Getting deep into credit card debt is a stressful experience for anyone, much more for people with disabilities. You may have limited job opportunities and reduced income, so it can be pretty tough.
Understandably, you have a lot of questions in mind as you try to deal with debt collection while on disability, and you’ve probably been wondering and worrying about what will happen when credit card companies try to collect what you owe. Calm down. You have rights that protect you from unscrupulous collectors, and you can take certain measures to reach credit card debt freedom.
Your Rights as a Disabled Person Vis-A-Vis Credit Card Companies Pursuing Debt
Credit card companies will try to collect payments from you, and you’re likely to receive calls every day to ask you to pay. It can be stressful, and collectors can often be intimidating. However, you must not panic. Here are some of your rights as a disabled person:
- You should not be treated unfairly because of your disability
- Your disability income (twice the amount you receive monthly) is protected against garnishment
- Collection agencies cannot call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. without your permission
- You can tell them to stop calling your place of employment verbally or in writing
- You can tell them to stop calling your home in writing
- You can send them a cease and desist letter to stop calling you and sending you letters
- Creditors must provide you with appropriate communication in an accessible format based on your disability
What can the Credit Card Company Do to Collect an Outstanding Debt?
When you default on your credit card payments, the credit card company will try to collect the debt from you by sending you letters and phone calls. After a few months, they may sell your account to collection agencies who will restart the process of seeking payments from you. You may also encounter debt buyers and lawyers who will try to collect payments from you.
Creditors can go to court and get a money judgment against you so that they can garnish your bank account. They don’t typically go after your assets, such as cars or homes. While they can sue you, it’s unlikely to happen, especially if your debt is lower than $5,000. It will cost them even more money and energy than they can recover from your debt.
Are Your Bank Account and Disability Benefits Safe?
You might be worried that your original creditor might take money from your savings account, especially if they’re from the same bank. To do that, your creditor will have to sue you first and get a court judgment that will allow them to take money from your bank account.
Even so, there are limits to how much they can garnish. For example, your Social Security disability benefits may be exempt from credit card debt-related garnishment up to a certain amount. Twice your monthly Social Security income should not be taken from your account. Likewise, your disability insurance payouts will be protected from garnishment.
Would Any of Your Family Members be Liable for my Unpaid Debt?
You probably heard of debt collection horror stories where other family members and friends were getting involved in an individual’s credit card debt. You may have experienced it too. However, it shouldn’t happen.
Debt collectors may try to contact your family and friends if they don’t know where to call you or reach you. However, they’re not allowed to talk about your debt to them other than your spouse. They shouldn’t even mention that they’re from collections.
Your relatives are not liable for your unpaid debt except for the following cases:
- They co-signed the credit card
- They have joint properties with you
- They live in community property states (e.g., California, Nevada, and Idaho)
- They’re required by state law
Even when you pass away, your survivors are not required to pay your debts personally, except with the above conditions. However, your estate executor needs to settle your debt with your assets, including your house, car, investments, and bank accounts.
Where Can You Get Help with Credit Card Relief Due to Disability?
You should seek a credit counselor for proper guidance, preferably a nonprofit. Credit counseling services can help you with your debt problem by discussing your financial situation and creating a personalized payment plan. Make sure that you work with an accredited counselor or agency. You can verify their legitimacy with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).
The Department of Labor also has disability resources with links to government agencies, info, benefits, and more.
Can your credit card debt be forgiven? The Credit Card Debt Relief Act 2010 exists, but it doesn’t mean that your debt will be forgiven and erased completely without any consequences. Instead, what this means is that you have safer debt settlement program options.
Debt settlement services will help you negotiate a huge cut in the amount you have to pay to your creditors. You must be vigilant with the service you hire because debt settlement scams are prevalent. Here’s a site that can help you compare companies and find the best one in your area.
How Will Non-Payment Affect Your Credit Score?
Credit card debts can cause a dent in your credit score, affecting your chances of getting approved for future loans. Your payment history will show late payments and how severe they are. One recent late payment can chop off about 180 points from your FICO credit score.
Your credit card debt will remain on your credit record typically between 3 to 6 years. It can stay up to 10 years in Rhode Island and up to 15 years in Kentucky. Check the statute of limitations implemented in your state here. After 3 to 6 years, the debt is no longer collectible through the court, although beware that some companies may still try to make you pay what you owe even when the statute of limitations has expired.
How Do I Stop Late Payment Charges and Accumulated Interests on Outstanding Debt?
Your credit card debt will continue to incur interests as long as you haven’t made any payment. Here’s what you can do:
1. Contact your credit card company.
See if you can negotiate a better repayment option. Credit card companies may offer deferred payments of your outstanding credit card balance for a fee. That will stop accumulated interests and other charges as long as you pay your bills on time moving forward. Your bank can also give you a short payment hiatus so that you can catch up with your late payments.
2. Use balance transfer.
If you have other credit cards, you can use balance transfer and take advantage of the zero percent balance transfer interest within the introductory period. Then, make sure that you pay the bill timely and pay as much as you can before the interest reverts to normal.
3. Apply for a personal loan and consolidate your debt.
If you have a good credit rating, ideally around 700 points, a personal loan is a good way to pay off your credit card outstanding debt.
Another option is to refinance your home mortgage, which gives you access to your equity. You can tap into it to catch up with your credit card debt. You can calculate debt consolidation costs using this calculator.
4. Contact a consumer credit counseling agency.
Seeking professional help is one of the best steps toward financial freedom. They can guide you on how to consolidate your debt, improve your credit rating, and manage creditors.
Do You Have a Moral Responsibility Not to Incur Excessive Debt?
Debt collectors use different tactics to “force” you to pay your credit card debt. Some love to talk about your moral duty to pay what you owe and about taking advantage of the laws that protect you.
Yes, you should honor your moral duty to pay your debt, but you must think of your well-being first. Don’t let the collectors’ tactics get to you and make you scramble on your feet to give them the last money you have, especially if you recently lost a job, with no immediate income source prospect.
With the right advice, plan and better financial discipline, you’ll be able to settle your debt eventually. So, don’t stress yourself out too much. Instead, take the right steps toward proper debt management as discussed above.
Nobody wants to get into debt, but there are times in life that you struggle to make ends meet. When that happens, don’t panic and worry. You have rights that protect you, disabled or not, so you can manage your debt properly. Don’t fall victim to scams and dirty tactics. Nobody should harass you or discriminate against you because of your disability.
Seek professional help through credit counseling services, albeit with some fees, so you can get back on track. Don’t forget to reach out to local organizations that can help you find disability grants and opportunities assistance.
Have you been struggling to pay your credit card debt because of your disability? What steps have you taken? Share with us your experience!