If you have a positive figure, you might not need your credit card companies' help to get by, providing you budget carefully. That would be great, because your credit score should be unaffected. If you have a negative figure, you should at least know by how much you need to reduce your card payments, and can propose a sum to the call center agent(s).

What if your negative figure is so big that your card issuers won't play ball -- or if you're already fielding calls from collection agencies? Then you should talk to a reputable, nonprofit, credit counseling organization, lists of which are available from the Department of Justice and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

As a last resort, you may end up choosing personal bankruptcy. But even that's much less scary than it sounds, and way better than an endless stream of possibly abusive calls from creditors and collection agencies -- not to mention the law suits that usually follow. What you shouldn't do is swim with the sharks who run many debt settlement companies. They might eat you alive.

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