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Debt relief: what to do when the bills pile up

Florida residents who have run into a streak of bad luck and find medical bills piling up may find themselves tempted to file for bankruptcy. According to USA Today, Americans choose bankruptcy most often as a result of outstanding healthcare expenses. When emergency surgeries or other unexpected crises impact financial well-being, what should families do?

The Federal Trade Commission offers some advice, encouraging individuals to be proactive about money matters. Being up front with creditors is the first step. While some may not be able to negotiate new payment arrangements, others likely can, so it is a good idea to let them know the moment bills begin to feel overwhelming.

If negotiating a modified payment plan does not seem to be an option, the FTC recommends considering credit counseling through a reputable agency. Trained counselors understand finances and can help clients create a plan for both chipping away at their debt and managing money better in the future.

Be careful to research counseling agencies thoroughly before enlisting their services, however, as some charge unreasonable fees and may not offer reliable advice. A good resource to consider before turning to outside assistance is a client's personal financial institution.

When the scope of the problem goes beyond what a personal banker can handle, the FTC offers the following guidelines:

  • Be wary of any organization that offers outright guarantees to make debt disappear
  • Stay away from agencies that ask for detailed financial information before sending you free information about their services
  • Steer clear of companies that ask for fees before settling debts

Bankruptcy may still be a viable option when families have exhausted all other possibilities. Just remember to consider the long-term effects of that decision prior to making it.


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