Looking to Settle? Read This FIRST
IF you offer to settle a debt with a creditor or Collection Agency, the terms will be "Payment for deletion of trade line. No agreement to that, no agreement at all."
With that in mind, there are lots of things you should look into before you offer to settle. These are:
1. Is the debt outside the Statute of Limitations for Collection in your state?
2. How close to the 7 year FCRA Statute of Limitations is it?
3. Are you Judgement Proof?
4. What does the creditor know about your place of employment?
5. Do you presently have garnishments on your paycheck?
6. What is your total financial picture? Are you just postponing an inevitable bankruptcy and throwing good money after bad?
7. Are there any FCRA, FDCPA or FCBA violations committed by the Creditor or its Collection Agency?
Let's discuss each of these, one at a time.
1. Statute of Limitations on Collections: This is a no-brainer. The Statute of Limitations on Collections (SOLC) starts with each payment you make, and ends after a set period of time where no payment is made. If you don't make a payment in a certain time, and the creditor has not started a lawsuit, the law states that the SOLC is an "affirmative defense" to any lawsuit that may be started after the SOLC expires. Why? The US Constitution guarantees a speedy trial. Over time, records get lost, witnesses die, move away or forget. The SOLC basically says to a creditor "Sue while the records are available, otherwise forget it". An Affirmative Defense doesn't mean you can't get sued, but it provides a good reason for the Court to refuse to give the creditor a Judgement. If the debt is outside SOLC, then the creditor cannot get a judgement, and you can stand firm in your offer of "no deletion, no money". NEVER try to negotiate a settlement if SOLC has not expired, ESPECIALLY if the creditor is not actively dunning you. Let the sleeping dog lie until it has no teeth left to bite you with. EXCEPTION - see #3 and #7 below.
2. The Fair Credit Reporting Act places a limitation on the time that derogatory information can be reported. I will call that the SOLR - Statute of Limitations on Reporting. This limit is generally 7 years. There are some exceptions (Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is 10 years and certain other types of situations have no SOLR). If the debt is near SOLR and SOLC has expired, there is very little the creditor can give you in return for payment, since you cannot be successfully sued and the law will remove the line from your credit file shortly. If you have a couple of years on SOLR and SOLC has expired, then you may want to see what you can negotiate. My rule of thumb is this - the debt is worth about 10% of its face amount for each year left on SOLR.
3. If you are Judgement proof (doesn't mean you can't get sued, means there is no way of collecting on the suit) you should explore how likely you are to become "not Judgement proof" before the SOLC expires. If you are not likely to become Not Judgement proof before SOLC expires (say you are a Stay at Home Mom for the next 15 years) then settlement is a possibility, whether the SOLC has expired or not. THIS SHOULD BE APPROACHED VERY CAREFULLY IN COMMUNITY PROPERTY STATES. Only treat non-community debt as outside SOLC. Community debt should still be treated as within SOLC. See my post "Making Yourself Judgement Proof"
4. It is very hard to garnish a paycheck you can't find. Contrary to popular belief, non-government creditors do NOT have access to Social Security files. Treat Child Support as a Government Creditor because of New Hire reporting requirements. So, if you recently changed jobs (and even better, residences also) then you are in a stronger position to negotiate a settlement. Obviously, do not disclose your new employer. It might be wise to let the debts lie for a year or so (and don't apply for any new credit - when you open a bank account, DO NOT GIVE THAT BANK YOUR NEW EMPLOYER - it will go STRAIGHT to the Credit Bureaus since most banks run credit checks on new depositors). A debt, like fine wine, gets easier to settle the older it gets.
5. A garnishment on your paycheck, as unpleasant as it may seem, can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. That's because for OTHER creditors to collect through Garnishment, they have to wait in line until all prior garnishments (in order recieved by your employer) are paid in full. Here's a true story. When I was a Credit Counsleor for CCCS, I had a particularly intransigent creditor to deal with. The dbetor, however, ahd enough garnishments on his payncheck to amount to about 15 years wait. I merely informed the creditor of this and said "I will pay those creditors who will accept the program and not sue. You have a choice - get paid now or sue and wait 15 years to get paid." You can adopt this strategy also. So, if you have, or will have, a large balance garnishment on your paycheck, and you can live with that garnishment, you have some powerful leverage with all the other creditors you may have. Take this now and be happy with it or wait a couple of years......
6. Will this settlement make you able to pay all teh rest of your bills or is it just to "grease the squeaky wheel"? If it's grease, then consider a Bankruptcy - it may be inevitable, and paying this creditor may be at best a preferenial payment the creditor will have to share with the other creditors in a Bankruptcy, or at worst just throwing away good money that you can use to retain a good bankruptcy attorney.
7. One of the best ways I have found to arrange a settlement with an intransigent creditor where the debt is not outside SOLC is to COUNTERSUE when they sue. If the creditor (or CA) has committed any violations under Federal Fair Credit Billing Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act or Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a countersuit for thoise violations changes the whole nature of the suit. If you don't have any of those violations, read the thread "Turning a Suit into a Settlement". The goal would be to drive your creditor's costs of litigation so high they will pay their lawyer more than the lawyer will ever collect from you. SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE in the creditor organization will eventually figure that out and agree to a settlement.
Settlements have their place in credit repair, but should only be negotiated when you are in a position of stregnth, not weakness. that is the way to obtain the most favorable results possible, or at least not to LOSE anything if a settlement cannot be reached.
Looking to Settle? Read This FIRST