Debt smart

tsj column writers - debt smartBy Scott Biker

Scott,

I need to know if this will really work. It makes me very nervous in not paying my bills so they can be negotiated. I talked to DEBTCO and I got very excited that I could be out of debt in three years, but when I got the papers (contract) I felt a little uneasy. Should I be uneasy? Should I think more about consolidation? Please help me make the right choice. I really need help with my debt.

Thank you,

Jackie

Jackie,

Thanks for writing!

I do not know all the details for DEBTCO. However, I’m certainly familiar with negotiating for payoff terms with credit card banks.

It’s been my experience that credit card banks will negotiate settlements with customers who are having trouble. And “having trouble” does include not being able to make their payments.

My impression is that you’re a good money manager and can find a way to pay your bills by using your credit options. You don’t want to be late because you know that would really hurt your credit history. Worst of all, paying late may increase the cost of your outstanding balances if banks penalize you by raising your rates–not to mention all the late fees and other penalties.

My guess is that they (DEBTCO) want you to stop paying so you’ll fall into the category of being in trouble and, therefore, it will be much easier for them to settle your accounts. Even if they can settle your accounts for less, which is probably the case, the settlement will be reported in your credit history and will certainly not look pretty to future lenders.

Okay, so I’ve written a lot of words so far but really haven’t reached a conclusion. This is because there’s always a trade off. You can do what DEBTCO says and probably (not definitely) have them settle your accounts for less thus saving you money.

BUT you risk the consequences of not paying your bills on time which can be further-reaching than the penalties on the accounts you want to settle. Lately, many banks have changed their policies to include clauses that give them the right to raise your rates if you’re late paying other creditors!

Here’s an example of that from my Citibank card: “If you default under any Citibank Card Agreement because you fail to make a payment to us or  any other            creditor when due, you exceed your credit line, or you make a payment to us that is not honored by your bank, we may increase the ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE (including any promotional rate) on all balances to a default rate of up to 24.99%.”

What to do?

I never want to tell people what they should do. Ultimately you should base your decision on what you have learned. Speak with people that you trust to help you make our decision.

However, I can tell you what I would do if I were in your position.

I would call each bank that you want to settle with and ask to speak with their “settlement department.” Tell them that you’re going to be having trouble paying your bill and that you may even be considering bankruptcy (which you may have to sometime), but you want to find out your options for paying off the account in full if they reduce how much you need to pay to “settle” the account. For example, if you owe $5,000, tell them that you can pay it off in full for $2,500.

They may say that you must pay it off in full, or they may offer other payment plans or even reduce the interest rate to zero.

They will need to be convinced that you really need help otherwise they won’t consider settling the account for less than the outstanding balance.

Just make it clear to them that you’ll be talking to a bankruptcy attorney to explore that option. Tell the bank that if they can offer you something reasonable you’ll work with the bank, or else you’ll be forced to consider the bankruptcy option.

What I’m suggesting is that you try to settle the accounts yourself first. You may not be able to get better payoff numbers than DEBTCO but it’s possible that you can. Also, you may be able to avoid the problem of not paying your accounts on time.

Good luck.

Regards,

Scott

(Scott Bilker is the author of the best-selling books, Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt, Credit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. He’s also the founder of DebtSmart.com)

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