Getting out of debt: Walbert advises against calling debt consolidation companies that advertise online and on late-night television. These firms often charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for their services. Even if they reduce your debt, any settled amounts will be treated as income when you file your taxes, possibly forcing you to pay more.
A debt settlement also leaves a black mark on your credit report, which might make it difficult to borrow later.
Walbert recommends taking a do-it-yourself approach to paying debt, using resources available on the Internet. One place to look: The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which can help you find a reputable credit counselor. The foundation and its counselors might charge a small fee, but it will be far less than those imposed by private firms, she says.