With the economy in trouble and more layoffs being announced every day, many people are looking for ways to stay out of trouble with credit card debt. Relief is possible, not only for credit card debt, but also for other forms of indebtedness—but you have to know where to go and what to ask in order to find the best ways to give yourself some relief. Debt stress can lead to health problems, marital tension, and even loss of employment, if you don’t take some proactive steps to get yourself some breathing space.

The key to working with creditors, either directly or through a debt settlement company or attorney, is good communication. Unfortunately, for many of us, when debt starts to pile up, our tendency is to avoid creditors, even to avoid thinking about debt. But relief comes when you begin to take steps toward solving the problem, not from ignoring it. Here are some ideas you can use to get relief from debt and start the process of rebuilding your finances.

Talking to Your Creditors

The first and most important step you can take toward debt relief is talking to your creditors. If you can establish and verify that you have a genuine financial hardship—because of medical bills, divorce, death of a wage earner, loss of employment or reduction of income, or some other event with major financial impact—you may qualify for hardship provisions from the creditor. These can include temporary delays in payments, reduced interest rates, and even reduction of the amount owed, in some cases.

If you’ve gotten behind on your mortgage or car payments, talk to your lender. Many banks have workout departments that specialize in working with troubled home loans to keep them out of foreclosure and return them to good status. Your auto lender will be more willing to be patient with you if you can explain not only why your payments have fallen behind, but what you are trying to do to get caught up. Some lenders will allow you to pay out the past-due balance over time, gradually returning your loan to on-time status.

Credit Counseling and Debt Settlement

If your problems have grown beyond the point that you can handle them on your own, you may wish to consider working with a consumer credit counseling firm for debt relief. Consumer credit counseling firms are actually supported by banks and credit card companies, and as you can guess, their ultimate objective is to figure out a way for you to pay back the entire balance you owe. However, they do have the ability to intervene with lenders on your behalf, as long as you stay within the program’s guidelines, and keep your credit rating from taking a huge hit.

Debt settlement firms, on the other hand, are able to speak to lenders in order to negotiate settlement of your debt for less than the full amount owed. If you work with a debt settlement firm, it’s important to ask about fees and success rates—before you sign any sort of contract.