6 Questions To Answer Before Settling Your Debts

Let’s say you’ve got a past due credit card debt, but you can’t pay the full balance. You may be tempted to consider debt settlement.

The debt collector seems to be open to the idea of you making a single payment in exchange for wiping out the unpaid balance. Should you do it?

Sadly, there’s no universal answer when it comes to debt settlement. Instead, the decision of whether to settle comes down to 6 considerations.

How many debts do you have? If you’ve got only 1 or 2 outstanding obligations then it makes sense to look into debt settlement before bankruptcy. With fewer open accounts, it’s easier to negotiate settlements. When you’ve got a large number of creditors, it’s tougher to get them all to fall into line.

What types of debts do you have? Some creditors will talk settlement, others won’t. Credit card companies, for example, may be willing to accept an amount lower than what’s due to pay the debt in full. Federal student loans, however, don’t settle that often.

Do you have the money to settle your debts? When a creditor agrees to a settlement there’s usually a requirement that the funds be paid immediately or within a few months. Without the money to spend on a settlement, negotiations won’t get you very far.

Can you live with the tax fallout? A creditor who agrees to forgive more than $600 of the balance due is required to send you a Form 1099 at the end of the year, and you may have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount. There are some situations where you can get out of the tax obligation, but you definitely want to sit down and talk with your tax professional before making the decision to settle your debts.

What’s the impact of settlement? When you settle a debt for less than the amount due, your credit report is updated to reflect that fact. The settlement notation can remain on your credit report for up to 7 years.

Do you need the money? Even if you’ve got the cash to fund a settlement of your debt, you need to consider the others uses that may exist for that money. Whether it’s a savings account for retirement, emergencies, or home repairs it’s important to remember that settlement is going to hit you in the wallet so plan accordingly.

Deciding to settle your debts may seem like a good idea on its face – and for you, it may be the right decision.

Before making that choice, however, you need to weigh all your options and come to the decision that makes the most sense for you.

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About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.