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Liz Pulliam Weston on debt relief and bankruptcy

Gina from Marina Del Rey is a psychologist. She opened her private practice a few months ago but with the economy she didn't do as well as expected. Now, she's in credit card debt for the first time in her life. It's about $30,000. She paid $150 to sign up with a debt relief company.

Question: My question is simply: should I trust the debt relief companies that ask you to put money in a fund rather than pay the credit cards so that they can at some point negotiate a drastic reduction in debt? I love the concept of paying a portion of what I now owe. I hate having to ignore the banks' calls. It is also hard to know I cannot afford my payments any more--until my private practice flourishes, of course.

Answer: It's tough to know what are legitimate debt relief outfits. They're playing on the confusion. Problem is, a lot of these outfits demand large upfront fees.

You could contact a legitimate debt management counselor by going to the website NFCC.org--the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You'll want to pay it off within 5 years.

But I would also make an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney. It's important to talk about your options. Would you be better off filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy? Debt settlement will trash your credit rating, as will bankruptcy. The thing bankruptcy will give you is a fresh start. That may not be the case with debt settlement. A lot of people getting into debt trouble for the first time are struggling with an unpayable debt. They're throwing good money after bad. You don't want to drain your retirement account and home equity.

(Edited. You can listen to Liz's complete answer--as well as some cable TV debt relief ads--here.)

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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