Credit Card Debt Forgiveness: What It Is and How It Works

Credit Card Debt Forgiveness: What It Is and How It Works

If you’re overwhelmed by credit card debt, you might consider credit card debt forgiveness, which can involve paying less than you owe. This type of credit forgiveness is rare, however, and it usually comes with some financial consequences.

Still, if you’re unable to repay your credit card balance, it may be an option worth exploring. Read on to learn how to get credit card debt forgiven and what options there are to credit card forgiveness.

What Is Credit Card Debt Forgiveness?

Credit card debt forgiveness occurs when a portion of your credit card debt is effectively erased. However, this rarely happens. And when it does, it usually comes at a high cost.

As part of the terms and conditions you agreed to when signing up for a credit card, you likely committed to repaying your credit card debt accrued from swiping your card to make purchases. For this reason, it’s unlikely the credit card company will forgive your debt unless you have a compelling reason for why you don’t have to repay it.

(If your identity was stolen and a fraudster ran up your credit card bill, for instance, you’re probably not responsible for repaying the outstanding balance. In this case, you may consider disputing a credit card charge.)

When you don’t pay your credit card bill for an extended time, the credit card company may sell your debt to a debt collector. At this point, the debt collector will reach out to try to get you to repay all or a portion of the debt you owe. However, if you agree to repay a portion of your debt, they may forgive the rest, resulting in credit debt forgiveness.

Recommended: Charge Card Advantages and Disadvantages

How Does Debt Forgiveness Work for Credit Cards?

If a debt collector forgives your debt, you’ll generally still have to pay off a portion of the amount you racked up. Here’s a look at how credit card debt forgiveness works:

•   Say that you owe $10,000 in outstanding credit card debt. If you haven’t paid your bill for the last six months — not even your credit card minimum payment — your credit card company may have sold the debt to a debt collector.

•   At this point, you’ll no longer communicate with your credit card company about debt negotiations since the debt collector is now responsible for recouping the loss.

•   If you agree to repay $5,000 of the debt, your debt collector may require you to make a lump sum payment or installment payments over a set period of time.

•   This means that the other $5,000 of your outstanding credit card balance is now forgiven, meaning you don’t have to pay it.

While this may seem like a relief, here’s one important point to note: You’re still responsible for paying taxes on the amount of credit card forgiveness you receive in most cases. Essentially, you will claim the forgiven debt as taxable income and report it on your tax return.

When Does Credit Card Debt Forgiveness Work Best?

When you’ve fallen behind on your credit card payments and your creditor sells your debt to a debt collector for a fraction of the total balance, this is usually the best time to request credit forgiveness. Typically, debt collectors are more willing to settle some of your debt since they purchased your debt for a portion of what you owe. In other words, any debt you agree to pay back will help the debt collector make a profit from the transaction.

However, if your debt has not yet gone to a debt collector and the creditor is about to charge-off your account, you could still consider credit card forgiveness. A charge-off means that the creditor is accepting your debt as a loss. Therefore, they can recoup the funds by selling your debt to a debt collector. So, before they sell the debt, they might be willing to negotiate credit card debt forgiveness with you.

How Credit Card Debt Forgiveness May Affect Your Credit

The most significant financial implication of credit card debt forgiveness is the negative impact it can have on your credit. When you don’t pay your credit card bill for an extended amount of time, the creditor may report this as a charge-off to the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). A charge-off indicates that you didn’t follow through with your financial commitments to a lender, and it can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

Because credit bureaus use this information to calculate your credit score, a charge-off could lower your score for a while. A lower credit score may make it challenging to qualify for future loans or credit cards. And if you do qualify, you may have to pay a higher than average credit card interest rate, which can make borrowing more expensive.

To avoid this situation, it’s best to contact your credit card issuer as soon as you get behind on payments. Credit card companies may be willing to help you if you’ve fallen on hard times. They may offer a hardship plan, which can lower your monthly payments or reduce your interest for a set amount of time and ultimately help you get back on your feet. This is only a temporary solution though, so if your financial issues are more significant, you may need to explore another solution.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Debt Forgiveness

If you can’t make your credit card payments, credit card forgiveness might be a viable option. But, while getting your debt forgiven can help alleviate the financial burden, it also can harm your credit and cost you financially.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of pursuing credit card debt forgiveness.

Pros

Cons

Potentially avoid bankruptcy Can harm your credit score
Repay only a portion of the debt you owe Will remain on your credit report for up to seven years
Pay off debt in a shorter time frame Must pay income tax on forgiven debt

Alternatives to Credit Card Debt Forgiveness

An alternative to credit card debt forgiveness may make more sense for your financial situation. Exploring all of your options in advance can help ensure that you make the best decision for your needs.

Debt Management

Third-party credit counseling agencies offer debt management plans that help you establish a plan for debt repayment. Working with one of these agencies may help you lower the fees you owe as well as your interest rate. However, you usually must agree to repay the total amount of outstanding debt before moving forward.

With a debt management plan, you’ll make one monthly payment to the credit counselor, who will then distribute the funds among the creditors you owe. Most plans help you repay your debt within three to five years. During this time, your account will still accrue interest, though your creditor might be willing to offer a lower rate.

To use one of these plans, you usually have to close your credit card account. This can negatively impact your credit score since it lowers your total credit card limit, thus increasing your credit utilization rate. Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most significant factors credit bureaus use when calculating your credit score.

Also, you will likely have to pay a monthly fee to your credit counselor. If considering this option, carefully vet the counselors you are considering and make sure the one you are working with has a good reputation.

Debt Settlement

Working with a debt settlement company can help you to lower the amount of debt you owe. For example, if you owe $10,000 as your credit card balance, the credit debt settlement company may try to help you settle your debt for $5,000 instead. But, of course, this strategy will only work if the creditor would rather have some of your debt repaid instead of having you default on the account.

Debt settlement also can harm your credit. Usually, debt settlement companies require you to stop making credit card payments while they negotiate with your creditor. At this time, your payments will go toward the debt settlement company so they can offer your creditor a lump sum payment as an incentive to settle your debt. However, pausing payments can negatively impact your debt since payment history is another factor used to calculate your credit score.

While debt settlement may sound good in theory, you should use it as a last resort option before filing bankruptcy. This solution is risky since it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll settle your debt. Your creditor could reject the offer.

Debt Consolidation

If your credit isn’t damaged too much, you might be able to qualify for a debt consolidation loan. While this isn’t technically a debt relief option, it can help you to consolidate your debt and potentially lower your interest rate, allowing you to save money.

To consolidate your debt, you’ll apply for another loan, ideally one with better terms than your existing debt. You’d use the loan to pay off your outstanding credit card debts. Then, you will make installment payments to the lender instead of paying the creditors.

Before you apply for a debt consolidation loan, compare your options to identify the loans with the most competitive terms and interest rates.

Declaring a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Depending on your situation, declaring Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy may make the most sense. For instance, if you can’t make the payments with a debt management or debt settlement plan, bankruptcy could be an option to avoid going deeper into debt. But before you declare bankruptcy, consider speaking with a bankruptcy attorney to weigh out the pros and cons of this solution.

Bankruptcy should be one of your last resorts since it can drastically harm your credit. Also, it will stay on your credit report for up to 10 years after the filing date. To settle your debts with bankruptcy, you may also be forced to sell some of your assets.

The Takeaway

Credit card debt forgiveness involves paying less than the full amount you owe. While this prospect may sound great in theory, in reality it can harm your credit and end up costing you financially. If you find yourself starting to struggle with debt repayment, contact your credit card company to see if they will offer a hardship plan. If they’re unwilling to help or your financial troubles require a more long-term solution, you can explore credit debt forgiveness and other alternatives.

While credit cards can land you in a heap of debt, they can also be a great financial tool when used responsibly.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How long does it typically take before a debt is forgiven?

Depending on the route you go, the time frame for debt forgiveness may vary. For example, bankruptcy can take four to six months, while debt settlement can take 36 months or more.

Does debt forgiveness hurt your credit score?

Yes, once you become delinquent on payments, your credit score can be negatively impacted. Then, when your credit card company sells your debt to a debt collector, they may report your balance as a charge-off or a complete loss, which can also impact your credit drastically.

How do you get your credit card balance forgiven?

Usually, once a creditor sells your outstanding debt to a debt collector, the debt collector may agree to forgive some of your credit card debt. But, you must agree to repay a portion of the debt for this to happen.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Photo credit: iStock/damircudic
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Guide to Credit Card Age Limits

Guide to Credit Card Age Limits

If you’re young and looking to access and build credit, opening a credit card can be a great step. However, you need to be at least 18 years old to open your own account. If you’re under the age of 18, you can’t open your own credit card, but you can be an authorized user on someone else’s account.

Even if you’re old enough to get a credit card, when you’re under the age of 21, you may face additional requirements when applying. Read on for tips on getting a credit card when you’re young and options you might consider to be able to start building your credit.

At What Age Can You Get a Credit Card?

To open your own credit card, you must be at least 18 years old.

However, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 20, you may encounter stricter verification requirements, including showing proof of ability to repay, such as through income, or getting a cosigner. This is due to regulations from the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which is intended to protect young consumers from taking on more debt than they can handle.

After age 21, these regulations won’t apply to you, but card issuers may still review your income as part of your application. It’s also important to pay attention to the terms and conditions of the credit card, such as the APR on a credit card, as you consider your credit card options and apply.

If you’re younger and have a limited credit history, you may only get approved for a card with a higher APR. Do your research before applying to have an idea of what is a good APR on a credit card.

Tips for Getting a Credit Card When You’re Young

Once you understand what a credit card is and how credit cards work, you may see the appeal of a credit card and want to open one. If you’re under the age of 18, the best things you can do to work toward being able to get your own credit card are to start building credit and to learn the basics of financial management.

Start Building Credit

Building credit when you’re young may be hard, especially if you’re under 18 and not yet eligible for your own credit card. One way to do so, however, is by becoming an authorized user on a credit card account.

A responsible parent or guardian can add you as an authorized user for their account, even if you’re still under the age of 18. Being added to the primary cardholder’s credit history can help build your credit.

Learn the Basics of Financial Management

It’s also important for young people to learn the basics of financial management. Learning about things like budgeting, credit card interest, and credit scores before you even own a credit card can help put you on the path to financial success. That way, when you do eventually get your own credit card, you’ll know how to stay on top of credit card minimum payments and avoid debt.

This can also be a good time to familiarize yourself with common financial scams, such as credit card skimmers, so you’ll know what to be aware of when you do get your own card.

How to Get a Credit Card If You Are 18 to 20 Years Old

Many young people between the ages of 18 and 20 are attending college or trade school or working. They may not have a lot of income yet, and their credit history may be limited. Still, first-time cardholders do have options for getting a credit card, which can be an important step toward building their credit history and score.

Secured Credit Cards

One option is secured cards, which are a type of credit card that require the cardholder to make a refundable security deposit. The security deposit typically becomes the amount of the card’s credit limit.

Secured cards are often marketed toward people who want or need to build their credit, so they can be a great choice for young people who are age 20 and under. Once you make the initial minimum security deposit (which usually serves as your credit limit), you can use your secured credit card in the same way that you would use any other credit card. Like any other credit card, your credit card will have a credit card expiration date and a CVV number.

A few points to note:

•   Since your credit limit is often equal to the amount of your security deposit, secured credit cards often don’t have very high credit limits compared to the average credit card limit. However, having a lower credit limit can help prevent young people from overspending.

•   With a secured card, your money is tied up temporarily in the security deposit. While you get your security deposit back when you close or upgrade the account, that’s money you otherwise can’t use in the meantime.

Become an Authorized User

Young cardholders could also become an authorized user, which is someone who’s added to a credit card account with authorization to use that account. The authorized user typically has their own card and can use it to make payments as usual. However, only the primary account holder is held responsible for payments.

The authorized user benefits from this arrangement because the primary cardholder’s account history and activity are reported on the authorized user’s credit report, which can help build their credit history.

Apply for a Student Credit Card

Student credit cards are designed and marketed for students roughly between the ages of 18 and 22 years old. Students generally have different needs than other credit card customers, so it may make sense for them to get a credit card designed specifically for them.

As an added bonus, some students may qualify for credit cards with rewards, such as cashback on categories that students may spend more on, like restaurants and grocery stores.

Consider Credit Builder Credit Cards

There are also some credit cards that are available to applicants with poor credit who are looking to build their credit. Responsible use of a credit card can be a great way to build or improve credit, as your payment history will be reported to all three major consumer credit bureaus. Just keep in mind that these cards can have higher than average credit card interest rates and more fees due to their availability to those with lower credit scores.

Get a Cosigner

Another option for young applicants is to get a cosigner for a credit card. Indeed, applicants within the 18 to 20 age range must get a cosigner if they can’t provide proof of employment or income when applying. Also, people in this age may not have much of a credit history, if any, which can be a downside.

A cosigner can be a parent, guardian, or other family member who assumes legal and financial responsibility for the applicant if they are unable to pay off the balance of the card. Ideally, the cosigner should have a decent credit history to improve the chances of the credit card application getting approved. If the cardholder fails to repay a card or falls in debt, it will negatively affect the credit score of both the cardholder and the cosigner, so this is an important responsibility.

Check with your bank or credit card issuer before using a cosigner, since not all banks allow cosigners on credit cards.

The Takeaway

Once you reach the age of 18, you will be able to get a credit card of your own. You can make sure you’re ready for this responsibility by building your credit history, getting down the financial basics, and knowing how to apply for a credit card when the time comes. You’ll have options as a young credit card applicant, from secured credit cards to student credit cards to credit builder cards and more. Learning how to use a credit card responsibly is an important part of your financial life.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Can I get a joint card?

Some card issuers allow cosigners on credit card. If you’re not able to qualify for a credit card on your own, you could also explore becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account.

Does a student credit card affect credit score?

Yes, a student credit card affects your credit score. A student credit card is a regular credit card that’s just designed with students’ unique needs in mind, so it will affect your credit like any other credit card would.

What is the limit on a student credit card?

Credit limits on student credit cards vary by issuer and card. However, credit limits on student cards are often lower than the average credit card limit due to the fact that students generally have more limited credit histories and lower incomes.

Do you need credit for a secured credit card?

Most secured credit cards have less restrictive requirements for an applicant’s credit. In fact, many secured credit cards consider applicants with very poor or limited credit.


Photo credit: iStock/RgStudio

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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What Is a Stock Market Crash?

The specter of a stock market crash weighs on the mind of many investors. After all, stock market crashes have played a substantial role in the United States during the 20th and 21st centuries. But knowing what is a stock market crash as well as the history and effects of stock market crashes can help investors weather the storm when the next one occurs.

What Happens When the Stock Market Crashes?

A stock market crash occurs when broad-based stock indices like the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, or the Nasdaq Composite experience double-digit declines over a single or several days. This means that the stocks of a wide range of companies sell off rapidly, generally because of investor panic and macroeconomic factors rather than company-specific fundamentals.

While no specific percentage decline defines a stock market crash, investors generally know one is occurring while it’s happening.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening any investment account, consider what level of risk you are comfortable with. If you’re not sure, start with more conservative investments, and then adjust your portfolio as you learn more.

What Causes the Market to Crash?

Stock market crashes are usually unexpected and occur without warning. Often, crashes are caused by investor dynamics; when stocks start to sell off, investors’ fear takes over and causes them to panic sell shares en masse.

Though stock market crashes are usually unexpected, there are often signs that one could be on the horizon because a stock market bubble is inflating. A bubble occurs when stock prices rise quickly during a bull market, outpacing the value of the underlying companies. The bubble forms as investors buy certain stocks, driving prices up. Other investors may see the stocks doing well and jump on board, further raising prices and initiating a self-sustaining growth cycle.

The stock price growth continues until some unexpected event makes investors wary of stocks. This unexpected event causes investors to unload shares as quickly as possible, with the herd mentality of panic selling resulting in a stock market crash.

Catastrophic events such as economic crises, natural disasters, pandemics, and wars can also trigger stock market crashes. During these events, investors sell off risky assets like stocks for relatively safe investments like bonds.

Stock markets can also experience flash crashes, where the stock market plummets and rebounds within minutes. Computer trading algorithms can make these crashes worse by automatically reacting and selling stocks to head off losses. For example, on May 6, 2010, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,000 points in 10 minutes but recovered 70% of its losses by the end of the day.

Recommended: What Is the Average Stock Market Return?

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Examples of Past Stock Market Crashes

There have been several crashes in the stock market history, the most recent being the crash associated with the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. The following are some of the most well-known crashes during the past 100 years.

Stock Market Crash of 1929

The most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States occurred in October 1929. The crash occurred following a period of relative prosperity during the Roaring Twenties, when new investors poured money into the stock market.

The crash began on Thursday, October 24, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined about 11%, followed by a 13% decline on Monday, October 28, and a 12% drop on Tuesday, October 29. These losses started a downward trend that would continue until 1932, ushering in the Great Depression.

Black Monday Crash of 1987

On Monday, October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted nearly 23% in a single day. Known as Black Monday, this selloff occurred for various reasons, including the rise of computerized trading that made it easier for panicked investors to offload stocks quickly, and stock markets around the world crashed.

Dotcom Crash of 2000

The Dotcom crash between 2000 and 2002 occurred as investors started to pull money away from internet-based companies. The Nasdaq Composite index declined about 77% from March 2000 to October 2002.

In the mid to late 1990s, the internet was widely available to consumers worldwide. Investors turned their eyes to internet-based companies, leading to rampant speculation as they snapped up stocks of newly public internet companies. Eventually, startups that enthusiastic investors had fueled began to run out of money as they failed to turn a profit. The bubble eventually burst.

Recommended: Lessons From the Dotcom Bubble

Financial Crisis of 2008

The stock market crash of 2008 was fueled by rising housing prices, which came on the heels of the dot-com crash recovery. At the time, banks were issuing more and more subprime mortgages, which financial institutions would bundle and sell as mortgage-backed securities.

As the Federal Reserve increased interest rates, homeowners, who often had been given mortgages they couldn’t afford, began to default on their loans. The defaults had a ripple effect throughout the economy. The value of mortgage-backed securities plummeted, causing major financial institutions to fail or approach the brink of failure. This financial crisis spilled over into the stock market, and the S&P 500 fell nearly 60% from a peak in October 2007 to a low in March 2009.

Coronavirus Crash of 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States in February 2020, the government responded with stay-at-home orders that shut down businesses and curtailed travel. The U.S. economy entered a recession, and the stock market plunged. The S&P 500 fell 30% into bear market territory in just one month, including a one day decline of 12% on March 16, 2020.

What Are the Effects of a Crash?

Stock market crashes can lead to bear markets, when the market falls by 20% or more from a previous peak. If the crash leads to an extended period of economic decline, the economy may enter a recession.

A market crash could lead to a recession because companies rely heavily on stocks as a way to grow. Falling stock prices curtail a company’s ability to grow, which can have all sorts of ramifications. Companies that aren’t able to earn as much as they need may lay off workers. Workers without jobs aren’t able to spend as much. As consumers start spending less, corporate profits begin to shrink. This pattern can lead to a cycle of overall economic contraction.

A recession is usually declared when U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, shrinks for two consecutive quarters. There may be other criteria for declaring a recession, such as a decline in economic activity reflected in real incomes, employment, production, and sales.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

Preventing Stock Market Crashes

Major stock exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) have instituted circuit breaker measures to protect against crashes. These measures halt trading after markets drop a certain percentage to curb panic selling and prevent the markets from going into a freefall.

The NYSE’s circuit breakers kick in when three different thresholds are met. A drop of 7% or 13% in the S&P 500 shuts down trading for 15 minutes when the drop occurs between 9 am and 3:25 pm. A market decline of 20% during the day will shut down trading for the rest of the day.

Suppose a crash does occur, and it threatens to weaken the economy. In that case, the federal government may step in to ease the situation through monetary and fiscal policy stimulus measures. Monetary policy stimulus is a set of tools the Federal Reserve can use to stimulate economic growth, such as lowering interest rates. Fiscal stimulus is generally infusions of cash through direct spending or tax policy.

Investment Tips During a Market Crash

A stock market crash can be alarming, especially when it comes to an investor’s portfolio. Here are some investment tips to consider for navigating a market downturn.

Don’t Panic and Focus on the Long-Term

It will help if you remain calm when the stock market is plummeting. That’s often easier said than done, especially when your portfolio’s value declines by more than 10% in a short period. It’s tempting to join the panic selling, to make sure stock losses are minimized.

But remember, investing is a long game. In general, making decisions based on something happening now when your investing time horizon might be 30 years, may not be the best choice. If you don’t need access to your money right away, it may be better to hold on to your investments and give them time to recover.

Diversify Your Portfolio

Stocks and the stock market get most of the media’s attention, especially when the stock market is crashing, but there are other potential ways to help you realize your financial goals. Other assets like bonds, commodities, or emerging market stocks may be attractive investment opportunities to consider during a crash.

Consider Buying The Dip

While it depends on an individual’s specific situation and risk tolerance, a stock market crash might present opportunities to purchase stocks at a lower, more attractive share price that some investors may want to consider.

The Takeaway

The stock market tends to recover following a stock market crash; it took the S&P 500 six months to recover the losses experienced during the coronavirus crash. So any rash moves investors make during a stock market crash may prevent them from seeing gains in the long term.

A stock market crash can be scary, causing you to panic and fret over your savings and investments. But often, with investing, the best advice is not to make rash decisions. Even during a stock market crash, there may still be some opportunities and strategies to help build wealth over time.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.

FAQ

When was the last market crash?

The last stock market crash was in 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when business shut down and the stock market plunged. The S&P 500 fell 30% in just one month. Within six months, however, the S&P 500 had recovered its losses.

What goes up when the stock market crashes?

Bonds generally tend to go up when the stock market crashes, although not always. Government bonds such as U.S. Treasuries typically do best during a market crash, though again, there are no guarantees.

Do stocks recover after a crash?

Historically, the stock market has recovered after a crash, although it’s impossible to say how long a recovery might take. Some stock market recoveries have taken a year or less, some have taken much longer.


Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

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What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?

What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?

When you die, your credit card debt does not die with you. Rather, any remaining debt you have must be paid before assets are distributed to your heirs or surviving spouse. The debt is subtracted from your estate, which is the sum of your assets. If your debts exceed your assets, then your estate is considered insolvent. That could mean your loved ones don’t receive any funds at all.

Read on to learn what happens to credit card debt after death, including who is responsible for credit card debt after death and what steps you should take after a cardholder dies.

Who Is Responsible for Credit Card Debt When You Die

An unfortunate part of understanding how credit cards work is grasping who is responsible for credit card debt after death. Typically, relatives aren’t responsible for paying a family member’s credit card debts upon death.

However, you may be responsible for paying your deceased loved one’s credit card debt if you cosigned for a credit card, given the responsibility cosigning carries. Joint account holders also can be held responsible for credit card debt left after death since both account holders are equally responsible for paying the credit card balance.

Authorized users, on the other hand, are not usually responsible for the outstanding balance on a deceased person’s account — unless, that is, you live in a community property state. These states, which typically hold spouses responsible for each other’s debts, include:

•   Arizona

•   California

•   Idaho

•   Louisiana

•   Nevada

•   New Mexico

•   Texas

•   Washington

•   Wisconsin

If you live in one of these states, you may have to pay your spouse’s credit card debts if they die, even if you were only an authorized user on their card.

Next Steps After a Cardholder Dies

If you have a relative or loved one who recently passed and left outstanding credit card debt, theses are the steps you should take to make sure their debt is properly handled:

1.    Ask for multiple copies of the death certificate. You’ll likely need to send official copies to various credit card companies and life insurance companies. It may also be needed for other estate purposes.

2.    If you’re an authorized user on the deceased person’s credit card, stop using that card upon their death. Using a credit card after the primary cardholder’s death is considered fraud. If you make any payments on the authorized user card, the credit company will accept the credit card payments and can claim that you have taken responsibility for the entire balance of the card. If you don’t have another credit card of your own, you may want to explore how to apply for a credit card.

3.    Make a list of the deceased person’s financial accounts, including their credit card accounts. A spouse or executor of the deceased can request a copy of the person’s credit report to check for all accounts. This way, you’ll know which accounts you’ll need to handle.

4.    Notify the credit card companies of the death. You’ll want to make sure to close any accounts that were in the deceased person’s name.

5.    Alert the three consumer credit bureaus of the death. You’ll also want to put a credit freeze on the person’s account. This can help prevent identity theft in the deceased’s name. Only the spouse or executor of the estate is authorized to report this information to the credit bureaus, which include Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

6.    Continue to make payments on any jointly held credit cards that you aren’t closing. Making the credit card minimum payment can help prevent a negative effect on your credit score.

Assets That Are Protected From Creditors

If a deceased relative’s credit card debt exceeds their total assets, don’t panic. In the instance the estate doesn’t have enough money to cover all of the deceased’s debt, state law will determine which debt is the highest priority.

Credit cards are considered unsecured loans, which are lower in priority for loan repayments after death. Mortgages and car loans are secured by collateral, so they are considered higher priority. Often, unsecured debt may not even get paid.

It’s also important to know that some types of assets are protected from creditors in the event of death. This includes retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, assets held in a living trust, and brokerage accounts. Homes may also be protected, though this will depend on state law and how title to the property is held.

Remember: Credit card companies can’t legally ask you to pay credit card debts that aren’t your responsibility.

Credit Card Liability After Death

The best way to keep your loved ones from having to deal with your credit card debt is to responsibly manage your credit card balances while you’re alive. For instance, you can avoid spending up to your credit card limit each month to make your balance easier to pay off.

You can also take the time to look for a good APR for a credit card to minimize the interest that racks up if you can’t pay off your balance in full each month.

Knowing your credit card debt won’t disappear after you die may also make you think twice before making a charge. For instance, while you can technically pay taxes with a credit card, it might not be worth it if it will just add interest to the amount you owe.

If a loved one has recently passed and you shared accounts in any way, keep an eye on your own credit reports and credit card statements. Make sure to dispute credit card charges that you think are incorrect.

How to Avoid Passing Down Debt Problems

If you want to avoid passing down the issue of sorting out your debt, you can have an attorney create a will or trust. A will or trust will offer your loved ones guidance on where you’d like your assets to go after your death, and, in some cases, could allow them to bypass the sometimes costly and time-consuming process of probate.

However, making a will or trust won’t necessarily stop debt collectors from contacting your family members after your death — even if those family members aren’t responsible for the debt. Keep in mind that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does prohibit deceptive and abusive contact by debt collectors, so your loved ones will have some legal protections from excessive collections efforts.

Still, it’s important to share as much information as you can about your debt with family members so that they’re aware of your finances after you are no longer there. You don’t need to share information as personal as the CVV number on your credit card or your credit card expiration date, but it is helpful for your loved ones to have an idea of how many accounts you have and what the general state of them is.

The Takeaway

Unfortunately, you don’t get automatic credit card debt forgiveness after death. While your loved ones generally won’t be held responsible for your debt — unless you have a joint account, served as a cosigner, or live in a community property state — your debts are still deducted from your estate. If you want to avoid leaving your loved ones with a mountain of debt, the most important step you can take is to responsibly manage your credit cards while you’re still here.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Do I have to pay my deceased parent’s credit card debt?

You don’t have to pay your deceased parent’s credit card debt unless you were a cosigner on their credit card. If you were an authorized user on your parent’s credit card, you are not responsible for their debt.

Do credit card companies know when someone dies?

You should notify the credit card company when your close relative dies to close any accounts in their name. You should also notify the three consumer credit bureaus of the death to put a credit freeze on the person’s account to prevent identity theft.

Can credit card companies take your house after death?

Homes are usually protected from creditors in the event of death, though this does depend on state law and how the title of the property is held. In general, however, credit card companies usually can’t take your house after death.

Is my spouse responsible for my credit card debt?

Your spouse is not responsible for your credit card debt unless they were a cosigner on your credit card. If they were an authorized user on your credit card, they generally are not responsible for your credit card debt unless you live in a community property state (California, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin).

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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Stock Buyback: What It Means & Why It Happens

One of the most popular ways a company can use its cash is through a stock buyback. Over the past five years, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, big companies have spent more than $3.9 trillion repurchasing their own shares to boost shareholder value. Because of this significant activity, investors need to know the basics of stock buybacks and how they work to feel confident in making investment decisions.

What Is A Stock Buyback?

A stock buyback, also known as a share repurchase, is when a company buys a portion of its previously issued stock, reducing the total number of outstanding shares on the market. Because there are fewer total shares on the market after the buyback, each share owned by investors represents a greater portion of company ownership.

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How Do Companies Buy Back Stock?

Companies can repurchase stock from investors through the open market or a tender offer.

Open market

A company may buy back shares on the open market at the current market price, just like a regular investor would. These stock purchases are conducted with the company’s brokers.

Tender offers

A company may also buy back shares through a tender offer. One type of tender offer, the fixed-price offer, occurs when a company proposes buying back shares from investors at a fixed price on a specific date. This process usually values the shares at a higher price than the current price per share on the open market, providing an extra benefit to shareholders who agree to sell back the shares.

Another type of tender offer, the dutch auction offer, will specify to investors the number of shares the company hopes to repurchase and a price range. Shareholders can then counter with their own proposals, which would include the number of shares they’re willing to give up and the price they’re asking. When the company has all of the shareholders’ offers, it decides the right mix to buy to keep its costs as low as possible.

Why Do Companies Buy Back Stock?

Stock buybacks are one of several things a company can do with the cash it has in its coffers, including paying the money out to shareholders as a dividend, reinvesting in business operations, acquiring another company, and paying off debt. There are several reasons why a company chooses to buy back its stock rather than some of these other options.

1. Increases Stock Value

One of the most common reasons a company might conduct a share buyback is to increase the value of the stock, especially if the company considers its shares undervalued. By reducing the supply of shares on the market, the stock price will theoretically go up as long as the demand for the stock remains the same. The rising stock price benefits existing shareholders.

Recommended: Understanding Capital Appreciation on Investments

2. Puts Money Into Shareholders’ Hands

A company’s stock buyback program can be used as an alternative to dividend payments to return cash to shareholders, specifically those investors who choose to sell back their shares to the company. With dividend payments, companies usually pay them regularly to all shareholders, so investors may not like it if a company reduces or suspends a dividend. Stock buybacks, in contrast, are conducted on a more flexible basis that may benefit the company because investors do not rely on the payments.

3. Takes advantage of tax benefits

Many investors prefer that companies use excess cash to repurchase stock rather than pay out dividends because buybacks have fewer direct tax implications. With dividends, investors must pay taxes on the payout. But with stock buybacks, investors benefit from rising share prices but do not have to pay a tax on this benefit until they sell the stocks. And even when they sell the stock, they usually pay a lower capital gains tax rate.

4. Offsets dilution from stock options

Companies will often offer employee stock options as a part of compensation packages to their employees. When these employees exercise their stock, the number of shares outstanding increases. To maintain an ideal number of outstanding shares after employees exercise their options, a company may buy back shares from the market.

5. Improves financial ratios

Another way stock buybacks attract more investors is by making the company’s financial ratios look much more attractive. Because the repurchases decrease assets on the balance sheet and reduce the number of outstanding shares, it can make financial ratios like earnings per share (EPS), the price-to-earnings ratio (PE Ratio), and return on equity (ROE) look more attractive to investors.

What Happens to Repurchased Stock?

When a company repurchases stock, the shares will either be listed as treasury stock or the shares will be retired.

Treasury stocks are the shares repurchased by the issuing company, reducing the number of outstanding shares on the open market. The treasury stock remains on its balance sheet, though it reduces the total shareholder equity. Shares that are listed as treasury stock are no longer included in EPS calculations, do not receive dividends, and are not part of the shareholder voting process. However, the treasury stock is still considered issued and, therefore, can be reissued by the company through stock dividends, employee compensation, or capital raising.

In contrast, retired shares are canceled and cannot be reissued by the company.


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The Pros and Cons of a Stock Buyback for Investors

When a company announces a stock buyback, investors may wonder what it means for their investment. Stock buybacks have pros and cons worth considering depending on the company’s underlying reasoning for the share repurchase and the investor’s goal.

Pros of a Stock Buyback

Tender offer premium

Investors who accept the company’s tender offer could have an opportunity to sell the stock at a greater value than the market price.

Increased total return

Investors who hold onto the stock after a buyback will likely see a higher share price since fewer outstanding shares are on the market. Plus, each share now represents a more significant portion of company ownership, which may mean an investor will see higher dividend payments over time. A higher stock price and increased dividend boosts an investor’s total return on investment.

Tax benefits

As mentioned above, a stock buyback might also mean a lower overall tax burden for an investor, depending on how long the investor owned the stock. Money earned through a stock market buyback is taxed at the capital gains tax rate. If the company issued a dividend instead of buying back shares, the dividends would be taxed as regular income, typically at a higher rate.

Recommended: Investment Tax Rules Every Investor Should Know

Cons of a Stock Buyback

Cash could be spent elsewhere

As mentioned above, when companies have cash, they can either reinvest in business operations, acquire a company, pay down debt, pay out a dividend, or buy back stock. Engaging in a share repurchase can starve the business of money needed in other areas, such as research and development or investment into new products and facilities. This hurts investors by boosting share price in the short term at the expense of the company’s long-term prospects.

Poorly timed

Companies may sometimes perform a stock buyback when their stocks are overvalued. Like regular investors, companies want to buy the stock when the shares are valued at an attractive price. If the company buys at a high stock price, it could be a bad investment when the company could have spent the money elsewhere.

Benefits executives, not shareholders

Stock buybacks might also be a convenient tactic to benefit company executives, who are often compensated by way of stock options. Also, some executives earn bonuses for increasing key financial ratios like earnings per share, so buying back stock to improve those ratios potentially benefits insiders and not all shareholders.

The Takeaway

Like almost everything else to do with the stock market, the benefits and drawbacks of stock buybacks aren’t exactly straightforward. Investors need to ask themselves a few questions when analyzing the share repurchases of a company, like “why is the company conducting the buyback?” and “does the company have a history of delivering good returns?” Answering these questions can help investors decide whether a stock buyback is the best thing for a company.

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FAQ

Is a stock buyback positive or negative?

Stock buybacks have advantages and disadvantages for investors and companies. For instance, buybacks may increase the stock value and increase dividend payments to shareholders over time. However, stock buybacks may not be the best way for a company to spend its money in the long-term, and they may potentially benefit company executives more than shareholders.

When should a company do a stock buyback?

A company may do a stock buyback when it has the cash available and wants to increase the value of the stock, improve financial ratios, consolidate ownership, or drive demand for the stock.

Do I lose my shares in a buyback?

You won’t lose your shares in a buyback unless you want to sell them. The way a buyback works is that a company buys back stock from any investors who want to sell it. But you are under no obligation to sell your stock back to the company — it’s up to you whether to keep your stock or sell it back.


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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