So, you’re in over your head and you’re considering a route known as debt settlement (debt negotiation), whereby your creditors will agree to accept less than the full balance owed on your accounts. You’ve probably heard or read about many different opinions relating to debt settlement and you’re not sure if this is the way you really want to go. You’re probably also questioning all that you’ve heard and are likely confused and unsure of what’s fact and what’s actually fiction. So, let’s attempt to clarify the process of debt settlement by starting with the “bad.”
Obviously, your creditors will not accept less than what you owe them without a little pain on your part. Unless your accounts are already delinquent, don’t even attempt to work out a settlement agreement with even one of your creditors because it simply won’t happen. Period. Unfortunately, your accounts must be at a certain stage of delinquency prior to negotiating a settlement. If you’d like to attempt to work something out while your accounts are current, or even 30-60 days delinquent, I urge you to do so because at the very least you’ll find out the truth and realize the end result won’t be pretty. So, yes this is one of the ugly components of debt settlement. Your accounts must go delinquent, and subsequently, your credit score will be reduced for a few months.
Perhaps you’ve also heard that you may have a tax liability as a result of debt settlement. True? Maybe. You see, creditors are required by the IRS to report all canceled debt over the amount of $600 on Form 1099. Now, you may or may not be liable for income taxes as a result of debt settlement due to the fact that an “insolvency” rule exists for individuals who are classified as insolvent at the time of their various settlements. In order to be considered insolvent your liabilities must exceed your assets. If you’re not sure where you stand, I recommend that you speak with your tax professional to find out if this is the case for you.
Well, we’ve covered the negative aspects of debt settlement; now let’s take a look at the good that can result from negotiating with your creditors.
Let’s face it – if you’re considering debt settlement, you’re struggling to meet your monthly financial obligations, or your accounts are already seriously delinquent and you’re even contemplating bankruptcy. Debt settlement is an excellent alternative to bankruptcy because it allows you to become free from debt without allowing your personal information to become a matter of public record, as would be the case with a bankruptcy filing.
Additionally, while the reported delinquencies on your various accounts will have a temporary negative impact on your credit score, the effect won’t be nearly as severe as that of a bankruptcy filing. If you’ve managed to keep your accounts current, and your credit score is reduced during the process of debt settlement, your score will continually increase as your accounts reflect zero balances, which will occur with each final settlement payment. In most cases, individuals find that their credit score is back up between 600 and 700 within 6-9 months of completing the process of debt settlement.
Probably the most relevant benefit regarding debt settlement is that you’ll be free from debt. No more sleepless nights and constant worry, trying to figure out how you’ll get through the next month with a positive balance in your checking account.
Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a local radio personality talk about the process of debt settlement (debt negotiation). While listening to this so-called financial “expert” I became rather frustrated due to some very relevant omissions in his message.
Allow me to take a few moments to cover some concerns people may have regarding debt settlement and the consequences those who follow this path may face. For instance, the radio personality to whom I was listening was adamant about warning his listeners that their credit score would no doubt take a beating and be reduced significantly. Is this the truth? Yes – if you’ve been paying your bills on time for several years and you decide to enter into a debt settlement program, your credit score will be negatively impacted.
It makes no sense, but creditors aren’t interested in negotiating your debt (or even willing to work with you) until you’re several months delinquent, which will obviously have an affect on your credit score. But, there’s a very good chance that your credit score isn’t as high as you may think it is if you’re carrying high balances, or have had even one late payment.
If you’re concerned with your credit score and how it may be affected, you should probably sit down and re-prioritize. Let’s be optimistic and assume your current credit score is 700. Let’s also be realistic and take a serious look at why you’re considering debt settlement; it’s probably because your monthly credit card bills are increasingly becoming a burden and it’s difficult to make it through each month with your head above water. If this is the case, how is having a decent credit score beneficial? The main “perk” of having a good credit score is to obtain credit. Do you really want or need more of that? Probably not. So, if your credit score is reduced for 6-12 months, big deal, right? This option is much better than your alternative, which is being strapped with debt and high monthly payments for the next several years.
So, yes, the “experts” may have a portion of their message correct, but it’s so important to take a good look at the larger picture so that you can clearly understand all of your options and how they affect your overall well being in the long run. Picture yourself five years from now; you can either be free of debt and living comfortably, or you can be exactly where you are right at this very moment – still owing several thousand dollars to your creditors.
Are your credit card payments more than you can afford to pay each month? If so, it’s not likely that you’re able to afford to pay extra money toward each account, which would enable you to pay off your credit card debt at a much faster rate than if you simply pay the required minimum payments. If you’re frustrated and feeling like you’ll be in debt forever it’s time to take a realistic approach to determine what path toward a debt-free lifestyle you should take.
Even before you start looking at your options, however, take a few moments to cut up your credit cards because those little pieces of plastic have done you absolutely no favors. As a matter of fact, they’ve very likely led to numerous sleepless nights and constant worry due to significant financial concerns.
Now, if you’re in serious financial trouble due to credit card debt, and you’ve considered bankruptcy, consumer credit counseling service, debt consolidation and debt settlement as possible solutions to help eliminate your debt, you may have decided that debt settlement sounds like your best option to become debt-free. If so, you probably have some questions or concerns regarding debt settlement, and who can blame you? After all, each potential option has both pros and cons, which should be examined closely.
Let’s start with the potential negative effects of debt settlement:
• Credit Score – If your credit score is pretty decent, it’s likely that it will be reduced during the process of debt settlement. You see, if your accounts are current, and you attempt to negotiate with your creditors to achieve a reduced pay-off amount, you won’t be taken seriously. It’s unfortunate, but creditors don’t really care if you’re having difficulty meeting your financial obligations and, therefore, won’t cooperate with you – that is, unless your account is seriously delinquent. Only after you’ve demonstrated just how serious your financial troubles are (by not making your payments for a few months), will creditors begin to make an effort to assist you. So, yes, if you have a decent credit score debt settlement may have a negative impact.
• Tax Liability – Debt settlement may also result in a possible tax liability when it’s time to file your income taxes. You see, creditors are required to report any forgiven debt, which exceeds $600.00, to the IRS. You’ll receive IRS Form 1099 for the amount of the forgiven debt, but it’s important to speak with a tax professional because if you’re classified as “insolvent” at the time you negotiated and paid your settlement(s) you will not be liable for any income tax. In order to qualify for this classification, your liabilities must exceed your assets.
• Sufficient Funds – If you’re contemplating debt settlement it’s crucial to understand that you must have access to sufficient funds to follow through with a reached settlement agreement with your creditors, otherwise, the negotiated settlement agreement will become null and void. In other words, if you have an account balance of $40,000 and your creditor agrees to accept 50% or less as payment in full, you must have the ability to make that payment by the given deadline.
Oftentimes, creditors agree to accept the settlement amount in 4-6 installments in order to ensure that the settlement agreement is successfully completed
While the aforementioned potential effects of debt settlement are common, there are also many positive effects of debt settlement, which should be taken into consideration, as well.
• Debt-Free Status is Accomplished Over Shorter Period of Time – Unlike debt consolidation, consumer credit counseling or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the process of debt settlement can be completed in a matter of months, depending on your ability to access funds to pay the reduced settlement balances to your creditors. You see, consumer credit counseling and debt consolidation loans both consist of long-term payment agreements, which can last from 5-10 years. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy also involves a long-term repayment schedule, usually about five years. So if you’re anxious to put your debt behind you sooner rather than later, you’ll be pleased with your decision to choose debt settlement to resolve your various creditor accounts.
• Improved Credit Score – While debt settlement may initially impact your credit score, the end result will be a much improved credit score. You see, one of the major factors taken into consideration in credit scoring is the amount of outstanding debt you actually owe. Once your creditors notify the credit bureaus of your updated status, and that your accounts have zero balances, you’ll see an immediate increase in your credit score. Also, as each month passes, the negative marks on your credit report will have much less of an impact on the actual score. Chances are, you’ll have a higher score within a year of completion of the debt settlement process than you had prior to entering to a debt settlement program.
• Debt Settlement Leads to Financial Freedom – Making the decision to commit to a debt settlement program can be difficult; after all, you’ve been struggling to pay your bills for a long time and changing your “money methods” can be unsettling. That being said, the majority of individuals who choose debt settlement find that they feel a great sense of relief once the process begins, and an even greater sense of relief after all of their accounts have been paid in full, and no further money is owed. No price can be put on a worry-free lifestyle and financial freedom.
Just as with most decisions you’re faced with, the solution to your financial problems has many factors to be addressed and considered – both positive and negative. In the end, it’s important to base your decision on your own personal needs and ability.
More often than has ever occurred in the past, a significant amount of people are finding it extremely difficult to pay all of their monthly bills and as a result, have fallen behind on their payments. When issuers of credit cards receive late payments (even by just one day) their normal policy is to raise consumers’ interest rates by staggering amounts, leading to additional late payments, progressive collection activity and very possibly bankruptcy.
If you’re dealing with circumstances very similar to these, chances are you’ve looked into debt settlement, but still have some doubts regarding whether or not debt settlement is the path you should choose to become debt-free. Below are some facts regarding the process of debt settlement to assist you in making a decision about your financial predicament.
• Debt Settlement (Debt Negotiation) Defined. Debt settlement is a process whereby creditors agree to accept less than the full balance owed them as payment in full. In other words, if you owe your creditor $10,000, there’s a good possibility that you can settle your account for anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000, with no further balance owed.
• Your Credit Score May be Affected. While debt settlement doesn’t contribute to a lower credit score, delinquency does. Unfortunately, your creditors won’t consider offering or accepting a settlement agreement on your accounts until after the accounts have fallen into a delinquent status. Most people considering debt settlement are already delinquent, and their credit score will improve significantly after a zero balance is reflected on their credit report. Those who are not delinquent, however, will likely see their credit score decline before it improves. For most people, however, a decent credit score is less important than financial freedom and peace of mind.
• You May End Up With a Tax Liability. Creditors are required by the IRS to report canceled debts over $600, and you would also be required to report the amount of your forgiven debt as income, unless you were insolvent during the time which you settled your various accounts. In order to be classified as insolvent, your assets may not exceed your liabilities, which may be highly probable if you’re buried deep in debt.
• Debt Settlement Can Take Several Months to Complete. Depending on the amount of money you owe, the stage of delinquency what your accounts are and your ability to accumulate sufficient funds for settlement, this process can take anywhere from 30 days to 30 months.
• Not All Debt Is Negotiable. Only unsecured debt may be negotiated. This includes credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, department store credit cards and gas cards.
Fortunately, the process of debt settlement has helped many individuals and businesses avoid bankruptcy. If you’re at the end of your rope and you simply don’t see yourself ever digging your way out of debt, debt settlement is certainly a viable option, and one you should consider. While it’s important to understand this process and all that it entails, it’s equally important to realize that you could very likely be strapped with debt and unaffordable payments for many years to come, so debt settlement is definitely something worth looking into.