When you can’t afford to pay everything you owe, credit card debt settlement could help you get out of debt faster. You pay back a percentage of what you owe and in return, the creditor discharges the remaining balance. This may hurt your credit score, depending on the terms of the settlement you negotiate. Even so, as long as you are aware of the impact and have a plan to recover, settlement could be beneficial. It may provide the faster exit that you need to get a clean start without your existing debt weighing you down.
The Two Paths to Credit Card Debt Settlement
Debt settlement negotiations work in two basic ways:
The first path is something that you can either do on your own or hire a debt settlement attorney to do for you. It’s most common when you have one or two problem accounts already in collections. To use the second option, you usually must go through a debt settlement company. This option is best used when you have multiple debts that are behind or already charged off.
Option 1: How to negotiate credit card debt settlement yourself with a single creditor
This basic credit card debt settlement process can vary. In some cases, the collector or creditor may contact you with a settlement offer. Then you decide if you want to accept it or make a counteroffer. In some cases, you can make the settlement with a small series of payments, instead of a single lump sum; however, this is less common.
Option 2: How a debt settlement program works
When you have multiple debts to settle, you typically set up a debt settlement program through a debt settlement negotiation company. Using a debt settlement program generally follows this same basic process as individual negotiations. However, there are steps you may need to take before the negotiation can begin.
The settlement company will create a “set aside” account where you deposit money to generate the funds you need.
They help evaluate your budget to see how much money you have available to set aside each month; this amount is often significantly less than the total monthly payment you’re making on all credit card debts.
Once you generate enough funds, they approach one of your creditors to make a settlement offer.
The creditor may counteroffer, in which case your settlement team negotiates to reach a final amount that all parties can accept.
Once you reach a settlement and the creditor discharges the balance, fees are applied. Fees are typically calculated by taking a percentage of the original balance of the debt you settled.
This process repeats with each creditor or collector until you reach settlements on all the debts included in your program.
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This type of settlement works for other unsecured debts!
Credit cards aren’t the only type of debt that you can settle using the methods described on this page. This type of settlement may also work for almost any unsecured debt:
In-store credit lines
Bills that have gone to collections
Unpaid medical debt collections
So, if you have more unsecured debts than just credit cards, you may be able to roll them into the same settlement program. This can provide one solution to take care of a wider range of the debt challenges that you face.
It’s worth noting that there are also settlement programs for tax debt and private student loans. Settlement usually doesn’t work for most secured debts, like mortgages and auto loans. That’s because the lender can simply repossess the collateral (your home or car) if you don’t pay what you owe.
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!