Dear Harry: I am in debt up to my eyeballs, and I have been looking for a way to get out. Please don't lecture me on the value of staying out of debt; I learned the hard way. I have spoken to companies that have advertised on TV about getting out of debt with the aid of their credit-counseling service. My present credit-card debt is $18,750. The best deal I got offered to save me half that with payments of $339 for 36 months with their fees included. I am now paying $600 a month on these debts, and it's getting harder because my partner has been out of work for a little more than a year. My credit score is in the mid-700s, and I'm worried that if I go for this plan my score will be shot. Is this so? Does the offer look like a good deal to you?
What Harry says: Whenever someone pays a debt for less than its full value, there's always the likelihood that it will adversely affect his credit score. At least one of your creditors will very likely report it to the scoring agency. The deal does not look bad at all. The payment schedule assumes an interest rate and fee of 18 percent over the 36 months. That is probably about what you're paying now on your credit cards. However, the 50 percent reduction in your debt looks a bit high, so I want you to be particularly cautious. Remember, you're making payments to the intermediary, and they (we hope!) will make payments to your creditors. Do check with the Better Business Bureau, and do a careful search on the Internet for any adverse information. Make sure you get everything in writing that you can easily understand. It's too easy for a scam artist to get into this business and leave you holding a bigger bag than you started with.