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6 Strategies To Negotiate Your Credit Card Debts

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In a Nutshell

Whether you have a good credit score or a bad one, it’s possible to negotiate with credit card companies to lower your credit card debt. If you have a good credit score, creditors are usually not eager to help you negotiate your credit card debt because they think you can pay your debt. But if you’ve missed payments and the credit card issuer fears you may not pay them back in full, they may be willing to help you negotiate your balance. In this guide, you’ll learn how to negotiate credit card debt. We'll give actionable tips for folks who have a good credit score. Then we’ll provide credit card negotiation strategies that you can use if your credit score is not that good anymore.

Written by Attorney Tori Bramble.  
Updated September 18, 2021


Whether you have a good credit score or a bad one, it’s possible to negotiate with credit card companies to lower your credit card debt. If you have a good credit score, creditors are usually not eager to help you negotiate your credit card debt because they think you can pay your debt. But if you’ve missed payments and the credit card issuer fears you may not pay them back in full, they may be willing to help you negotiate your balance.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to negotiate credit card debt. We'll give actionable tips for folks who have a good credit score. Then we’ll provide credit card negotiation strategies that you can use if your credit score is not that good anymore.

How To Negotiate Credit Card Debts When You Have a Good Credit Score 

It's more difficult to lower your credit card debt by negotiating with your credit card issuers if you have a good credit history and you haven’t recently missed payments on your bills. If you have a good credit score, credit card companies expect that you’ll be able to pay back your debts because you've been reliably making regular payments.

But all is not lost because they want to keep your business, especially since you've been making your payments on time. Your credit card company doesn’t want you to close your account. If you have a good credit score, they know you’ll be able to do a balance transfer to one of their competitors or open a different credit card with a lower interest rate. If that happens, they’ll lose your business and will not profit off of the interest they charge you each month. They also know that you can take out a personal loan to repay your credit card debt, which would eliminate any profit they can make from you.

Strategies You Can Try To Lower Your Debt When You Have Good Credit

If you’re in a situation where you haven’t recently missed payments and you have a good credit score, call your credit card issuer and talk with them. You can still ask for the following:

  • A lower interest rate — Ask for a permanent rate change first. If they say no, ask for a temporary lower interest rate and make sure you know when the lower rate begins and ends.

  • Higher rewards — Ask for more points or more flexible rewards. This could save you money. You can ask if they’ll allow you to apply points to pay off your balance faster.

  • A higher or lower credit limit — If your credit card has a lower interest rate than your other cards, you may want to ask for a higher credit limit. Then you can transfer the balances from your other credit cards onto the card with the lowest rate.

  • Late fee forgiveness — Ask them to forgive any late fees on your account. If they do, it might remove some of the interest that was tacked on to the late fees.

  • To switch to a different credit card product the company offers — Your card issuer may have another credit card that has a lower rate you could take advantage of.

If you have a good payment history, your bargaining chip with your credit card issuer is threatening to close your account and/or transferring your balance to a competitor’s card or paying it off with a personal loan. Keep in mind that when you close a credit card account, you’re still responsible for paying off the credit card debt. 

If you have a good credit score, you’re unlikely to have a significant portion of your debt forgiven. This is because the credit card company expects you’ll have your own best interests in mind — meaning you’ll want to protect your good credit score. Plus, they know you have the ability to repay your debts. 

Negotiating Credit Card Debts When You’re in Financial Trouble

If you’re worried because you’re having a hard time paying your credit card bills on time or at all, there is hope. Here are a few ways you can get some relief when you’re in financial trouble.

Enter a Hardship Agreement or Forbearance 

Many credit card companies have hardship or forbearance programs available to people having trouble keeping up with their payments. Often, these programs are available after natural disasters, such as a hurricane. This has also been true during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some credit card companies have special hardship or forbearance programs for those affected financially by the pandemic. 

To access these programs, call your credit card issuer and tell them what you’re struggling with that’s preventing you from making your monthly payments. Examples of hardships include a medical hardship or a job loss or pay cut. Hardships also result from emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster, like a hurricane or storm.

How can a hardship program help me?

Hardship programs have many benefits, including:

  • Waiving credit card account late fees;

  • Allowing you to delay making payments without reporting late payments to the major credit bureaus; and/or

  • Forgiving interest or an interest rate reduction.

These hardship programs aren’t one-size-fits-all. They’re always determined by participating credit card issuers on a case-by-case basis. A credit card company does not have to let you into a hardship program. If you’re unsure what a hardship plan includes, make sure you ask the credit card company lots of questions before you agree to anything.

What are the downsides of hardship programs?

Though hardship programs can be very helpful for borrowers who are struggling financially, they do come with some downsides. If you enroll in a hardship program, your lender can report this to the credit bureaus. But this doesn’t always happen. Also, if your debt payments are postponed through forbearance but aren’t forgiven, you might be required to make a very large unaffordable payment to your credit card when the forbearance period ends. Finally, your credit card may be suspended, and you may not be able to make new purchases on the card, 

Settle Your Credit Card Debt Yourself

In a debt settlement, you make an agreement with your credit card lender to a new set of payment terms. The credit card company may agree to forgive part of your debt or agree to a new payment schedule to allow you to get back on track. You likely won’t be able to negotiate a debt settlement unless you are already past due on your debt. Otherwise, the credit card lender will assume you can pay back your debt.

You can try to settle your credit card debt on your own. You may want to write down your credit card debts on paper or a spreadsheet and start budgeting to find out what you can afford to repay. List the interest rate and the balance you owe for each card. This way when you're ready to contact your credit card companies you’ll have the information available and know which ones are worth trying to negotiate with.

Why do credit card companies do debt settlements?

Before negotiating with a credit card company, it’s important that you understand your lender’s viewpoint and motivations. They want to prevent a situation in which their loan is never repaid, and they understand that you may have a certain amount of money available to repay your debts. They also understand that money may need to go to pay multiple creditors. Knowing this, they hope you will pay off your debt with them instead of paying your other bills before you pay them.

Most credit card companies are willing to settle debt because they also want to avoid expensive lawsuits. They have a backup plan if you don’t repay their debt: They’ll sell your credit card debt to a debt collector or a debt buyer or sue you to force you to repay. If they sell your debt, they won’t be recouped the full amount. And taking you to court is expensive and time-consuming, and they may still never recover the money you owe.

Try these strategies if you have multiple debts to pay.

First, you can ask your creditors to forgive a portion of your debt. Tell them you have a fixed amount of money available to pay toward your debts. Explain further that you want to prioritize repaying your creditors but can only do so if they agree to forgive a portion of your credit card debt. To make the offer more appealing to your creditors, mention that you’re considering filing for bankruptcy. When creditors hear the word bankruptcy they often have more reason to fear they’ll never be repaid. 

You can also try to negotiate a lump-sum settlement. If you receive a tax refund or come into some other significant amount of money, you can offer to pay your creditors a lump sum in exchange for having the rest of your credit card debt forgiven. Always make sure you get forgiveness or lump-sum settlement agreements in writing before you make any settlement payments.

Debt Settlement Downsides

Debt that is forgiven can sometimes count as taxable income. So if a lender forgives a portion of your debt, they’ll report this to the IRS and you’ll owe taxes on any amount over $600. Also, if you settle your debt, your credit report may show “settled for less than the full balance” and this could negatively impact your credit score.

Starting a Debt Management Plan

To start a debt management plan, you will work with a credit counselor at a non-profit credit counseling agency. The credit counselor will negotiate with your lenders on your behalf to create a repayment plan that fits within your budget. They can often negotiate lower interest rates for you as well. 

Credit cards managed through a debt management plan are generally closed as part of this process. You can’t keep using your cards. Finally, debt management plans are designed for you to pay off your debts in full at more favorable terms. If repaying the full amount of your debt doesn't sound like it is the best option for you, you should consider seeking a debt settlement or declaring bankruptcy instead.

Working With Debt Settlement Companies

If you can't make your minimum monthly payments and you want to work out a settlement with your credit card company, but you don’t want to do it yourself, a debt settlement company can take over the negotiation for you. Debt settlement companies negotiate with your creditors on your behalf to help you settle your debts for less than you owe. This may be paid in payments or a lump sum. They will often require you to deposit money every month in a savings account for as long as it takes to save up a good lump-sum payment.

Pros and Cons of Using a Debt Settlement Company 

There are risks to using a debt settlement company to help you resolve your debts. There are many scams out there, so it’s very important to do your homework and investigate the reputation of any debt settlement company you’re considering using because not all of them are legitimate.

Another risk is that you may have to save up money for months or years to have a lump sum to offer your creditors. During this time, your credit score will suffer and creditors can proceed with collections activity, including filing a lawsuit to garnish your paycheck. This also won’t stop debt collection calls. This is a major difference between a debt settlement program and a debt management plan or filing bankruptcy.

Filing Bankruptcy 

If you can’t afford to repay your debts, filing for bankruptcy may be a good solution. There are two types of consumer bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Most debts can be discharged in Chapter 7, but some debts, like certain taxes and student loans, can’t be discharged or are difficult to discharge. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you will be placed on a payment plan so you can repay your creditors fully or partially over 3-5 years. The payment should be affordable and within your budget.

One benefit of bankruptcy is that you don’t need the permission of your credit card companies or their goodwill to get out of credit card debt. In this situation, they’ll be forced to participate in your journey to get out of debt. Upsolve is a nonprofit organization that can help you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free on your own, without an attorney. And if you don’t want to file bankruptcy on your own, Upsolve can also help to connect you to a bankruptcy lawyer.

Even if you want to try to negotiate with your credit card companies first, knowing about how the bankruptcy system works can make you a more effective negotiator. You’ll know that you have a backup plan or an exit route if you can’t reach an agreement. In the Upsolve Bankruptcy Learning Center, you can learn about bankruptcy and other debt topics.

Let’s Summarize...

Depending on your situation, you might be able to negotiate with your credit card company for lower fees, a lower interest rate, a reduction in the amount owed, or a payment schedule that works for you. And if you have a good credit score and have been making on-time payments, your credit card companies will probably be eager to keep your business. If this is your situation, they may offer you a better interest rate or rewards. But because they think you can repay your debt, you’re unlikely to get a major reduction in the amount of money you owe.

On the other hand, if you have been missing payments, your credit card company won’t be as hopeful to keep your business. They'll be worried that you’ll never repay them and you may have some room to negotiate a reduction in the amount of money you owe in exchange for a lump-sum payment or other repayment agreement. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can talk to a non-profit credit counselor or explore whether declaring bankruptcy is right for you.



Written By:

Attorney Tori Bramble

LinkedIn

Tori Bramble is a bankruptcy attorney with over 20 years of experience. She is licensed to practice in Maryland and Virginia and has helped over 1,500 clients discharge thousands of dollars and find debt relief by filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A New York native, Tori... read more about Attorney Tori Bramble

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