How Credit Card Debt Settlement Works[yoast-breadcrumb]
How Credit Card Debt Settlement Works
Credit card debt can feel overwhelming. Many Americans struggle with high interest rates, late fees, and minimum payments that barely make a dent in their total balance. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, debt settlement may seem like an appealing option.Debt settlement companies advertise that they can negotiate with your creditors to settle your debts for a fraction of what you owe. While this can provide relief, debt settlement is risky and can leave you in an even worse financial position if not done carefully. This article will explain how credit card debt settlement works, the risks involved, and what to consider before going this route.
What is Debt Settlement?
Debt settlement involves negotiating with creditors to pay a lump sum payment that is less than the total amount owed, in exchange for the creditor agreeing to forgive the remaining balance. For example, if you owe $20,000 across multiple credit cards, a debt settlement company may be able to negotiate to pay $8,000 to settle the accounts completely.Debt settlement is different from debt consolidation or debt management plans, where you make payments over time but still pay back the full amounts owed. With debt settlement, you pay less than you owe but take a hit to your credit in the process.
When Debt Settlement Makes Sense
Debt settlement only makes sense as a last resort option when you simply cannot keep up with minimum payments and have already fallen behind on accounts. Creditors have no incentive to settle debts that they think they can collect in full eventually.Debt settlement may be an option if:
- You owe $10,000 or more in unsecured debt like credit cards or medical bills
- You have had debts go into delinquency and collections
- Your income is not enough to keep up with minimum payments
- You do not qualify for other options like balance transfer credit cards or a debt management plan
The Debt Settlement Process
If you decide debt settlement is your only viable option, here is a general overview of how the process works:
- You stop making payments. Debt settlement companies instruct clients to stop paying creditors directly. This signals to creditors that you cannot pay and gets them to the negotiating table. However, be aware this also means late fees and interest will accrue.
- The accounts go delinquent. After several months of non-payment, accounts will become seriously delinquent. This is when creditors may be willing to negotiate rather than risk getting nothing if you end up in bankruptcy. But it also wrecks your credit.
- The debt settlement company negotiates lump sum settlements. Once accounts are delinquent, the debt settlement company contacts your creditors and tries to negotiate a reduced lump sum payment, such as 40% of the total owed, to settle the account completely.
- You make monthly payments to a dedicated account. While settlement negotiations take place, you make monthly payments to a special account, usually for 24-48 months. The monthly payment is calculated to save enough to make the lump sum settlements.
- Settlements are made from the dedicated account. As negotiations are completed, the settlement funds are disbursed from the dedicated account to the creditor. The creditor then forgives the remaining balance.
- After all accounts are settled, any leftover funds are returned to you. Once all your debts are settled, any leftover funds in the dedicated account are returned to you.
The Pros and Cons of Debt Settlement
Debt settlement can seem like an easy way out of debt, but there are significant downsides:
- Settles debts for less than you owe
- Stops collection calls and lawsuits
- Helps avoid bankruptcy
- Wrecks your credit due to delinquencies
- No guarantee creditors will settle
- Debt settlement fees can be high
- Savings may be taxed as income
- Lawsuits from creditors still possible
- Settled accounts closed, losing available credit
As you can see, the risks and costs of debt settlement often outweigh the benefits. Bankruptcy or other options may be better.
Debt Settlement Company Warning Signs
If you do decide to go the debt settlement route, be very cautious in selecting a reputable company. Warning signs of a debt settlement scam include:
- Charging large upfront fees before settling any debts
- Guaranteeing they can reduce debt by a specific amount
- Advising you to stop paying creditors
Legitimate debt settlement companies charge fees as a percentage of enrolled debt as settlements are completed. They also make no guarantees on settlement amounts since it depends on each creditor.
Other Debt Relief Options
Before resorting to debt settlement, make sure you have explored other options:
- Credit counseling – Non-profit credit counselors can help you set up a debt management plan (DMP) with reduced interest rates and consolidated payments. This helps pay back debt in full while avoiding settlement.
- Balance transfer credit cards – Transferring high-interest credit card balances to a 0% APR card stops interest accumulation and gives you time to pay down the balances.
- Debt consolidation loans – Banks and credit unions may extend a personal loan to consolidate credit card balances into one monthly payment at a lower interest rate.
- Bankruptcy – Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy stops collection activity and can eliminate credit card balances entirely over time. While bankruptcy damages credit, it may be better than debt settlement.
The Bottom Line
Debt settlement seems like an easy fix but can seriously damage your finances and credit if not done carefully. Exhaust other options before considering settlement. And if you do settle, be prepared for the consequences. Your credit will suffer and you may owe taxes. Make sure you can live with the outcomes before agreeing to any settlements.