It's not exactly a Get Out of Jail Free card, but credit card companies are increasingly offering various bailouts for debt-ridden consumers. That's good news for a lot of us.
With 20 to 70% forgiveness on balances, card companies are trying to cut their losses as the industry anticipates hundreds of billions of dollars in defaults by consumers this year. If you fear you won’t be able to make your payments, here is some advice as you attempt to strike a settlement deal with your credit card company.
1. Don’t Wait for a Collection Agent
It’s best to work directly with your credit card company as soon as you start missing monthly payments and before your issue gets turned over to a collections agency, at which point the creditor is paying big money to hunt you down (and they won’t be happy about it). The sweetest settlements are usually reached between 90 and 100 days after you’ve fallen behind, says Gerri Detweiler, credit advisor for Credit.com. At that point creditors may think you’re at the risk of bankruptcy and won’t want to risk never getting any money back.
2. Have a Starter Plan
Come up with a basic worksheet of what you owe and have that in hand when you speak to your creditor. Also, be clear and succinct about the nature of your problem, without giving the creditor all the details about your financial life. For example, a simple “I’ve been laid off and I owe $50,000 in debt” may be explanation enough, says Detweiler. “You don’t have to engage in a long conversation,” she says. “Keep your conversation short and to the point.” At the same time, you want to make it clear that you’ve made paying off your debt your top priority. Siler says it helps to say to the creditor, “I don’t want to go to a collection agency. What do I have to do to stop that?”
3. Prepare to Pay a Lump Sum
It’s important to be clear on what you can really afford to pay and most creditors would prefer a lump sum sooner, like in one to three months, than over a long period of time, credit experts say. “It’s not unusual to settle debts for 30 to 50 cents on the dollar, especially if you can come up with that lump sum as soon as possible,” says Detweiler.
4. Keep Good Notes
Make sure you have a notebook handy and take excellent notes, including the time, date and full names of the people you speak with at the credit card company. “If they say anything that may be illegal, make a note of that,” says Detweiler. “That may give you some negotiating leverage.” For example, you might hear that you “can’t file for bankruptcy,” which is totally false, she says.
5. Enter a Debt Management Plan
As a last resort, if your debt is far too great, you’re past 180 days late on your bills and you have no idea where to begin or how to decide which creditors to call first, it may be worth entering a certified debt management plan and working with an approved credit counselor to work on your behalf. There are a lot of debt management scams out there, so make sure you do your due diligence before signing up anywhere. Consider starting with The National Foundation of Credit Counselors, where you can search for reputable credit counseling agencies in your area.
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