What to Do If You Can't Afford Your Credit Card Bills

Falling behind on your credit card bills can lead to disastrous consequences.

Falling behind on your credit card bills can lead to disastrous consequences.

Even if you think that you can afford what you charge on your credit cards, the high interest rates many cards carry can quickly run up your bill beyond what you can pay. If you can no longer afford your credit card bills, you should take action to work out some kind of compromise before you face legal action. Even bankruptcy can be preferable to being on the losing end of a court judgment.

Payment Holiday

If you simply have a short-term cash flow problem, call your credit card company to ask for a payment holiday. This is an agreement by your card company that allows you to skip your minimum required payment for a month or more. Although interest will still accrue on your debt, you won't get dinged with a late payment fee or a note on your credit report.

Balance Negotiation

If your credit card problems are more substantial, you may have to work out a deal with your creditor. Call to ask if you can change your payment terms, reduce your interest rate or make a settlement arrangement. You may not have a lot of leverage in your negotiation until you fall behind on your payments. If a creditor believes you aren't able to make your payments, it may be more willing to take what it can get from you. If you haven't made payments for a few months, a creditor might be willing to reduce your balance by 50 percent or more if you can pay the remaining balance in full in a relatively short period.

Debt Management Plan

Although cutting your debt in half might save you the most money in the long run, if you don't have the cash available, a negotiated settlement won't do you much good. A reputable debt management company might be able to negotiate a longer-term payment plan with your creditors on your behalf. Under the terms of most debt management plans, your creditors agree to waive penalties and possibly lower interest rates as you make monthly payments. You may have restrictions about taking on more debt during the duration of the plan, which may last four or more years.

Bankruptcy

Filing bankruptcy may be your last option if you can't afford to make your credit card payments. Bankruptcy will generally eliminate all of your credit card debt, but you will have financial consequences. If you can afford to make payments, you will have to file Chapter 13 and make payments for up to five years. If you cannot afford these payments and otherwise qualify, you can file Chapter 7 and get a discharge in about three months. However, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will stain your credit report for 10 years, temporarily reducing or eliminating your chances of getting future credit at affordable rates. Chapter 13 remains on your report for seven years.

About the Author

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA, John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served 18 years as an investment adviser. Csiszar has served as a technical writer for various financial firms and has extensive experience writing for online publications.

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