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3 things to do before you contact a debt relief service

If you're planning to enroll in a debt relief program, there are steps you can take to get prepared before making the call. Aleksandar Krstovic/Getty Images

Credit card debt can be overwhelming, and borrowers who struggle to make their minimum payments can feel like they're drowning in debt. Part of the issue is that the high interest rates and minimum payment structures associated with credit cards can make it difficult to pay off what you owe. 

The good news is that there are solutions if you're facing a high amount of credit card debt. For example, debt relief services may give you an affordable way to pay your debt off in a reasonable amount of time. But if you want to take advantage of what debt relief can offer, there are a few things you can do to get prepared. 

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3 things to do before you contact a debt relief service

"You know it could be time to reach out to a debt relief service when you find yourself struggling to manage your debts, facing difficulty making payments or feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation," says Michael Hershfield, founder and CEO of Accrue Savings. "It's crucial for consumers to be cognizant of their financial situations."

But, there are a few things you should do before you contact a debt relief provider, including:  

Understand your debts

It's important to get a full understanding of your credit card debts. One of the best ways to do so is to list them on a spreadsheet. When you do, make sure to include your balances, interest rates and minimum payments. 

Once you have your debts organized, you can determine: 

  • Your total minimum payment: Add up your minimum payments to get a better understanding of how much your debts cost per month. 
  • Your highest interest rates: Interest is generally the most expensive aspect of credit card debt. So, it's good to know what your rates are and which accounts charge the highest rates. 
  • Your total credit card debt: Add your balances together to determine your total credit card debt.
  • Your weighted average interest rate: Your weighted average interest rate is important because some debt relief solutions may involve consolidation loans and your new loan should have lower interest rate than your weighted average rate. To get a weighted average, multiply each card's interest rate by the card balance. Then, add the totals together and divide that sum by your total credit card debt. 

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Understand your budget

It's also a good idea to understand your budget, as you'll work with a debt relief expert to create a plan to get out of debt. 

If you already have a written budget in place, review it and determine if it needs to be updated. If not, it's a wise idea to create one. Consider the following during that process: 

  • Income: Add up all sources of income. 
  • Fixed expenses: Calculate the total for your fixed monthly expenses, like insurance premiums, housing and car payments.  
  • Variable expenses: Get an estimate for the variable expenses in your budget. 
  • Miscellaneous expenses: "It's good to keep a miscellaneous budget," says Lamine Zarrad, founder and CEO of StellarFi — which includes expenses like weddings, birthdays, and concerts. Consider these costs as you create your budget. 
  • Medical expenses: "You should also try to plan for regular health and wellness expenses," says Zarrad. Include expenses like prescription costs and medical copays.  

Prepare your documents

A debt relief expert will ask questions to get a better understanding of your debt and your ability to pay it off. If you choose to move forward with the solutions they provide, you may need documents to prove your identity as well as bank account information to cover your new monthly payments. 

So, before you make the call, have your most recent credit card statements, state-issued ID and bank account information on hand. 

The bottom line

If you're struggling to make your credit card minimum payments, it could be time to reach out to a debt relief service. But before you do, it may help to review your debts and budget and gather the documents you'll need beforehand. Doing so can help streamline the process.

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