Understanding Debt Settlement

A relatively new industry, some consumers are mystified by the dynamics of debt negotiation. The purpose of this article is to break down the different factors that determine the effectiveness of a debt settlement program.

1. The importance of program length. In any debtor-credit scenario, a creditor is reserved the right to sue a debtor in court if they are not paying according to the terms stipulated. In the vast majority of cases, legal action is a last resort, and creditors prefer to settle the matter out of court because most statistics show that this is the most profitable way to deal with a past due account anyway. On the flip side, however, once a creditor feels that they’ve exhausted every collection method possible, they’re left with no other choice but to pursue the debt in court. Therefore, the longer you take to settle a debt, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be the target of legal action by your creditors. Since this is the case, all debt settlement candidates should always try to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible. As a rule of thumb, being in a program for longer than 3 years is not advisable, although exceptions can be made depending on your state, type of income, etc.

2. The importance of your creditors. As one should expect, each bank deals with debt settlement in a different manner than the next. While almost every creditor does in fact settle, some creditors are more antagonistic than the rest. Three in particular stick out as difficult creditors: Citibank, Discover, and MBNA. For one, these creditors’ historical settlements tend to be much higher than the rest. Secondly, these creditors are more likely to pursue legal action to collect your debt. All in all, it’s probable that bankruptcy may be a better alternative if these are your only creditors.

3. The importance of your hardship. Believe it or not, creditors are human. If your enrollment in a debt settlement program is the direct result of circumstances that you could not control (divorce, medical issues, job loss) and you can document it, then you’re far more likely to get a favorable settlement versus a person who the creditor feels could have paid the debt back in full. If you’re buried and only able to afford the minimums, but it was more the result of poor budgeting than financial hardship, it’s still likely that you’ll be able to obtain a settlement. Had you just been diagnosed with brain cancer the settlement would probably be a lot more favorable and the negotiations process a whole lot easier. Sympathy still goes far these days.

4. The importance of your recent account activity. This plays into your hardship in a sense because it’s all about whether the creditor feels you’ve been fraudulent in your business with them. For example, if you just bought a plasma TV on your credit card a month ago, I’d think twice about doing debt settlement. If the creditor doubts that you ever had any intention of paying them back, then the negotiations over your debt are most likely going to fail. In the end that means you’ll be stuck in court paying back a debt that’s even larger than original balance because of the late fees and interest charges that were tacked on during the course of your debt settlement program.

5. The importance of your credit history. More specifically, if you’ve filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the past 7 years, you may be out of luck. The main draw of debt negotiation for creditors is that they can recover a substantial portion of a bad debt that otherwise could and/or would be completely wiped out by bankruptcy. Unfortunately, if you’ve filed bankruptcy in the past 2 years, then you can’t file again for another 5 years, so a creditor loses some of the incentive to negotiate a balance. That is, in their mind, they’re saying, “This person can’t file bankruptcy anyway. What do I gain by lowering their balance?” That being said, even if you have filed bankruptcy in the past 7 years, a settlement can still be reached in most cases. Why? There are two reasons: a) a lot of times a creditor won’t be able to collect the debt from you anyway because you don’t have any assets or sufficient income, and b) having 50 percent of the balance in one lump sum is attractive when it means the creditor doesn’t have to waste time and money chasing you down. Finally, the longer it’s been since you’ve filed, the stronger your negotiating position is. In other words, if it’s been 6 years since you’ve last filed, then the time line when you’re eligible for bankruptcy again is too short for most creditors to risk potentially losing everything by refusing a settlement.

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