With the average household holding $15,191 in outstanding debt, according to NerdWallet, living under piles of debt has become the norm for many Americans, but it doesn’t have to be.
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Debt-laden consumers can negotiate with credit card issuers to reduce the amount they owe or create a more palatable payment plan—if they know what to do.
Credit card companies “have a tremendous amount of incentive to work with consumers to collect as much debt as they can,” says Jelena Ewart, a credit card expert at personal finance website NerdWallet. “Credit card debt is typically unsecured, so they can’t take your house or car.”
Before calling creditors, experts recommend calculating just how much debt you owe to create a plan.
When it comes time to talk with the credit card companies, Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst at Creditcards.com, says they want to hear detailed and specific reasons why you are in financial trouble. For instance, you may not be able to pay your credit card because you lost your job or are unable to work for health reasons. Whatever the circumstances, he recommends providing detailed explanations instead of just giving the excuse of, “I can’t pay my bill.”
Once you know how much you owe, calculate what you can afford to pay. “In your mind, you want to know how you would like the settlement to look,” says Schulz. If you owe $10,000 and can make a lump-sum payment of $5,000, he recommends requesting the rest of the debt be discharged.
Another option is to request a lower interest rate or have the payment date be moved. “You really have to make a case as to how you are trying to work with them and doing your best to pay down the debt,” says Ewart. She notes credit unions and community banks tend to be more flexible with negotiations that credit card companies.
When it comes to negotiating with a credit card company, patience is of the essence. Chances are if you call the 1-800 number on the card, you are going to have to state your case to numerous people before getting to the right person. Experts recommend asking for the collections department from the start to get where you need to be quicker. If that isn’t an option, ask to speak to a manager and keep your cool. Schulz says a way to narrow down the amount of people you have to deal with is to ask for someone who works in the department that handles settlements and has the authority to make these kinds of deals.
You want to be nice during the negotiations and don’t feel pressured into accepting the first offer. Negotiations are just that: negotiations. “Your job isn’t done until your agreement is in writing,” notes Schulz. “Get the details in writing before you pay.”
“It’s really empowering for consumers to have some control and to take charge of their finances,” says Ewart. “Doing it yourself forces you to get on top of your finances.”