Credit card settlement benefits by the numbers
In June 2014 the Center for Responsible Lending conducted a study to evaluate the impact of reputable debt settlement services following the implementation of new regulations by the Federal Trade Commission. Here is what they found…
- The average client included 6 debts in their unsecured debt settlement program
- Total debt enrolled in the program averaged out at $30,357
- The average settlement percentage was 48%
When a settlement may be better than consolidation
If you have credit card debt to repay and minimum payments aren’t working, you generally have two options (not including bankruptcy):
- Debt consolidation
- Debt settlement
A settlement is usually the better option when you simply want the fastest exit possible without declaring bankruptcy and don’t care about credit score damage. It’s especially useful for debts that are already charged off. That typically happens after six-nine months of nonpayment. The creditor freezes the account, moves it to charge-off status, and counts it as a loss for the company. They either sell it to an outside debt collection agency or send it to their in-house collections department.
At this point, in either case, all interest charges and late fees on the account freeze. Federal law says that a creditor or collector cannot apply interest charges or additional late fees to a charged-off balance. They can only collect the amount listed when the account was charged off.
This means that there’s less benefit to consolidating the debt. The biggest advantage of credit card debt consolidation is to reduce or eliminate the interest rate applied to each debt. If no new interest charges can be applied and rates don’t matter, then consolidation offers less of a benefit.
This means that once a debt goes to collections, debt settlement should be on the table as a possible solution. Consider carefully if you’re willing to accept some credit damage. If you are, then you should seriously consider settlement. If you want to avoid credit damage, then you should look at other options first.
Debt Settlement Taxes and How to Avoid Them
When you settle a debt for less than the full amount that you owe, you could be subject to income taxes. Any principal that you do not pay back is considered “canceled debt.” The IRS treats canceled debt as a source of income – it’s money you received without paying your creditors back. But that means that it counts as taxable income.
The good news is that there is a way to avoid paying taxes on canceled debt. All you need to do is show the IRS that the debt was canceled during a period of financial hardship.
How tax filings work for canceled debt
When a debt is forgiven or canceled in a settlement, the creditor must complete a 1099-C. It will report your Cancellation of Debt Income (CODI). This happens for any debt settled that totals over $600. So, you don’t need to worry about this if the settled debt amount is less than $600.
In all other cases, you should receive a copy of the 1099-C from the creditor. They also send one to the IRS, which is why you can’t just ignore it. Instead, you need to apply for an exclusion. You can qualify for an exclusion if you can show that the debt was canceled due to insolvency. In other words, you didn’t have the money to pay!
To qualify for an exclusion, you must complete IRS form 982. It’s worth noting that this is not exactly an easy, hassle-free form to fill out. It includes a title form called the Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness that is fairly exhaustive. We recommend working with a certified tax preparer or resolution service to ensure this is done correctly. If you don’t qualify for the exclusion, then you can expect to pay taxes on the settled debt on your next income tax filing!