If the burden of overwhelming credit card debt has you feeling like there’s nowhere to turn, consider a solution that works for many people just like you: Credit card debt settlement.
But debt settlement isn’t for everyone – here are 11 credit card debt settlement facts that can help you decide if it’s the correct solution to your financial woes:
11. Debt Settlement Companies Are For-Profit Enterprises
That means they make their money from people like you, who they are purporting to help. That’s not to say they are necessarily dishonest, but the fees they charge and the terms they negotiate can be less than favorable in the long run.
An example of how debt settlement companies work can be illustrated in this way: You may be advised to stop paying on your credit card debt and to instead send the amount you would be paying to the settlement company. From there, they’ll take a portion as their fee and put the rest into an escrow-type account to build your lump sum payment. The fee they charge means less is being put aside than if you were simply saving the money yourself.
In addition, the credit card company may decide at any time to charge off your account and send it to collection; in which case, the fees paid to the settlement company are worthless.
10. Credit Card Companies Don’t Like Debt Settlement Plans
Debt settlement is something credit card companies are hesitant to do mainly because they lose money.
Your credit card company is under no obligation to negotiate or offer you a settlement for less than what you owe. It’s up to you to convince them this is in their best interest and to offer a payment that will satisfy their business needs.
Be prepared for a long and often frustrating process of back-and-forth negotiations — all while you are withholding any payment from them. This will help them take your threats of zero payment seriously enough to consider settling
9. Debt Settlement Usually Means a Lump-Sum Payment
Credit card debt settlement is a way to pay your creditors part of what you owe based on the terms you negotiate with them. This is usually a lump-sum settlement that satisfies the outstanding debt and closes the account you have with the creditor.
Why would a creditor agree to do this? Primarily because receiving a partial payment is preferable to nothing at all, which leads us to our next fact…
8. You Need to Have Cash on Hand Before You Negotiate
One of your only bargaining tools in offering to pay less than what you owe is to offer a lump-sum payment in return for settling your debt obligation. That means you must have the cash available or ready access to it before you start negotiating. Offering more than you have available to pay only puts you in a position where you won’t be able to meet your agreement.
However, don’t offer everything you have available initially either. If you’re trying to settle a $10,000 outstanding balance and have $7,000 on hand, consider starting at $5,000 and moving up from there.
7. You Will Need to Build Your Case
In considering a debt settlement case, banks and credit card companies look at the hardship factors leading to your inability to pay. Legitimate criteria for debt settlement consideration include things like job loss, substantial medical debt, death of the primary earner, etc.
Be prepared to state your case and explain your inability to pay the entire amount you owe.
6. Your Debt Will Not Be Cut in Half
In spite of the wild promises made by debt settlement companies, paying 50 percent or less of what you owe is almost unheard of.
A more likely outcome is a reduction of between 15 and 30 percent of your outstanding balance. In rare instances, a credit card company may be convinced to take less than that, but it will require excellent negotiating skills on your part.
5. Your Credit Scores Will Be Negatively Impacted
You may think paying off your debt will improve your score, and oftentimes debt settlement companies will tell you that doing so will improve your debt-to-credit ratio. However, in order to qualify for debt settlement, you generally need to be behind on payments, and the delinquency will be reported to the credit bureaus and appear on your credit report for seven years. On-time payments is the most heavily weighted factor when calculating your credit score.
The remaining balance of the agreed upon settlement will also appear on your credit report as a negative mark, as will any debts that go into collections.
4. You Need to Settle Before Your Account Goes to Collection
As hard as it is to negotiate with your credit card company, you’ll want to exhaust every opportunity with them before your debt goes to collection. Continue the dialogue and the negotiation process. As long as your creditor thinks there’s still a chance they’ll get paid, they’ll try to work with you.
Once the debt has gone to collection, much of the damage has been done to your credit and your position of power is greatly reduced.
3. You are Liable for Income Taxes on the Amount Discharged
Another thing to consider is both the federal government and most state governments consider any amount written off by a creditor to be taxable income to you. That means $3,000 written off is an instant tax obligation and may even bump you into a higher tax bracket.
Consider talking to your accountant prior to making any settlement decision.
2. Not all Debt is Eligible for Settlement
While debt settlement can be a viable option for credit card debt, understand that not all debt qualifies for debt settlement. Examples of debts ineligible include: student loans, alimony, a mortgage and auto loans.
1. You Will Need the Settlement Terms in Writing
If you’ve reached a settlement deal with a creditor, ask for the details in writing before making a payment or committing to the terms.
After all of the back and forth, you want to make sure the details are what you think they are. Making a payment over the phone before you see the details may in fact be committing you to something other than what you understood.
Knowing these facts about debt settlement can help you to arrive at the best solution to a difficult debt situation. If you find yourself in a position of extreme financial hardship and are unable to continue paying your credit card debt, a settlement agreement can be your way out — if you handle it wisely and know the facts. Good luck!
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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.