How to Get Out of Credit Card Debt Without Paying: 3 Strategies
- It's possible to get out of credit card debt without paying anything or by paying only a portion of the total you owe.
- Bankruptcy can wipe the slate clean on credit cards or help you to create a structured plan for paying them off.
- Debt negotiation can help you pay off credit cards for less than the full balance, without having to file bankruptcy.
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Credit card debt can be a real pain, especially if it's keeping you from working toward your other financial goals. You might be wondering whether it's possible to get out of credit card debt without paying anything else to your creditors.
The answer is yes, it's possible to get out of credit card debt without paying or by paying less than what's owed. That's great news if you're looking for debt relief, but there are some potential downsides you should understand before you decide what path to choose.
Three ways to get out of credit card debt without paying, or by paying partially
The simplest way to get out of credit card debt without paying is to simply stop making payments to your creditors. That, however, could open you up to a lawsuit if your credit card company decides to sue.
Your creditors could sue you and attempt to garnish your wages or seize your bank account if they win a judgment against you. If you'd like to avoid a credit card debt lawsuit, there are three other possibilities for eliminating what you owe without paying in full.
Bankruptcy - Chapter 13
Bankruptcy means that you're asking a federal court to grant you relief from your debts because you're unable to pay. If you're considering bankruptcy to get out of credit card debt without paying, you typically have two options: Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy doesn't zero out credit card debts or other debts completely. When you file Chapter 13, you agree to complete a repayment plan that's approved by the bankruptcy court. Depending on your income, it can take three to five years to complete the plan.
The total amount you repay depends on how much you owe and your monthly household income. A bankruptcy trustee determines how much you're required to pay. Any remaining balances owed at the end of your payment plan are discharged (forgiven) by the court.
Here are the pros and cons of filing Chapter 13 to get rid of credit card debt.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy gives you time to pay back what you owe, without having to worry about being sued.
You may be able to get some of your credit card debt balances wiped out once you complete your repayment plan.
You're not required to hand over any of your assets or property to the court to satisfy your creditors.
You'll need to pass a means test to prove you have sufficient income to make payments to the plan.
You'd still be responsible for paying any debts in full that weren't included in your Chapter 13 filing.
A Chapter 13 filing can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years and hurt your credit scores.
Bankruptcy - Chapter 7
Chapter 7 bankruptcy can wipe the slate clean on credit cards and other debts, but it doesn't work the same as Chapter 13. Instead of completing a repayment plan, you agree to hand over some of your assets (if you have any) to the court. The court liquidates those assets and uses the money to pay off your creditors.
You can walk away from a Chapter 7 filing without paying anything directly to your credit card debts. However, you might be required to give up assets unless you qualify for exemptions. For example, the federal government may allow you to keep:
Real estate (the home you live in)
Household goods, including furniture and appliances
Tools and equipment that are necessary to do your job
Life insurance policies
Home health aids
All of these exemptions have dollar limits. For instance, the government allows $4,450 for your car. If you drive a $60,000 Tesla, it might not be protected.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to use state exemption rules instead. But giving up some of your property might be a worthwhile tradeoff if you're ready to escape credit card debt and start over financially.
Here are the pros and cons of filing Chapter 7 to get rid of credit card debt.
Chapter 7 can allow you to start off with a clean slate and zero out all of your credit card balances without paying anything.
You can become credit card debt-free through Chapter 7 in a matter of months, versus taking several years to complete Chapter 13.
Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy can immediately halt creditor collection actions, including civil lawsuits.
You'll need to be able to pass a means test for Chapter 7 and if you can't, you may need to file Chapter 13 instead.
You may have to give up certain assets in order to qualify for a discharge of credit card debts in Chapter 7.
A Chapter 7 filing can stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years and hurt your credit scores.
Debt negotiation, also referred to as debt settlement, means asking your credit card companies to accept less than the full amount owed on your balances. Negotiating debt can help you pay off credit cards for less money.
For example, say you owe $5,000 to one of your credit cards. You could try to negotiate with the credit card company to accept $3,800 instead. Once you make the payment, the remaining $1,200 in debt is canceled and you owe nothing else.
You might consider debt negotiation if you've fallen behind on credit card bills but you'd rather avoid filing bankruptcy. Here are the pros and cons of using debt negotiation to get out of credit card debt.
Debt negotiation allows you to get out of credit card debt while paying less than what you owe.
You can hire a debt negotiation company to haggle with credit card companies and get you the best deal possible.
Negotiating debt could help you to become credit card debt-free faster, without having to resort to bankruptcy.
Any forgiven or canceled debt might be considered taxable income by the IRS, unless you can prove that you're insolvent.
Debt negotiation companies can charge fees for their services, so you'll have to consider whether the cost is worth it.
Creditors are usually only willing to negotiate debt once you're past due, which can hurt your credit score
Your credit score and not paying credit card debt
Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO credit score. Lenders use your FICO scores to gauge how likely you are to pay back what you borrow. The lower your score, the more difficult it is to get approved for loans or qualify for the lowest rates.
If you stop paying credit card bills for any reason, whether it's due to a financial hardship or because you've started working with a debt negotiation company, you'll likely see a credit score drop. How steep the drop is depends on where your score was before you started missing payments.
After multiple late payments, your creditor might charge off your account. At that point, it's considered a bad debt and may be sold to a debt collector. As a general rule of thumb, the more delinquent the debt is the worse the impact to your score.
Two ways to reduce your monthly payment
In some cases, getting debt relief may be as simple as lowering your monthly payments. A lower payment could mean a longer overall payoff time. But you could reduce the strain on your monthly budget.
There are two ways to lower monthly credit card payments that don't involve bankruptcy or debt negotiation.
Debt management plan
A debt management plan allows you to streamline credit card debt payments. You work with a credit counselor who helps you to create a plan that fits your budget. Here's how it works:
You enroll your credit card debts in the plan.
Once enrolled, you make a single monthly payment to the plan.
Your credit counselor distributes the payment among your creditors.
The process continues until your enrolled debts are paid off. Your monthly payment may also include a small fee that goes directly to the credit counseling agency.
Debt management plans don't reduce the amount of credit card debt you owe. Instead, you're restructuring the way you repay that debt so that it's less of a strain financially. However, your credit counselor might be able to negotiate certain benefits on your behalf, such as fee waivers or interest rate reductions.
Creditors are not required to agree to participate in a DMP (they don’t have a choice when it’s a bankruptcy). They typically will, though, because it means they can expect to be repaid.
Debt consolidation means combining multiple debts into one, typically through a debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer credit card. Essentially, you're taking out a new loan or line of credit to pay off what you owe to your credit cards.
Why would you do that? Debt consolidation won't reduce your debt balances. However, you might be able to get a lower interest rate on a debt consolidation loan or with a 0% APR balance transfer credit card.
You can also simplify paying bills each month, since you'd only have one loan or credit card payment to make. That catch to benefitting from a debt consolidation loan is to be committed to not running up new balances on the cards you've paid off. You don’t want to end up with the loan and new credit card debt.
Four steps to take to pay less on your credit card debt
If you're looking for some ways to get out of credit card debt without paying in full, you've got some options. These tips can help you to pay less to your credit card debt and get control of your finances.
1. Gather your information
Know your starting point. Take an afternoon to round up information about your debts, including:
What you owe to each credit card
The interest rate for each card
Minimum monthly payment due for each balance
How much you're actually paying to each card
Your credit scores
You may also want to have a copy of your monthly budget handy, as you'll need this for the next step.
2. Talk to a debt counselor
A certified credit or debt counselor can review your finances and help you come up with a plan for managing credit card debts. There are a few options for finding a credit counselor to work with:
United States Trustee Program (if you think you might need pre-bankruptcy credit counseling)
You can also speak to a Freedom Debt Relief debt consultant if you think you might be a good candidate for debt negotiation and you want to consider all your options.
3. Choose a debt solution
Depending on your budget and debt, your credit counselor or debt consultant might recommend any of the following:
Debt management plan
At this point, you should have all the information you need to choose the right solution. If you still have some knowledge gaps about any of the options listed above, you can ask your credit counselor for more details.
Also, remember to look at the pros and cons of each one. While some of these solutions could help you get out of credit card debt without paying anything or paying less, they can ding your credit score in a major way.
Ultimately, the best debt solution for you might be the one that offers the most acceptable combination of pros and cons.
4. Stick to your plan
Once you've chosen a debt solution, the final step is to commit to it.
For example, if you're enrolling in a debt management plan, that means making your scheduled payment on time each month. Or if you're opting for a debt consolidation loan you might want to consider closing your credit card accounts while you pay off the loan. At the very least, you’ll need to learn how to avoid running up new debt and making your problem worse.
Having an accountability partner can help if you're struggling to stick with your plan. You can schedule rule check-ins with a friend, family member or your credit counselor to discuss any challenges you might run into with paying off your debt.
Is credit card debt forgiveness possible?
How do you deal with debt collectors if you don’t pay your credit card debt?
If you're being contacted by debt collectors it's important to know your rights. Specifically, it's important to understand when debt collectors can and cannot contact you, what they can say to attempt to collect a debt and what's required if you ask for verification of the debt.
Is it illegal to not pay back credit card debt?
While you can't go to jail for failing to pay back credit card debt, debt collectors can seek a civil judgment against you to force you to pay. You could be subject to wage garnishments or bank account levies if a creditor wins a case against you. Not to mention, your credit score could lose serious points if you fail to pay back what you owe.