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Now's the time to let lenders know you're struggling

Don't wait until you're behind on your card payments

By Todd Ossenfort

The Credit Guy
'The Credit Guy,' columnist Todd Ossenfort
The Credit Guy, Todd Ossenfort, is a credit expert and answers readers' questions about credit, counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
Will credit card companies answer a written letter inquiring about whether forbearance is an option for someone struggling to make payments due to current economic conditions (work hours reduced, causing late house and credit card payments), or is a credit counselor a better option? Calling directly is embarrassing. -- Randy

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Randy,
With the downturn in the economy, a struggling housing market and increased job losses, you are far from alone in having problems meeting your obligations. Lenders are aware of the issues facing more and more consumers and have put in place many measures to help -- but they can't help if they don't know you are struggling.

The credit card issuers have a new program called "Help With My Credit." The resource is provided to raise awareness and educate consumers struggling to make their credit card payments about assistance available to them. You can visit the website or call (866)941-1030 for more information.

When you make the phone call, and if your lender is a participating card issuer, you will be transferred to a customer representative who will let you know what assistance is available to get you back on track with your payments. Companies participating in the "Help With My Credit" program include Bank of America, Capital One, Citi and Discover in cooperation with payments networks MasterCard and Visa. Should your lender not be participating in the program, you will be referred to a credit counseling agency.

I understand from your question that you do not wish to speak to anyone on the phone regarding your situation. If you find it embarrassing to discuss your financial situation with a live person on the phone, don't worry. While it would be best to deal directly with your lender over the phone, you don't need to do that if you don't want to. A credit counselor can negotiate with your lenders for you, if you would prefer. Certified credit counselors are trained to be nonjudgmental and should offer sound options for you to consider. They are there to help you get out from between a rock and a hard place. 

Many credit counseling agencies offer online counseling that is convenient and should help you avoid some of the perceived embarrassment that you believe would experience by visiting via phone or in person. Just to let you know, credit counselors help all types of folks with financial problems -- high and low income, the undereducated to the highly educated, professionals -- such as doctors and attorneys -- to blue-collar workers. Financial problems cross all economic, ethnic, social, gender and cultural lines. I mention this only to let you know that we all make mistakes and many times end up in financial stress due to circumstances beyond our control.

Be prepared for your visit with a credit counselor or your lender. Gather all your financial statements, bills and paycheck stubs or bank statements. A review of your budget, if you have one, would be good, also. You and your counselor will ultimately need to know how much you can realistically afford to pay each month on your credit card accounts.

Take care of your credit!

See related: Beware of IRS tax bite that may follow forgiven debt, Credit card forbearance programs offer reprieve from debt, Report: Credit card late payments reach record highs

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Published: April 20, 2009


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