Q. We have been struggling with our finances for a while. Sensing that we needed help, I made an appointment with a credit counseling agency, where we learned that a debt management plan could help us repay what we owe. The trouble is that my husband insists we can handle our finances on our own. So far, we haven’t made any progress toward repaying our debts, and I’m worried what will happen to us. Can you help?

A. Debt and procrastination do not mix. When bills go unpaid, they become delinquent, and if your creditors report to the credit reporting agencies, then this information goes onto to your credit report, which negatively influences your credit score. If you continue to leave bills unpaid, each delinquency has an increasing negative impact on your credit scores.

Each creditor has their own policy on how they handle missed payments. In general, though, the more days you become past due, the more aggressive the collection attempts will be. Sometimes, a creditor may opt to send your account to collections, and depending on the balance, a creditor may even decide to sue you to get a judgement. If the creditor gets a judgement, the creditor may choose to execute on the judgement and garnish your wages, which can continue until the bill is paid.

Facing your debts can be unnerving, but waiting to do so won’t work in your favor. It’s far easier to address a bill at 30 days past due, rather than at 60 or 90 days past your payment date. In part, this is because the more delinquent you are, the more money it takes to bring you current. At 30 days past due, you will need one payment, plus late fees, and next payment to become current. At 60 days late, you need two payments, plus late fees and enough money to make the current payment as well.

Once you fall behind, it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle of late fees and past due payments. If you are having trouble making a payment, it becomes even more difficult when you start adding in late fees.

All this to say that the sooner you address financial issues, the better your options will be. On the other hand, the longer you wait, the more difficult your choices become and the more money it takes to become current. What’s more, financial strain can negatively impact your relationship, which only adds another layer of difficulty to the situation.

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By the time you sought assistance from a credit counseling agency, if you were going to make changes on your own you probably would have done so. If you could have handled your bills, you would have. I suggest you return to the credit counseling agency as soon as possible. Their advice, and the plan they create, will be based on your current situation, not the one from a few months ago.

Once you start making progress, you will build momentum. And while it will take time to repay what you owe, getting started is often the hardest part.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. To contact her, email credit@cccsbh.com

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