The Basics of Debt Settlement
Debt settlement is an agreement between a lender and a borrower for a large, one-time payment toward an existing balance in return for the forgiveness of the remaining debt. A person that owes $10,000 on a single credit card, for instance, might approach the credit card company and offer to pay $5,000. In return for this single payment, the credit card company agrees to forgive or erase the remaining $5,000 still owed.
Why would a credit card provider willingly decide to give up a significant part of the balance it is owed? It is usually because the lender is either strapped for cash or is afraid of your eventual failure to repay the entire balance. In both situations, the credit card issuer is trying to protect its financial bottom line-- a key fact to keep in mind as you start negotiating.
Credit cards are unsecured loans, which means that there is no collateral your credit card provider-- or a debt collector-- can take to repay an unpaid balance.
While negotiating with a credit card company to settle a balance might seem too good to be true, it's not. Not surprisingly, lenders don't like to promote settlement, and although there are no independent statistics about success rates, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that around fifty percent of debt settlement cases make it to completion. Still, if you're significantly behind on your payments and spiraling toward bankruptcy, your lender may agree to take what it can get, giving you one last chance to get back on your feet.
The Negotiating Process
Begin by calling the main phone number for your credit card's customer service department and asking to talk to someone, preferably a manager, in the "debt settlements department." Explain how critical your situation is. Highlight the fact that you have scraped a little bit of money together and are wishing to settle one of your accounts before the money gets spent elsewhere. By mentioning the fact that you have multiple accounts on which you're seeking debt settlements, you're more likely to receive a competitive offer.
Offer a specific dollar amount that is about 30% of your outstanding account balance. The lender will most likely counter with a higher percentage or dollar amount. If anything above 50% is suggested, think about attempting to settle with a different creditor or simply put the money in savings to help pay future monthly bills.
Lastly, once you've finalized your debt settlement with your lender, make sure to get the agreement in writing. It's not unheard of for a credit card company to verbally accept a debt settlement just to turn over the remaining balance to a collections agency. Ensure the written agreement clarifies the amount you need to pay in order to have your whole balance excused from additional payment.