When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your current debt load and need to put together a plan that will help you get out of debt fast, don’t overlook the benefits of negotiating directly with your creditors.
According to the latest statistics from Debt.org, more than 160 million Americans have credit cards and each household carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt.
If you’re among them and are having difficulty keeping up with payments, talking to your creditors for a rate reduction or to restructure your financial obligations can help.
Here are five of the most effective ways to negotiate with creditors:
1. Analyze your financial standing.
Before you start making those calls, take a closer look at your current budget and the amount you owe on all of your credit cards.
Having a clear picture of the total debt load you are carrying and the amounts you are paying towards each credit card or will give you a better idea of how much help you really need.
After all there’s no sense in offering a creditor “X” amount worth of payments each month when you really can’t afford that amount. And you won’t know your true cash flow until you do an honest, up-to-date review of your budget.
2. Ask for better rates on higher-interest cards and loans.
It’s often a good idea to pay off your credit cards with lower balances first and then tackle the larger balances. This strategy gives you momentum – some like to call it “snowballing”– by letting you quickly get rid of one debt, then the next and the next. Once you eliminate a debt with a relatively small balance you use the money you had been paying toward that debt to pay off another bill.
However, in addition to the “snowballing” strategy, you should also seek to negotiate a lower rate on some of those high interest-rate credit cards and loans so that you can pay down all balances faster.
If you’ve been a good payer in the past, but only recently ran into financial troubles, encourage creditors to look at your credit history and consistent payment habits so that they can lower your rate.
3. Be confident with your position.
Even if you’re doubtful that a creditor will be open to negotiating or grant you a better rate, remain confident and poised throughout your conversation.
State the facts and focus on your positive relationship and history with the credit-card company or financial institution. Keep things friendly and professional so that the creditor doesn’t feel pressured. This can increase the chance that they will cooperate with you.
But neither should you get pressured into a payment plan that’s unrealistic or unaffordable.
4. Make a realistic offer.
After review your budget and putting together your own idea of a feasible repayment plan, be prepared to make a realistic offer to your creditor(s).
Your creditor will want to upfront whether you want to offer a lump sum amount or whether you are proposing to pay off your debts over time, perhaps in monthly or quarterly installments.
Obviously the larger amount of repayment you are proposing, or the more upfront cash you can offer, the greater your negotiating leverage.
Sometimes creditors just need a figure or range to work with, so don’t be afraid to set a cap and be clear in communicating the maximum amount you can afford
5. Get everything in writing.
No matter how positive the conversation may be going or how pleasant the person comes across, make sure that the creditor is prepared to send you the agreement in writing so that both parties can sign off on it.
Don’t count on any type of verbal agreement. Get everything in writing and make sure you’ve read the terms and fine print. You will want to make sure you fully understand everything and are comfortable with the final agreement.
An ever better, more pro-active strategy is for you to put everything in writing and then send it – via fax, email or snail mail – to the individual and company with whom you’ve reached an agreement.
Again, be sure to get that person’s written agreement – in the form of his or her signature – before you start making payments under the terms of this new, negotiated payment plan.
Send all your mail correspondences certified mail, return receipt requested. This will be your proof of mailing later, should you ever need it.