Many credit cards offer some type of hardship program. If you run into a temporary setback – like a job loss -- it's a good idea to contact the card company before you're 30 days late with a payment. The company may work with you on a hardship payment plan. Hardship programs are designed for account holders having difficulty paying due to a job loss, medical emergency or some other form of financial distress.
It's tempting to put your head in the sand in times of financial hardship, but it's better to be proactive. Call the credit card issuer and explain the details of your situation, particularly if it is temporary. Ask if you can apply for a hardship program. You should have a written budget ready because the company will probably base its decision on your income and expenses. A short-term plan lasts a few months to a year, and a long-term plan stays active until the account is paid off.
Working Out a Plan
Once you go 60 days past due, the debt collection practices get more aggressive, but hardship options are still possible. Normally, credit card companies will work with someone who has experienced a job loss or medical situation and is not delinquent because of overspending and irresponsible use of the account. Even if you fall into the latter category, however, you may still be able to negotiate. Once you set up a financial hardship plan, the card company will likely deactivate your account, so you won't be able to use it any longer.
Your Credit Report
Most credit card companies will report the hardship plan to the credit bureaus. If a card issuer has already reported you 30 or 60 days late, that information is not likely to change, but you may be able to stop the company from making other negative reports. Typically, short-term plans won't get reported, but permanent ones may. Some card issuers will remove negative reports after you complete the program and they may even reinstate your credit privileges.
If you still can't make payments on your card even under a hardship plan, you can settle the debt with a collection company at a later date. These collectors may accept 40 to 60 percent of the account value, including late fees and interest. The optimum time to negotiate this deal is after your card is 90 days late and before it goes 120 days late. To settle for the lowest amount, you'll need to make a lump sum payment.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images