How to Be Your Own Debt Relief Counselor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Even if headlines say it’s “getting better,” the U.S. consumer debt picture isn’t a pretty one. has the numbers that prove the point:

  • The average American with a credit file is responsible for $16,635 in debt, excluding mortgages, according to the Experian Credit Reporting Bureau.
  • Total U.S. consumer debt (which includes credit card debt and non-credit card debt, but not mortgage debt) reached $2.43 trillion as of May 2011, according to the Federal Reserve's G.19 report on consumer credit from July 2011.
  • Total U.S. consumer revolving debt reached $793.1 billion as of May 2011. Approximately 98% of that debt was credit card debt, according to the Fed report.

If you’re among the consumer debt set, so much so that you need an action plan to pay off those debts, consider becoming your own debt relief counselor.

It’s going to take more time out of your schedule, and more elbow grease in developing and executing an action plan, but you can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars – and learn a lot about your own financial picture in the process. Here’s where to start:

Learn how to negotiate. To manage your own debt restructuring campaign, you’re going to have to learn how to be a good negotiator. Start by approaching a creditor and offering that creditor some money – even as little as 10% of your outstanding balance. You’ll need to get that done – most creditors won’t negotiate with you until you make at least a partial payment on your debt.

Be creative in sending debt payments. Always send a debt payment via money order. Avoid paying a debt with a check, credit card, or wire transfer, since those forms of payment give creditors all they need to get money from you directly in the event of a dispute.

Learn how to read a credit report. You’ll need to know the lingo of the credit reporting business, and that means learning how to make the most from your own credit report. For example, when looking at your debt status, look for terms like “fully paid” and "debt satisfied.” Those both work in your favor, but the term “debt still active”? Not so much.