for paying. A lot of people are under the impression that their insurance will cover all medical costs, so they don’t owe anything. Due to how a visit or procedure is billed with insurance, this isn’t always the case. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst to prevent anything from being sent to collections.

Insurance companies usually send out an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) before you receive a bill from the provider. Be sure to go through these important documents carefully to ensure you understand what your estimated out-of-pocket costs are. If you have questions about why something wasn’t covered, reach out to the provider and your insurance company.

Your Medical Bills Can Be Sent to Collections, Even If You’re Paying

Making payments on a medical bill doesn’t necessarily keep it out of collections. If you’re making small payments—or if you make your payment a few days late when you’re under a payment arrangement—you might discover the provider has turned the bill over to collections.

Protections under the Affordable Care Act give patients at nonprofit hospitals time to apply for financial assistance before any “extraordinary collection measures” are taken. But for the most part, any unpaid balance is fair game.

To prevent medical bills from going to collections while you’re making payments, set up a payment arrangement with the provider and get it in writing. If you make an arrangement to pay off a debt in six months and the provider agrees to it, they shouldn’t send you to collections as long as you make payments as agreed.

Medical Collection Accounts Are Treated Differently

This one is good news for you. Medical bills are treated differently than other bills sent to collections—at least as far as your credit report is concerned.

  • Medical Debts Are Given Less Weight: Newer scoring models such as FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0 weight medical collections less than other types of collections so that they don’t impact a score as much. However, not all creditors use these new scoring models, so medical collections could still hurt your ability to get credit in the future.
  • Medical Debts Are Given a Grace Period: The three credit bureaus now wait 180 days before listing medical debt on your credit reports. This grace period gives you time to figure out payment options before the debt affects your credit scores.
  • Medical Debts Are Removed Once Paid: While most collections remain on your credit report for seven years, medical debt is removed once it has been paid or is being paid by insurance. Unpaid medical debt in collections will still remain on your credit report for seven years from the original delinquency date.

Tips for Dealing with Medical Bills

Any time you are contacted by a collection agency, you have the right to written confirmation of the debt as well as the right to dispute it. That’s your right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you know your rights, you’re in a better position to stand up for them.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you also have the right to dispute inaccurate information on your credit reports. But you have to know how to properly dispute an item on your credit report to get results.

Some best practices to consider when dealing with medical debt include:

  • Never assume that you won’t owe. Ask your provider for details about costs, and follow up with your insurance company and provider even if you don’t get a bill.
  • Always ask for proof of what you owe. If a medical provider or its billing entity sends you a statement, it’s probably not going to contain a detailed breakdown of all the charges. You have a right to receive that information, though. Request it in writing, and then review all the charges to ensure that they reflect the services you received.
  • Compare bills to insurance EOBs. Your insurance explanation of benefits breaks down each charge. Typically, an EOB should tell you how much the provider charged, how much the insurance disallowed, how much the insurance paid and how much you owe. Make sure what you’re billed for doesn’t exceed what the insurance said you owe.
  • Make payment arrangements as soon as possible. It’s never too early to talk to your provider’s billing department. Even if they aren’t sure exactly how much you owe, start asking about payment arrangements. Many providers have processes in place to create payment schedules or discount portions of your bill if you pay in advance.
  • Ask to make monthly payments on medical bills. You may be able to make monthly payments, but you will need documented proof that the provider or collector has agreed to this. That way, if they report a negative item on your credit report, you can dispute it showing they agreed to the payments you’re making.

Dealing with Medical Bills in Emergency Times

The only certainties in life are death and taxes—and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that not even taxes are certain. During emergency times, rules and regulations around medical bills might change. Government interventions and hospital policies right now are making it easier for many people to seek much-needed health care during this time if they have COVID-19.

At a time when your personal finances might also be strained by loss of income or other factors, facing medical bills might seem daunting. But even during a crisis, you shouldn’t ignore this aspect of your health care. Instead, discuss options as early as possible with your provider, and let them know if you don’t think you’ll be able to pay. If you speak up proactively, medical providers can act early to help you access any assistance that might be available.

Any time you’re facing financial pressure because of medical bills, you might consider a personal loan. Personal loans let you spread out a large expense over time, and they might be a good option if you can’t get a medical collector to agree to a payment plan.

Medical Debt and Your Credit Score

If you’re concerned about how your medical debt could be impacting your credit, you can typically check your three credit reports for free once a year, but currently under the accommodations for COVID-19, you can check weekly until the end of April 2021.

If you’d like to monitor your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card provides you with an easy-to-understand breakdown of the information in your credit report using letter grades. It also includes a free credit score that’s updated every 14 days.

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Charged Off as Bad Debt: An Explainer

July 21, 2020 &• 5 min read by Lacey Langford Comments 73 Comments

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Making payments late or missing payments completely spells bad news for your credit rating. When you miss too many payments, your creditor may charge off the debt. When your debt is charged off as a bad debt, don’t fool yourself into thinking it goes away.

A charged off debt can lead to harassing phone calls, garnished wages, and a major drop in your credit score. According to the Federal Reserve, consumer loans had a charge-off rate of around 2.3% in the final quarter of 2019. Credit card debt was more likely to be charged off than other forms of debt. But what is a charge-off, and how much does it impact your credit if your balance is charged off as bad debt? Find out more below, including what you can do about charge-offs on your credit report.

What Is a Charge-Off?

A charge-off occurs when you don’t pay the full minimum payment on a debt for several months and your creditor writes it off as a bad debt. Basically, it means the company has given up hope that you’ll pay back the money you borrowed and considers the debt a loss on their profit-and-loss statement. The creditor closes your account, which could be a personal loan, credit card, revolving charge account or another debt you’ve failed to pay as promised, and it’s charged off as a bad debt.

If you make payments that are less than the monthly minimum amount due, your account can still be charged off as bad debt. You must bring your account current to avoid it being charged off. Once your debt is charged off, your creditor will send a negative report to one or more of the credit reporting agencies. It may also attempt to collect on the debt through its own collection department, by sending your account to a third-party debt collector, or by selling the debt to a debt buyer.

When Will a Charge-Off Happen?

Charge-offs typically don’t happen until your payments are severely late. When you start missing payments, creditors will first send letters reminding you of your past-due bill. If that fails, they move on to the collections process. The standard time for creditors to perform a charge-off is after 120 to 180 days of nonpayment.

Does Charged Off Mean Your Debt Is Paid Off?

Charged off doesn’t mean your debt is forgiven. Don’t be misled into believing that because the creditor wrote off your balance that you no longer need to pay the debt.

Even when a company writes off your debt as a loss for its own accounting purposes, it still has the right to pursue collection. This could include suing you in court for what you owe and requesting a garnishment of your wages. Unless you settle or file for certain types of bankruptcy—or the statute of limitations in your state has been reached—you’re still responsible for paying back the debt.

How Does Charged Off Debt Affect Your Credit Score

Charge-offs affect your credit report because they’re caused by missed payments. FICO research indicates that a single late payment negatively impacts your credit score. Missing a payment by 90 days can drop your score over 100 points—but missing it by just 30 days can also have a significant negative affect on your score.

Because a charge-off results from missing payments, you have both the late payments and a charge-off listed on your credit report. Even with good credit, a single charge-off lowers your credit score substantially. Late and delinquent payments have the largest impact on your credit score because up to 35% of your score is determined by your payment history. A lower credit score can cause higher insurance rates, larger housing and utility deposits, increased interest rates and denials for new loans and credit cards.

How Long Does Charged-Off Debt Stay on Your Credit Report?

Just like late payments, a charged-off debt stays on your credit report for seven years. The seven-year clock starts on the date of the last scheduled payment you didn’t make and doesn’t restart if the debt is sold to a collection agency or debt buyer. Paying the charged-off amount won’t remove it from your credit report. The account’s status is simply changed to “charged-off paid” or “charged-off settled,” which remains on your credit report until the end of the seven-year period, when it automatically falls off your report.

How to Remove a Legitimate Charge-Off from Your Credit Report

The only way to have a legitimate charge-off removed from your credit report before the seven-year period expires is to convince the original reporting entity to do so. That’s typically the creditor that wrote the debt off.

While this tactic is hit or miss, success can mean a major positive for your credit report. And even if you’re not successful, you can still get a bit of a bump in your credit history by paying off charged-off debt. Here’s how it works.

  • You need to have enough money to negotiate with. Before you start negotiating, determine how much you can realistically pay and how soon you can pay it. If you can pay in full right away, you have more leverage to have the charge-off removed you’re your credit report, but you can also ask if they’re willing to make payment arrangements Consider saving up money or taking out a debt consolidation loan.
  • Once you have enough money to negotiate, contact the original creditor. Make sure you’re speaking to someone who has the authority to negotiate with you and make agreements about actions on your credit report.
  • Let the creditor know how much you can pay and that you’re able to make the payment today in exchange for calling the debt paid off and removing the charge-off from your credit report.
  • Get any agreement in writing from the creditor before you make a payment.

If the creditor won’t delete the charge-off from your credit report but does agree to settle your debt for less than you owe, consider the offer. Make sure they agree to mark the charge-off as paid-in-full on your credit report. That shows future creditors that you did make an effort to pay your debts and can be a critical requirement if you ever apply for a mortgage.

How to Dispute a Charge-Off on Your Credit Report

Sometimes, the charge-off on your credit report isn’t accurate. Perhaps you never owed the debt to begin with or you did pay it, and the profit-and-loss write off is a clerical error. You can work to get such items removed from your credit report by disputing them and asking the creditor to verify what they reported. Write a dispute letter yourself or work with a credit repair company to help clear up your report.

When you sign up for ExtraCredit, you get exclusive discounts to reputable credit repair services—plus access to 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit reports and additional features.

How to Avoid Balances Being Charged Off as Bad Debt

Even better than working to settle a debt and potentially get a charge-off removed is avoiding the issue in the first place. The ideal time to act is as soon as you see you’re struggling to make regular payments. Waiting until items are charged off as bad debt means your credit score will take numerous hits as you miss payments.

But if you can’t pay your debts, what choice do you have? Turns out you have many options, including some of the ones summarized below.

  • Consolidate your debt. Apply for a debt consolidation loan that lets you bring several debt items under a single account. You may be able to qualify for more favorable terms that reduce the amount you pay each month to make it easier to manage your debt. But this is more likely before your credit score drops due to missed payments and charge-offs.
  • Get a balance transfer card. If the debt you’re struggling with is credit card related, apply for a balance transfer card. If you can get approved for a card with a 0% APR offer, you may reduce how much you have to pay each month and make it easier to pay down your debts.

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Annual Fee:

Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

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  • Reach out to the creditor for help. Most creditors have programs designed to help account holders who are experiencing emergency financial situations. As soon as you know you can’t pay your bills, call the customer service line for your account and ask if there are programs you can apply for to modify your loans or seek other assistance. Just make sure the new agreement you make is possible with your budget.

Take Charge of Your Debt

The worst thing you can do is ignore debt you owe. It won’t go away, and things get progressively worse for your credit history and score when you let them fester. So, check out your free Credit Report Card today to see where your credit is falling short and start looking for ways you can realistically handle debts that you owe to improve your credit in the future.


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