DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been paying the minimums on a pile of credit cards for years. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I barely keep my creditors at bay. I have never had a high-paying job, and I have needed credit in order to make ends meet. I will not be able to work forever. I am worried that I will be paying these bills for the rest of my life. Do you think it is wise to go to one of those credit consolidators for help? I don’t know what to do. -- Drowning in Debt
DEAR DROWNING IN DEBT: You are wise to be thinking about what you can do to consolidate your debt at this time. Do your research to figure out what is best for you. There are several things that consumers do when they get into financial trouble. My research shows three key options. 1) Debt settlement allows your debt to be negotiated to a lower interest rate or principal. 2) Debt relief is when you convince a debtor to forgive some or part of what you owe them. 3) Debt consolidation occurs when you take out a loan that pays for all of your debt and then you pay off that one bill.
You can call around to learn how each of these options works, but before you make a choice, get professional input. You can talk to a financial adviser at your bank -- for free. Figure out which option works best for you to help you become debt-free within a particular period of time.