What happens to unpaid credit card debt if you move abroad?
Leaving the country and your credit card debts behind could come back to haunt you
of leaving the country -- and your credit card debt -- behind? While you may be
able to get away with it for now, you might be setting yourself up for a financial
nightmare in the long run.
One of the biggest motivators Americans have for paying
their bills on time is to keep their credit scores intact. After all, credit
scores impact everything from mortgages to car loans to insurance rates. But if
you move overseas, your credit history in the United States typically has no bearing since other countries have their own systems for judging borrowers'
while it may be tempting to skip out on your debt, thinking your credit card
issuer can't touch you overseas, doing so could create a bigger headache later
on, experts warn.
it's unclear how many people actually do default on their debts by leaving the
country, some recent statistics in Dubai suggest that it has
become more prevalent since the economic downturn. Last year, bank officials
there estimated that as many as 2,500 customers left that country with unpaid
credit card bills each month, starting over in a new place with a clean
individuals moving to a new country start a credit history through the
traditional means," says Norm Magnuson, a spokesman for the Consumer Data
Industry Association, an international trade association for credit reporting
agencies based in Washington, D.C. "They
may get a charge card from a bank or lending institution in that country or
apply for a card from a retailer and continue to build their credit there."
it's not impossible that a foreign lender would request a copy of a U.S.-based
credit report, it's unlikely, Magnuson says. "Generally those reports cost
quite a bit more because you've got to request them from a specialized bureau
overseas that will gather the information. So, from a practical standpoint,
you're probably not going to find too many companies willing to do that."
The cost of overseas enforcement is going to be
prohibitive to most credit card companies and junk debt buyers.
The lawsuit equation
If you don't pay your credit card debt and a lawsuit
is served and filed before you move overseas, it would move forward in your
absence. "Typically in the United States, a lawsuit would be filed in the state or
county where the debtor lives," says William "Mike" Troglin, a
Norcross, Ga.-based bankruptcy attorney. So if you're living in, say, Georgia
when the lawsuit is filed, a Georgia court would hear the case even if you
moved to a foreign country before the case was resolved.
that court would likely not be able to force you to pay the debt once you've
relocated to another country, though creditors might be able to go after any
loose ends you've left in the United States. "If
the person leaves behind any kind of checking or savings accounts, they might
be within reach of a civil court action," says Bruce McClary, a spokesman for
Richmond, Va.-based ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions and a former debt
collector. Likewise, if you move overseas but continue working for a
U.S.-based company, there's the possibility that your wages could be garnished
if that was part of the court ruling, since your employer would be subject to
a lawsuit has not been filed before you move overseas, things get a little
trickier. "If a company is owed a debt, they have to bring suit in a foreign
country's court of law and abide by their rules and procedures," says Rachel
Hunter, an attorney in Cary, N.C., who specializes in debt collection. "That
means they will have to hire counsel in that area. A person would have whatever
rights and defenses he would usually have."
could also file a U.S. suit against a person living abroad, Hunter says, but
that company's success would depend on the country's legal system and whether
it would cooperate with the United States.
But the odds of a suit being filed internationally over credit card debt are
relatively slim, experts say. "The cost of overseas enforcement is going to be
prohibitive to most credit card companies and junk debt buyers," says Hunter.
"Nobody is going to go to Europe, Asia, Latin America or some other place for a
$2,000 or even $20,000 debt. In addition, it may be difficult to locate a
person who is living abroad, although there are companies that will provide
international skip trace services in certain countries."
Reasons to pay
with the odds of credit card issuers recouping their losses relatively slim,
why would you want to pay up? First of all, it's the right thing to do.
a move to another country would mean you'd be starting your credit history over
from scratch, so you may want to continue using your American-based credit cards in the interim.
the ability to do that may be reason enough to pay your U.S.-based debts and
keep your credit intact.
there is one more thing you should consider.
Though Claudine Williams,
a 39-year-old teacher and travel writer who relocated from Atlanta to
Busan, South Korea, in August of 2009, had no immediate plans to return to the
United States, she paid off as many bills as possible before leaving and is
keeping her remaining bills current. "I don't want to lose my assets or find
myself in more of a financial bind if I ever return to the United States," she
Wright, group manager with Farmington Hills, Mich.-based GreenPath Debt
Solutions, says that's a wise move. If you leave debts behind while living
overseas, it may go into collections or eventually be charged off, but both of
those actions would have a negative mark on your credit report. "If you move
back it would likely haunt you and you'd be in far worse shape," Wright says.
See related: How does moving overseas affect credit card debt?, Defaulting on international credit card debt? Hmmm, Moving abroad? Your credit history might not follow
Published: September 30, 2010