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How minimum monthly credit card payments affect your credit

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Many people don’t hesitate to pay just the minimum payment on their credit card. This is especially true if the total balance is high or the cardholder is confused about the credit card lending terms and doesn’t understand the impact of paying the minimum balance. But, making just the minimum payment can have a greater impact on your credit score than most people realize.

Learn how lenders calculate the minimum payment, what it means for your debt and how making a minimum payment affects your credit.

What are credit card minimum payments?

Your credit card minimum payment is the least amount of money your lender will accept toward your credit card balance each month. You need to pay the minimum payment by its due date to avoid late penalties and other fees and to keep a consistent payment history. The minimum payment amount is displayed on your credit card bill and often ranges from one to three percent of your total credit card bill. 

How is a minimum payment calculated?

Your lender calculates the minimum payment based on your total balance and any outstanding interest charges. 

Each credit card lender has a different method for calculating its minimum monthly payment. The two primary methods are formula and percentage.

Formula

Many of the major credit card lenders use a formula to calculate your minimum payment. The formula picks an amount and adds one to two percent of your monthly balance. For example, let’s say your lender picked $35 as the minimum payment amount, plus two percent interest, and you spent $500 in new charges for the month. In this scenario, your minimum payment would be $35 plus $10 ($500 x 2%) for a total of $45.

If your total balance is less than the minimum payment, then your whole balance is due. Following the previous example, if your lender charges $35 plus two percent interest but your credit card balance is $20, you will owe $20 for that month, plus any fees and interest from the previous month.

Percentage

Other lenders—typically credit unions and financial institutions—use a simpler, percentage formula to calculate the minimum monthly payment. This method is most common for high-risk borrowers with poor credit. The percentage can range from four to six percent.

For example, if you had a $1,000 credit card balance with a lender that charges six percent, you would owe a minimum payment of $60 plus any additional fees ($1,000 x 6%). 

Some lenders will include any past-due fees in the minimum payment. 

What happens if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card?

Making the minimum payment on your credit card is better than paying nothing at all. As long as you always make the minimum payment, you should not receive negative items on your credit report, as it relates to your payment history. 

However, making only the minimum payment means you may see greater charges for interest, resulting in you paying more over time.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt and your lender offers an 18 percent interest rate with a minimum payment of two percent of the balance. In this scenario, your minimum payment is $100 per month, which can look very tempting. But, it will take you almost eight years to pay off your balance and you will pay a total of $4,311 in interest—almost doubling what you originally owed. 

Your minimum payment is generally a small portion of your total debt, and most of that payment goes to interest. As a result, you are slowly progressing toward paying off your principal amount, and you could end up paying minimum payments for many years.

Additionally, your credit card utilization may be high if you make only minimum payments. Credit utilization is the amount of credit extended to you by the lender versus the amount you owe. If you maintain a high credit card balance while only paying the minimum payment, you are at risk of having high credit utilization month after month. 

Several factors determine your credit score, but credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your overall score. So, maintaining a high utilization ratio can negatively impact your credit score. 

Finally, when you maintain a high credit card balance and a routine of only paying the minimum payment, you may fall behind on payments. When you make late payments or miss the payment entirely, having a negative payment history can also lower your overall credit score. 

What should you do if you can’t afford to pay in full?

If you can’t pay your credit card in full, don’t panic. Approximately 47 percent of Americans have credit card debt, so it’s quite common—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay off credit card debt. Follow the steps below to tackle your debt efficiently and in a way that works for you. 

Pay as much as you can

As mentioned before, it’s essential to always make at least the minimum payment on time. This will help you avoid negative items on your credit report for late or missed payments. However, whenever possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. This will help you pay down your principal debt faster and pay less interest over time. 

Come up with a repayment strategy

If you have multiple credit cards with debt or various types of debt, it’s crucial to have a repayment strategy. 

There are two popular debt repayment strategies: the avalanche and the snowball. The snowball method recommends you pay off your debt from smallest to largest (like a growing snowball). This method is meant to give people positive reinforcement because they feel motivated as they knock out several of their small debts quickly before moving on to the larger debts. 

The avalanche method is a more systematic approach—you list all your debts and their interest rates and pay the one with the highest interest rate first. This method aims to save you money in the long run by getting of higher-interest debt first. 

Decide which approach fits your style. Both of these methods are highly effective in their own way. 

Budget

A budget is the first step to taking control of your financial health. Without a budget, you may not know where your money is going or where you can save. Often, a budget can highlight unnecessary spending. There are plenty of free apps, such as Mint, that allow you to have an automated look at all your spending and build a budget. 

Talk to your credit card issuer

You can reach out to your credit card issuer if you’re going through financial hardship to see what they can do for you. Some credit lenders will offer to lower your interest rates, which will help you tackle your principal debt much faster. Some financial hardships can include the loss of a job, an injury or a medical incident. Ultimately it will be your lender that decides if your situation merits help. 

Consider a balance transfer

There are a lot of credit card options out there. If your credit card has a high-interest rate, you may consider a balance transfer. Some credit card lenders offer a low-interest promotional rate when you transfer a credit balance to them. During this time, you can make a significant dent in your debt. However, you should know that some balance transfers come with a one-time fee, so make sure to consider this as well. 

Care for your credit

Your credit is your door to many financial opportunities. A healthy credit score can help your chances for approval for auto leases, mortgages, personal loans and more. It can also help you get a much lower interest rate and better borrowing terms when you receive financial products.

Improving your credit takes work. While focusing on your credit card’s impact on your credit score, make sure your overall credit profile is accurate. Errors and inaccuracies can greatly hurt your credit score and put a dent in your debt-relief goals. Professional credit repair companies can help you navigate the challenges of credit reporting inaccuracies.

The first step toward establishing a healthy credit history is making sure all items are listed fairly and accurately—professional credit repair is an easy, effective way to get your credit score back on track.


Reviewed by Shana Dawson Fish, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Shana Dawson Fish is an Arizona native whose family migrated from Guyana. Shana graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and in 2012 she graduated from Arizona Summit Law School earning her Juris Doctor. During law school, Shana was a Judicial Intern at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona and the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 2016, Shana was awarded a legal defense contract and represented clients as a Trial Attorney in juvenile proceedings. Shana has experience in litigating numerous trials and diligently pursuing the rights of her clients. As a Trial Attorney, Shana identified the needs of her clients and also represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. Shana is licensed to practice in Arizona and is an Associate Attorney in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Credit Cards

Do debt consolidation loans hurt your credit?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When done correctly, debt consolidation loans usually do not hurt your credit long-term. In fact, there’s a good chance that they will ultimately improve your credit. However, debt consolidation can initially knock your score down a bit, which is why it’s important to do your due diligence before pursuing this strategy.

Debt consolidation is a way to combine multiple debts into a single loan. This not only reduces the interest you owe, but it also helps you organize your debt, making payments more manageable.

Debt consolidation can have positive and negative effects on your credit score. Here are a few areas it may negatively impact:

  • Credit applications: Applying for a personal loan or a balance transfer card requires that a hard inquiry be performed on your credit. This will likely lower your score a bit initially as you get the consolidation process started.
  • Average age of credit: The ages of your credit accounts matter, with older accounts garnering better credit scores. When you open a new account, it lowers your average credit age, which may initially negatively impact your score.

On the other hand, the following categories tend to be positively impacted by debt consolidation:

  • Credit utilization: A new debt consolidation account will usually increase the amount of available credit you have. As long as you don’t begin spending significantly more after opening the new account, you’ll be using less of your available credit, which will benefit your score.
  • Payment history: If you consistently pay off your new loan on time, your credit will likely be positively impacted.

Effects on credit score depend on the debt consolidation method

Each debt consolidation method comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. It’s important to acquaint yourself with the potential impacts of each method to make sure that consolidating debt results in a net gain for your credit health.

Balance transfer

A balance transfer is the process of transferring debt to a single credit card with a lower interest rate, allowing you to pay off your debts for less. Many balance transfer cards offer zero-percent APR during an introductory period, providing a window to pay off debt interest-free.

Despite the benefits offered, a balance transfer card could damage your credit score. First, applying for a new credit card may warrant a hard inquiry, which can bump your score down a bit. Second, your credit score is partially determined by credit utilization, and transferring significant amounts of money to a card and then paying it off involves high credit utilization on that card. This will likely harm your score.

If you decide to pursue a balance transfer card to pay off debt, be sure to investigate the card’s APR following the introductory period. Your interest rate may take you by surprise and skyrocket if you don’t do your due diligence.

The average length of a 0% APR introductory period is around 12 months for balance transfers. Source: WalletHub

Personal loan

Another popular debt consolidation method is taking out a personal line of credit. These loans are available at any time and can be used to quickly pay off debt.

If used correctly, personal loans can improve your credit score by diversifying your credit mix, especially if you’ve only had credit cards up until this point. Paying off debt with a loan rather than with credit can also reduce your credit utilization, which may boost your score.

That said, it’s important to remember that this process involves taking out a loan that must be paid back on time. You may also want to reconsider this option if your present score doesn’t allow you to take out a personal loan without being charged a high interest rate.

Borrowing from a 401(k)

If you have a 401(k) retirement account, you can borrow up to half of this balance to pay off debt. While it must be paid back within five years to avoid penalties, borrowing from a 401(k) does not have any adverse effects on your credit score. Moreover, the money you borrow doesn’t accumulate interest since 401(k) funds aren’t borrowed from a lender.

However, it’s important to remember what a 401(k) is meant for—retirement. Taking out funds for short-term debt payments can significantly detract from your retirement savings. You may also have to deal with tax repercussions when taking this course of action.

Nearly one-third of Americans with retirement accounts have borrowed from those accounts in the form of a loan. Source: SHRM

Home equity loan or line of credit

Home equity loans or lines of credit are perhaps the riskiest forms of debt consolidation, but they also offer some significant benefits. Essentially, lenders will offer you a loan and use your home as collateral. This means that if you fail to pay off the loan within the amount of time agreed upon, you could lose your home.

You must have excellent credit to take out a home equity loan or line of credit. When you apply, you will be hit with a credit check, which could initially lower your score a bit. While the impact on your score will likely be relatively insignificant, these loans can also accumulate very high interest, so it’s important to use discretion before taking one out to pay off debt.

Other options to consider

If debt consolidation doesn’t feel right for you, that’s okay. There are other debt relief options that could help restore your peace of mind regarding your financial situation.

Debt management program

Debt management services can help by counseling you regarding your options when you’re struggling with debt. A debt management program will likely involve a counselor negotiating lower interest with creditors and potentially closing credit cards.

While visiting a counselor at a debt management agency doesn’t harm your credit score at all, entering into a debt management program that reduces how much you have to pay does usually negatively impact your score. Your credit report will likely reflect the debt management program in effect until you are no longer using it.

Debt settlement or bankruptcy

Debt settlement is the process of negotiating with creditors to pay significantly less money than you owe to have your debt forgiven. Bankruptcy is a legal process that helps people organize and sometimes eliminate their debt. Bankruptcy, however, is a more long-term option than the other ones we’ve mentioned.

These two options should be a last resort when struggling to pay off debt, as they can have a significantly adverse effect on your credit score. Both debt settlement and bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for upwards of seven years, and sometimes up to ten years, negatively impacting your ability to open new accounts or apply for a loan. However, if you need to take care of massive debt now and you take wise financial steps in the future, these processes could end up ultimately being the right solution for you.

Should I consolidate my debt?

Before pursuing debt consolidation, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the reasons you’re interested in consolidating debt and your plans for the foreseeable future.

Do you have a high interest rate?

If the interest on the debt you owe is 20 percent or more, you’ll likely save money by consolidating debt. However, certain balance transfer options charge fees that may counteract the benefits of debt consolidation. Do your research ahead of time to figure out which option saves you more money.

Are you missing payments?

Keeping track of all of your accounts can be stressful. If remembering to pay your bills has been a struggle and you’ve found yourself repeatedly missing payments, debt consolidation may help. Consolidating your debt could simplify your financial life by allowing you to take care of all payments at once. This will also benefit your credit in the long run, since missed and late payments can be detrimental to your score.

Do you need excellent credit in the short term?

If you’re planning to take out a loan or a mortgage anytime soon, you may feel the need to safeguard your credit score at all costs. Since many debt consolidation methods will put a temporary dent in your score, it may be wise to hold off until after you’ve been approved by a lender.

Ultimately, whether you decide to pursue debt consolidation and which method you choose depends on the weight of your debts and what would benefit your credit most. If you’re still on the fence, it’s a good idea to consult a financial advisor before making any decisions that could have long-lasting consequences.

Whichever decision you make, remember to keep your credit health at the forefront of your mind, and to take the steps where needed to repair your credit to expand your financial opportunities.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Chief Compliance Officer. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah, North Carolina and Virginia.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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How is credit card interest calculated?

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How is Credit Card Interest Calculated

If you’re like most people repairing their credit card debt, your credit card’s annual interest rate is a mystery to you. You might even avoid thinking about it or looking at it, because it’s such a large number. Interest rates can make it difficult to get out of debt quickly, because you’re working against a large percentage—as much as 16% or even 20% annual interest.

Credit card interest is calculated using a complicated formula that can be confusing to many people. So it often remains a puzzle to borrowers. But it’s important to understand the basics of credit card interest, because it will help you to repair your credit card debt quicker—and to be a smarter credit card user. Here’s how credit card interest works.

How Is Credit Card Interest Calculated?

credit card interest calculation

If you’ve watched your interest rate closely, you may have noticed that it has changed since you first opened your credit card. Many credit cards offer a low introductory interest rate that increases after the period is over. But even after that, your annual interest rate will often go up and down. That can be confusing, and even a bit unsettling.

Your interest rate changes

The first thing you should understand is that your credit card uses a variable interest rate. That means that the interest rate can change over time. A variable rate is tied to a base index—usually the U.S. prime rate. As the U.S. prime rate goes up or down, so will your credit card’s interest rate.

Right now, the U.S. prime rate is 4.25%. But your credit card’s interest rate is probably closer to 18.25%, or even more. That’s because credit card companies charge an additional amount above the U.S. prime rate—perhaps 14%, but it varies from card to card. So your total interest rate will be closer to 18.25%, annually. If the U.S. prime rate raises or lowers, your annual interest rate will also go up or down by the same amount.

The factors that influence the U.S. prime rate are reviewed every six weeks. The prime rate could stay the same for years, or it could change every six weeks. It all depends on current federal economic conditions and forecasts.

Your interest rate is annual

It’s also important to understand that your credit card’s interest rate is an annual rate. So if your annual rate is 18.25%, that amount is applied per year—not per month. But since you’re billed monthly, your interest is calculated each month, using an average daily balance method.

Calculating your interest rate

Here’s how the average daily balance works:

  1. Determine the daily periodic rate (DPR)—the interest rate you pay each day. DPR is your current interest rate (it varies, remember) divided by 365. So, 18.25 / 365 = 0.05%.
  2. Determine the average daily balance for the month. This is done by adding up the balance for each day of the billing period, then dividing that sum by the number of days (either 30 or 31 days—or 28 in February!). If you had a balance of $0.00 for 10 days, then $500.00 for 10 days, then $1000.00 for the last 10 days of the month, your average daily balance would be $500.00.
  3. Multiply the DPR by the number of days in the billing cycle, then multiply that total by the average daily balance. This is your interest for the month. So, a DPR of 0.05% * 30 days = 1.5%. 1.5% * $500.00 = $7.50.

That might not sound like much, but if you’re an average cardholder in the United States, you’re carrying a credit card debt of $16,000.00. That means you’re paying $2,880.00 per year in interest alone, in this scenario.

How Can I Avoid Paying So Much Interest?

When you’re working hard to repair your credit card debt, it can be frustrating to be fighting against a high interest rate. But there are ways you can reduce—or even eliminate—the amount of credit card interest you’re paying each month.

Pay more than the minimum balance due

Your credit card statement lists a minimum amount that you must pay each month. Your interest for the month is rolled into that minimum payment. But if you pay more than the minimum, every dollar above that minimum goes towards your principal balance. There’s no interest charged on it.

In other words, if your minimum payment is $500.00 and you pay $600.00, that extra $100.00 is applied to the amount you borrowed—it’s interest-free. And that benefits you in two ways:

  • You’re paying off debt without paying interest
  • You’re lowering the dollar amount of interest you’ll have to pay next month, because your average daily balance will be smaller.

Open a balance-transfer credit card

credit card interest

A balance-transfer card can be a very helpful way to repair your credit card debt. A transfer credit card has a very low introductory interest rate—often as low as 0%. The card lets you transfer your balance from other debt onto the new card. You can then make monthly payments on the transfer card to pay down your existing debt.

But the low interest rate is only valid for a limited time—usually six to 18 months—so you’ll need to pay off the debt before the introductory rate expires. You should also do your homework: some transfer cards charge a transfer fee. And some charge a penalty APR, which allows the credit company to charge you a high interest rate if you miss a payment.

Pay off Your Credit Card Debt Faster

Your credit card’s annual interest rate doesn’t have to be a confusing mystery, and you don’t need to know everything there is to know about interest rates. But when you understand the basics of variable interest rates and how they’re calculated, you can use that information to repair your credit card debt faster and easier. Paying more than the minimum balance due and using a balance-transfer card can be very helpful ways to use interest rates to your advantage.


A reputable credit repair specialist can help you find other ways to successfully get out of credit debt. If you’re tired of struggling on your own, find out how our advisors can help you repair your credit debt. Contact us today.

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Your guide to debt collection

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

As of March 2020, consumer debt totaled a whopping $14.3 trillion in the United States, and around a third of all Americans had at least one debt in collections. They weren’t just struggling with paying off debts—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noted in 2019 that about one-fifth of the complaints it received were about debt collectors. This isn’t a surprise when you consider that there are approximately 7,800 collection agencies in the United States, and the third-party debt collection market is a $12.7 billion industry.

If you’re dealing with a debt in collections, learning about your rights and the options you may have can help you take positive action. And that can help increase the likelihood of a more favorable outcome for you. Find out more below.

Your legal rights against debt collectors

The good news is that you’re not alone when you’re dealing with debt collectors. You actually have a lot of laws on your side. A number of federal acts specifically address debt collections, and government organizations are in place to help you protect your rights as a consumer.

FDCPA

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides numerous provisions to protect consumers from unfair debt collection activity. Some of those provisions include:

  • Debt collectors can’t engage in harassment or abusive behavior, including calling excessively or outside of normal times.
  • Collectors have to disclose that their communication is an attempt to collect on a debt.
  • You have the right to ask debt collectors to stop contacting you. They have to abide by your written request, but that doesn’t mean you stop owing the debt.
  • When asked, debt collectors have to provide validation of your debt.
  • Debt collectors can’t violate your privacy by discussing your debt with others.

FCRA

The Fair Credit Reporting Act helps protect you from other types of abusive actions by debt collectors. Specifically, this law mandates fair and accurate credit reporting. If you find a potential error on your credit report, you can write to the bureau in question and ask them to investigate it. By law, they have to investigate, and if the reporting creditor or collection agency can’t prove those facts, the bureau has to delete or correct the information.

The FCRA also gives you the right to at least one free credit report per year from each credit reporting agency. Plus, you have the right to a copy of your credit report if it’s used to evaluate you for credit and you’re denied because of information in your credit file.

TCPA

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act restricts how autodialers and other phone call tech can be used. Specifically, debt collectors and others can’t use autodialers—aka robocallers—to call your cell phone.

UDAP regulations

Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices refer generally to behaviors in financial and accounting sectors that aren’t legal or ethical. They’re prohibited by Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and regulated by a number of entities at the federal and state levels. What you need to know with regard to debt collectors is that anyone dealing with financial products must be transparent and honest about certain facts, such as how much you owe and how it was calculated.

State debt collection laws

As a federal law, the FDCPA is enforced in all states. Some states enforce it differently than others, and some have their own laws that add even more protections. States that have their own fair debt collection laws include California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Washington.

Summary of your rights

Overall, the list of rights and protections set out by these laws is designed to make debt collection fairer for consumers. The laws seek to ensure you have:

  • Access to fair and accurate information about your debts
  • Protection for your privacy
  • Protection against abusive actions by debt collectors

How debt collection agencies work

Debt collection agencies are required to follow all the laws above. But just because the law is on your side when it comes to fairness and accuracy, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever deal with a debt that puts some stress on you. Understanding how debt collectors work can help you know what to expect and when someone might be crossing the line into illegality.

When can a debt be sent to collections?

A debt can go to collections as soon as you default on it. The exact timeline depends on your contract with the lender and the lender’s policies.

Statute of limitations on debt

The statute of limitations on debt is how long a creditor or collection agency can attempt to collect through legal means, including filing a lawsuit. The timeline varies by state and usually starts when you first default. In some cases, you can reset the statute of limitations by making payments on old debt, so this is something to be aware of when dealing with collectors.

How debt collection agencies are allowed to contact you

Debt collection laws dictate when and how collectors can contact you. Debt collectors can’t call certain workplaces, and they can’t continue to call you at your workplace if you tell them to stop.

Debt collectors can also only call you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. in your time zone. They’re allowed to contact you via methods that include phone, email, fax or mail, and starting in fall 2021, debt collectors will also be allowed to contact you via text and social media.

What to do when a debt collector contacts you

It can be tempting to throw a collections bill in the trash or shove it into a drawer to deal with down the road. That’s even more tempting if you know you can’t pay the bill today. But ignoring the debt doesn’t make it go away and can lead to even more stress down the road.

Here are some steps to take if a debt collector contacts you:

  • If the collector calls you, ask for verification of the debt or something in writing. Never just pay debts over the phone that you don’t know the details of—even if the collector is trying to pressure you.
  • Once you receive the first notification of the debt in writing, review the information and see if you think it’s accurate. You can contest the information or ask for validation of the debt, requesting documents such as a signed contract or a statement. However, you only have 30 days to do this, so don’t put it off.
  • If you plan to make a payment right away, double-check all the information first. Making a payment is seen as acceptance of the debt, so doing so can make it harder for you to dispute something about the debt later.
  • In cases where you want to dispute the debt or don’t think the amount you owe is correct, gather your own documentation. Pull out old statements, contracts or bank statements that show you already paid the debt, for example.
  • Once you determine the debt is yours and is accurate, pay it off quickly if you can. That helps you avoid issues such as lawsuits or judgments that could lead to garnishments or liens.
  • If you receive a court summons because you’re being sued by a collector, show up in court on the hearing date. Not showing up usually means the judge decides for the creditor by default, which means a judgment will be entered against you. That judgment makes it possible for the creditor or collection agency to garnish your wages or checking account or enter liens against your property.
  • Bring legal representation if you can. According to Pew Research, less than 10 percent of people in these types of cases have legal representation, but those who do are more likely to win their cases or reach an agreed-upon settlement.

Remember that collection situations can be complex and your situation is unique to you. If you’re not sure what the best action for you is, you may want to consult legal professionals.

Illegal debt collection practices

Illegal or unethical debt collection practices are unfortunately more common than many realize. From January 1, 2020, through September 2020, for example, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received tens of thousands of reports from consumers about concerning collection practices—more than 85,000 reports, to be exact. And roughly 45 percent of those were from people who didn’t owe the money or who said they were targeted by threatening or abusive collector behavior.

The first step to recognizing whether you’re being targeted by illegal practices is knowing your rights. If your rights under any of the above laws are being infringed upon, someone might be doing something illegal. You can report those actions to various agencies—more on that below.

Before we get there, though, here are some red-flag behaviors to know about. These are all potential signs that something illegal is going on:

  • Someone claims they can or will arrest you for a debt.
  • Someone shares information about your debt with your family members or anyone who is not you.
  • Someone attempts to claim you owe a debt or must pay a debt that belongs to a relative.

How to report illegal debt collection behavior

If a debt collector violates any of the debt collection laws discussed above, you can and should file a complaint. There are several agencies where you can file these types of complaints, and depending on the situation, you might even file a complaint with more than one.

You can report a debt collector to:

  • The Federal Trade Commission. The FTC enforces the FDCPA and uses the FTC Act to help stop unfair debt collection practices. You can report issues such as bad business practices, scams and fraud to the FTC. Gather the following information and then complete the reporting process on the FTC’s site:
    • Details of the activity and product or service involved
    • Any amounts you paid and the dates you made payments
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can submit a complaint online to the CFPB. Complaints are used to launch potential investigations and ensure compliance, and the CFPB says 97 percent of people who complete its form get a response within around 15 days. The CFPB does reach out to the collection agency in question to get a response about the matter too.
  • The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA International). The ACA is an industry association for collection and credit companies and professionals. Membership can bring important perks, but having members who aren’t compliant with collections laws isn’t ideal. If a collection agency that’s a member of this organization is acting illegally, you might want to let the ACA know.
  • The Better Business Bureau. The BBB is a go-to resource for many consumers. You can check with the BBB to find out if a collection agency already has complaints for the type of activity you’re dealing with. You can also file your own complaint.
  • Your state’s Attorney General. States have their own oversight and rules into collections. They also all enforce the federal laws listed above. You can report illegal collection activity to your state Attorney General’s office. Locate the website or contact information for your state’s office at USA.gov.

What to do if you can’t pay the amount in collections

So, what happens if you owe the money and the collector follows all the laws? You may need to pay up. If you can’t pay the amount due immediately, you have a couple of options to consider.

Debt settlement

A debt settlement occurs when you agree to pay a lesser amount and the collector agrees to consider the matter closed. Often, third-party debt collectors buy a debt for pennies on the dollar, so they can still make money even if you don’t pay the total amount due. That makes them more likely to settle for something over nothing.

Settling a debt means you don’t legally owe it anymore. But make sure you get the agreement in writing or the debt collector could try to come after you for the rest.

Paying off a debt—in full or via settlement—doesn’t necessarily improve your credit score, especially immediately. But it also doesn’t hurt your score, since the collection account is probably already on your report. And it may be better than a charge-off.

Bankruptcy

If you can’t pay the debt and are dealing with other financial issues, you might consider bankruptcy. Filing a bankruptcy petition puts an automatic stay in effect, so debt collectors can’t continue collection activity. However, bankruptcy can have serious consequences for your credit, so make sure to talk to an attorney first so you can make an educated decision.

Negotiation

You may be able to negotiate with the collection agency to make several smaller payments over time to pay off the debt. Again, make sure you get any agreement in writing to protect yourself.

Watch your credit during the debt collection process

Whether you’re dealing with collection activity on an account you don’t think you owe or you want to repair your credit after dealing with legitimate collection activity, Lexington Law may be able to help. Find out more about our credit repair services to see how we can help you dispute inaccurate information on your credit score and begin taking positive actions to potentially impact your credit score.


Reviewed by Brad Blanchard, Supervising Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Brad is an attorney at Lexington Law firm whose practice is primarily focused on corporate compliance. His focus is primarily in the areas of marketing and advertising of financial services. He regularly deals with issues related to FTC Regulation 5, UDAAP, FCRA, FDCPA, CROA, TCPA, and TSR. He also has experience in LLC formation, contract review and negotiation, and trial and litigation experience in the areas of consumer protection and family law. Prior to joining Lexington Brad worked on Department of Labor administrative law cases and federal class action lawsuits. He also externed for a Utah State Court trial judge where he worked on both civil and criminal cases. Brad is licensed to practice law in Utah and Ohio. He is located in the North Salt Lake office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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