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It is Finally Over ... or is it?

July 2nd, 2008 at 10:46 am

The debt settlement chapter of my life is finally over. I have managed to bring all my debts current and settled a massive amount of credit card debt. Now my credit will start to rebound and maybe after a year or two, I will be considered credit worthy again. I've seen this with my clients so I know that it does rebound; much better than filing a bankruptcy that stays on your credit for 10 years and would have ruined my career. I settled the following debts:

BOA - Settled at 38%
Chase - Settled at 45%
Citi - Settled at 38%
Discover - Settled at 50%
Sears - Paid down $1350 and am making 0% interest on the remaining $6,100 in credit card debt.

My total savings was $78918.93. It's not over yet; I will get 1099's from each credit card company and I have to count that as income; so I had a very good year and I wish I had made that much at my job.

Fortunately the IRS has an insolvent provision (publication 908, form 982; cancellation of debt) so you take your financial position at each point of debt settlement (the day you paid) and if your liabilities exceed your assets, you are insolvent. According to my calculations; I'm insolvent to the tune of the first $45,000, that means I have to pay tax on $33,918.93 at possibly 28%, which would be approximately $9,500. I generally get $5,000 back in a tax refund so I will need about $4,500 when I file taxes next April. I am definately going to need a tax professional to help me deal with this; the last thing I want is a tax audit.

My saving grace will be if I can sell the house and make about $15,000; that will solve the tax problem and the rest of the funds would go toward the $26,000 401k loan I have remaining; I had to take out a 401k loan to settle this mess. I'm fortunate that that is all I owe, I was able to save money, sell possessions and had some money given to me by my DH. If I do not sell the house, I could make installments to the IRS until next filing,in 2010, when I would get enough back to pay them in full. I've talked to them at length and they have a 5 year, 8% interest installment plan (I don't need another payment, but if I can't save enough between now and then, I will have to do it; I don't want a tax lien on my house or a freeze on my bank account).

So I should feel a great relief right now, but I have a tendency to worry about unfinished business. I guess I consider this unfinished until the IRS is done with me. I have considered consulting with a tax professional in the next few months just to be sure I'm understanding everything properly. I have filed my own taxes for several years, but I've never had this situation before and the tax instructions and definitions of assets and liabilities are vague.

So technically, I went from $135,000 in credit card debt to $26,000 in the form of a 401k loan, $6,100 I still owe Sears and $9,500 in tax implications; a total debt still owed of $41,600. So in the last six months I have reduced my debt by $93,400. That is truly amazing when you look at it in dollars and cents. My goal is to pay off that debt by the end of next year. I have several plans on how I will do that, including selling the current house I live in; this housing market has to turn around soon.

Don't get me wrong here; I'm very grateful and thankful that I've been able to clean up and reorganize this situation I'm in. I feel truly blessed and feel there was some devine intervention here.

Negotiating Debt

June 4th, 2008 at 11:22 am

This has been a journey and for the last six months,it has been a living hell. I had never had a credit issue in over 20 years and then the housing market crashes and like thousands of people; we have found ourselves in a personal finance dilemna. What to do and how to handle it?

There are several things that people do, some file bankruptcy, some go through debt management programs, some settle their debts with their creditors for less and some just take the approach of "do nothing and it will go away". Throughout this process I called "debt settlement companies" and did consider using a few of them. Then one of them told me to go ahead, try to settle myself and I would be "sued". I saw that as a fear tactic and felt that if they could do it, I could do it. I consulted with a bankruptcy attorney and he advised me that creditors don't want to hear from anyone but their customer and you could actually increase your risk of being sued by hiring a third party. So I sat down, added up my debt, took an amount of about 45% and decided that is what I would need. I also knew in order to be successful I would need to settle everything within 180 days before they were charged off. So I borrowed, received money from family and sold personal possessions and saved and budgeted every dime I could.

Now here I am, down to my last creditor and I only have about 60 days left on that account to settle it. I don't have enough money so I have cleaned out my shed, cleaned out my basement and am advertising a few items in the local paper. I'm selling some office equipment I had stored away and a rototiller. That should give me about $1,000 and will help with the process. My car is still broken, but right now this is priority. I have another used car to get me around until I can afford to fix my primary car; although that is in the garage right now with a warranty item that was replaced last year. I have two cars, one is a summer car and it's 9 years old and my primary car is 8 years old.

With all the creditors I dealt with, my hardest creditor to deal with has been Discover. They called frequently, sometimes 4 times a day. I would talk to them in the morning and they would call three more times before the day was out. They were difficult to deal with; they would always ask the same questions even though I knew they had notes. Then when you were done and I had told them I did not have a normal wage and couldn't make monthly payments, they would ask if they could charge my account for the amount due (like they didn't hear a word I said); they would then ask if they could speak to another family member and etc. Then they would say they were going to get someone to help stop the calls and they would transfer me to another collection person and put me through the whole thing again. I knew the routine so I would hang up when they tried to transfer me. I was very intimidated by them, I lost sleep and was a nervous wreck after talking to them. This is what they do, in the beginning when you are late they will agree to settle at 85%, then after about 90 days they start talking 60% and then one person told me Discover never settles for less than 60%, well about 10 days before chargeoff (charge off usually occurs at 180 days) they dropped to 50% of the total balance. I was able to settle my account at 50% just before charge off and that was a big tool they used to settle, "if you settle now you won't be reported as charged off, it will be an R-9 "settled" which is better than a charge off. So I made sure I settled before charge off. However, I pull my credit 10 days later and it is reported as a charge off by Discover. I called them and they said it is my problem and I have to dispute it with the credit bureau. So just one more nasty and one last insult.

What I have learned here is that if you are having a "true hardship" most creditors are sympathetic and will work with you. Citi called me and told me they were sorry I was in such financial distress and they offered me a settlement at 38%. I believe it is an industry secret rarely discussed, but debt settlement is real and available to people who cannot pay their debts and are in financial crisis.

My hope in blogging about this experience is that it will help others who are overextended and need to bring their lives back into control and financial stability versus filing bankruptcy.

What are the affects on my credit after this? My credit score is 630 and I think that after 12 good months, I will probably be back up, at least over 660. I have 11 negatives on my report and 32 positives, because this is the first time in my life I have had a problem, I will probably recover faster than some people will.

I was hoping to have this all done by the end of June, but that won't happen. I'm short about $1,500 to settle with my last creditor, my car is broke down, my son is graduating from high school, my daughter is getting married and I have some additional expenses I did not expect, i.e. some travel expense and dental expense. So it will be difficult but I will find a way.

I will be broke, but I will be credit card free.