One of the best things to do for your anxiety and your credit score is to pay off credit card debt. People who commit to a payoff strategy (like Snowball or Avalanche) will make quick progress while building their credit history. People in financial crisis may benefit from negotiating with creditors to freeze their account or lower their interest rate, though their credit rating may suffer. Simplifying payments with a debt consolidation loan is also an increasingly popular tactic.
We’ve compiled several strategies that can help you consolidate credit card debt without hurting your credit score. Find the one that best suits your circumstances.
What Not to Do: Ignoring Credit Card Debt
When it comes to credit card debt, the consequences of avoidance and procrastination are steep. If you miss payments, your creditor will likely reach out and notify you of your delinquency.
Miss enough payments and your account might be closed. Your credit card issuer will report your missed payments to credit reporting agencies, which can negatively impact your score. Remain delinquent long enough and your account might be sent to collections (either in-house or third-party). Needless to say, this is not good for your credit score and history.
What You Should Consider: Paying off Credit Card Debt Using a Planned Approach
We mentioned anxiety earlier. Well, trying to pay down a large credit card balance without a debt payoff strategy is a recipe for more anxiety. Sure, making a plan may require taking a close look at your bad habits, which is stressful. But trust us when we say, a good plan is the best way to set yourself up for smooth sailing. Two common approaches to getting out of credit card debt without ruining your credit rating are the Snowball and the Avalanche.
With the Snowball method, you work to pay off your debts from smallest balance to largest, regardless of the interest rate. As you pay off each card, you roll that monthly payment over to the next smallest balance. Meanwhile, it’s important to make minimum payments on your other cards. (Take a deep dive into the Snowball method here.)
The Avalanche method advises focusing on the debt with the highest interest rate. Let’s say you have two credit cards, one with an interest rate of 8% and the other of 15%. Start with the balance accruing 15% interest. When you pay off that card, turn your attention to the debt with the next highest interest rate. And of course, be mindful that you’re making credit card minimum payments on all your debts.
Both strategies serve to build a positive credit history as you get out of debt. Not only will they not ruin your credit, you may even end up with a higher FICO Score.
Negotiating and Settling Credit Card Debt
If you have been struggling to make payments on your credit cards, there is a good chance your credit score has dropped. Before the debt is sent to collections, you may be able to negotiate with the credit card company.
Like any business, the primary goal of a credit card company is to make a profit. When it becomes apparent that a cardholder is unable to pay their bills, companies are sometimes willing to find an arrangement that will enable the customer to make payments based on their situation. Three possible options are a debt settlement, a hardship repayment plan, and temporary forbearance.
In a debt settlement, the credit card company agrees to reduce the balance owed in exchange for a lump sum payment. If your balance is $15,000, the company may agree to a payment of $8,000 and “forgive” the rest. There are two disadvantages with this scenario: The card holder has to come up with $8,000, and their credit score can be negatively affected.
With hardship repayment, the company freezes the current debt and works with you to create a repayment plan based on your current income and circumstances. The company may lower your interest rate and waive fees during the repayment period. You may qualify for a hardship program if your debt is the result of unemployment, serious illness, family emergency, or a natural disaster. In hardship cases, your credit rating is usually not affected, though your participation in the program may be reported to the credit bureaus.
Finally, in a temporary forbearance, the credit card company freezes any combination of the current debt and interest rate, and eliminates late fees and penalties for an agreed upon period of time. This is usually reserved for card holders who are currently in financial crisis. One drawback is that your debt isn’t resolved but merely put on hold while you sort out your finances.
You should know that most forgiven debt is considered income by the IRS. So if you had $15,000 in debt but settled for $8,000, the IRS may consider that extra $7,000 to be taxable income.
Recommended: What Is Credit Card Debt Forgiveness?
What Is the Statute of Limitations on Credit Card Debt?
The statute of limitations governs how long a creditor can sue you for nonpayment of a debt. The statute of limitations on credit card debt varies from state to state, but is typically between three and 10 years.
You can find out yours by requesting a debt verification or validation letter from your creditor. The statute of limitations clock starts from the last moment the debt was active. When you contact your creditor, don’t agree to any payment plan until you confirm the statute of limitations on your debt. Otherwise, you may inadvertently restart the clock.
Even if your debt is past the statute of limitations, it may still be within the credit reporting time limit. This is the amount of time delinquent account information can appear on your credit report. In most cases, the credit reporting time limit for negative information is seven years.
If your debt is sold to a third-party collections agency, try to negotiate a payoff amount to close the collections attempt. Debt collectors buy debt from the company you owed for a fraction of the original unpaid balance. Because of this, collectors might take less than what you owe if you have strong negotiation skills.
Say Goodbye to Credit Card Debt with a Personal Loan
Personal loans are a type of unsecured loan. There are a number of uses of personal loans, but paying off credit card debt is one of the most common. Loan amounts vary by lender from $1,000 to $100,000, and are paid out as soon as the loan is approved. The borrower then pays back the loan — with interest — in monthly installments.
Many unsecured personal loans come with a fixed interest rate. An applicant’s interest rate is determined by several factors, including credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio, among other factors. Typically, the higher an applicant’s credit score, the better their interest rate will be, as the lender may view them as a less risky borrower.
When using a personal loan for credit card debt, the loan proceeds are used to pay off the cards’ outstanding balances, consolidating the debts into one loan. This is why it’s also sometimes referred to as a debt consolidation loan. Ideally, the new loan will have a much lower interest rate than the credit cards. By consolidating credit card debt into a personal loan, a borrower’s monthly payments can be more manageable and cost considerably less in interest.
In the long run, the borrower’s credit history and rating is strengthened by paying off the personal loan.
To pay down a large credit card balance, it’s essential to have a strategy. Two of the most popular are the Snowball and the Avalanche. The Snowball entails working to pay off the lowest balance card first, while making minimum payments on the others. The Avalanche advises paying off the highest-interest card first, while making minimum payments on the others. Neither method will hurt your credit rating, and may help it. It’s also fairly common to take out a debt consolidation loan to pay off cards.
If you are considering consolidating your credit card with a personal loan, check out SoFi. SoFi Personal Loans offer low fixed rates and no fees required. And if you lose your job, SoFi will temporarily pause your payments and even provide career coaching. SoFi’s Personal Loan was even named NerdWallet’s 2022 winner for Best Online Personal Loan.
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