Money Monday: Can’t Pay It All? Negotiate a Debt Settlement

Alternatives to paying your debt in full could result in an improved credit report.

Along with details of your love life, salary and health problems, credit card debt ranks as one of the top things people say they are very or somewhat unlikely to talk openly about with someone they just met.


One person who is not hesitant to talk about the money you owe is a debt collector. Fortunately, even if you owe a large sum, a debt collector may agree to let you pay less than the full amount of your debt.


Even when a large sum of money may be owed, a creditor will almost always negotiate a debt or settle for some payment over nothing, when it comes to outstanding debt.


According to For Dummies: How to Negotiate a Debt Collection Settlement, settling a debt will show up as negative information on your credit report, but if you negotiate a settlement it shows that you took responsibility to pay as much as you could, versus nothing, on the debt. Additionally, your credit report will no longer show the debt as outstanding.


If you are considering settling your debt, here are some tips they offer to approach negotiation with the debt collector:


—Determine what you can afford to pay. Review your budget. Do not offer more than you can afford. When you know how much you can afford, begin your negotiations by offering less.


When you negotiate with a debt collector, do not provide bank account numbers, your place of employment or references.


—Ask the debt collector to remove all negative information from your credit records related to the settled debt that has been added to your records since the debt was turned over to him. Then check your credit histories to make sure that the negative information has been removed.


—Put the deal in writing. Get the details of the agreement in writing before you give the collector any money. At a minimum, your agreement should clearly state:


—How much you have agreed to pay.


—Whether you will pay the settlement amount in a lump sum or over time.


—When the lump sum or payments are due.


—How you will make the payment(s), such as via an electronic bank transfer or with a cashier’s check. Avoid giving a debt collector a personal check.


—That the debt collector agrees to report to the credit bureaus that your debt has been “paid in full” as soon as the settlement amount is received.


—Any concessions that the debt collector has agreed to make.


—Conditions that breach the agreement and the consequences of the breach.


Do not sign the agreement until it reflects everything you agreed to and unless you understand everything in it.


After you sign the agreement, make a copy for yourself and file it in a safe place. If they do not agree to put the agreement in writing, make an agreement yourself, sign it and send it to the debt collector and request a return receipt.


If you find a debt collector who refuses to negotiate, locate and contact the creditor who turned your debt over to see if they may be willing to work out an “agreeable compromise.”  


To share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.


(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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