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bills_lead_8_13RISMEDIA, August 13, 2009-As our economy continues to stagnate, more and more Americans are faced with the challenge of picking which bill(s) they should pay or not pay because they just don’t have enough money to cover them all. The question often revolves around which bill(s) is the most important to pay “now:” their mortgage/rent, car payment, utility bills, cable bill or credit cards? Although this seems like a fairly straightforward answer, for many Americans, it’s not as black and white as you would think.

Many different things impact these decisions, such as necessity, amount of money owed and perceived consequences of not paying. Intuitively, paying your mortgage/rent and car payment first seems like the easy answer. However, many Americans are faced with the dilemma that the value of their homes and cars are currently less than the amounts they owe. As a result, many believe they have no alternative but to turn the keys over and walk away.

We believe it’s important that consumers are fully educated, prior to making these decisions, regarding the impact these decisions may have on their credit profile in both the short- and long-term. All too often, an uninformed decision can result in a worse-than-expected result and a negative impact to their credit score.

There may be several steps a family can take to tighten their belt while strategically considering the best options that meet their needs and have the least negative credit score impact. In many cases, it all starts with making a list of their debts as they are today and then building a plan. Each debt is reviewed to identify any and all options for reducing the monthly payment (interest rate change, term change, debt consolidation, selling of respective asset, etc). Several reputable services offer a personal coach and online tools to help consumers with tips on building their plan. It takes a little work, but when it’s all done, it is typically well worth the time and effort.

In the majority of foreclosures/defaults occurring across the United States, one of borrowers’ biggest mistakes is that they never contacted their lender. Home loans typically have the biggest overall impact on credit scores. If a consumer is struggling to maintain their house payment, the first steps should be to:

1) Contact their home loan servicer or lender
2) Explain their challenge
3) Ask them to assist with finding any available solutions

Home interest rates are at their lowest point in years and, for some homeowners, simply refinancing their first and/or second mortgage will be the best option. However, lenders have more options at their disposal today than ever, including HASP (the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan), so there are multiple ways they can help consumers in lieu of foreclosing.

Regardless of their personal situation, each individual has an opportunity to take the guesswork out of the process and then begin to understand their options to more effectively manage their credit and debt. The key to the process is to become proactive because the importance of building a plan to evaluate and optimize your existing debt and credit has never been greater. The good news is that options and services exist to help you weather this storm. RE

Jeff Mandel (left) is president and Marlin Brandt is COO of ApprovalGUARD. For more information, please visit