Debt Smart

By Scott Bilker

Scott,

We are drowning in debt–over $80,000 in credit card debt, some at over 30 percent. We are taking a second mortgage out on our house to pay it off. Should we ask the credit card companies to lower our payoff amount for paying off the balance in cash? Will this adversely affect our credit rating? Even a 10 percent reduction would pay for a car for my son. Your advice is appreciated!

Viola

Viola,

Wow! That is a large amount of debt at a high rate.Even if you can afford to repay the principal, the interest rates are ridiculously high. At 30 percent, if you spent $2,100 per month paying down that $80,000, it will still take more than 10 years to repay and cost a total of $259,000 to pay off.

Your plan to take a second mortgage on your home to save money is a good one. Of course there are potential risks and rewards. The risks include the reality that you’re taking unsecured debt (the credit cards) and repaying it by using your home as collateral. This is okay as long as you’re not in any immediate financial trouble, like a job loss situation.

The reward is that you will, or should, receive a much lower interest rate on the second mortgage and you will be able to deduct the interest charges from your income for tax purposes.

You can calculate your comparable credit card rate (the rate a credit card would need to be in order to match the second mortgage with taxes taken into account) by simply subtracting your tax rate from one and multiplying this by the second mortgage rate. For example, if you’re in the 15 percent tax bracket and your second mortgage rate is 7 percent, then your credit card rate would have to be 5.95 percent ([1-0.15] x 7) to match the 7 percent second mortgage with all its tax benefits.

Of course, getting the banks to reduce your outstanding balance would be nice. Then you wouldn’t have to refinance that entire $80,000 with the second mortgage. It’s probably true that much of that balance is from that rip-off 30 percent interest rate anyway.

But, you do ask an important question, specifically, “Will this adversely affect our credit rating?” Yes, it could. That’s because the credit card bank will report it as a settled account. And even further, you will receive a form 1099 which will require you to pay taxes on the amount you save. So what do you do? Well, I would attempt to settle the account for less and make it part of the negotiation that the account is reported “paid as agreed.” Although, this may present a difficult condition to get the banks to agree.

Additionally, if you’ve been paying on time, the banks will probably not even negotiate with you for any reduction because—why should they? You’re paying them back so why settle for less.

With the new changes in the bankruptcy law in effect, the banks are even in a better position to be tough. Still, you should look into all your options.

Give the bank a call and see what they can do. If you can settle for less without it affecting your credit history then I would do that. But just be sure to get everything in writing before you send them the check, It’s been my experience that once you pay they forget the terms of settlement.

(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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