For sudden debt at age 75, the strategy's different

Question for the expert

Dear Credit Wise,
A year or so ago, I went through a horrible divorce caused by a malicious stepson. Because of a prenup I was sadly responsible for all the marital debts. I had let my husband use my credit cards, three of them anyway. I pay approximately $1,200 a month, more than twice what the credit card companies request. I am 75 and the total debt is about $45,000. It is difficult for me to make ends meet. I cannot file for bankruptcy because of my income. Should I just pay the minimum or so requested on the cards, never use them and keep more cash? At this rate I am too old to pay them off completely. Thank you. -- Frances

Answer for the expert

Dear Frances,
I am so sorry for your troubles. It sounds like you were on the wrong side of that prenup.

First of all, I would suggest that you immediately stop using the cards. It seems you are leaning that way and you may have already put the cards away. This would be a step in the right direction, along the lines of not making a bad situation worse.

It is difficult to know exactly how long it will take you to pay off this debt without knowing what you are paying in interest rates on the cards. However, I do understand your feeling that you will not be able to pay them off completely in your lifetime. I also understand how paying $1,200 each month on these cards would make it difficult to make ends meet.

One solution may be to simply do what you suggested and start paying only the minimum amounts due on your cards, rather than doubling the payments you are making. That would certainly free up $500 or $600 a month, which would probably help. Just know that this could result in your cards never going away and essentially becoming like a utility bill that you will pay from now on.

What I would suggest is that you contact a certified nonprofit credit counseling agency and speak with a counselor about your situation. Following your counseling session, you will be given your options. You may be surprised to find that you do have options for taking care of this debt, even though you are worried that at your age you will never be able to pay it off completely. One option might be a debt management plan.

A debt management plan is designed to get you out of debt in five years or less. Interest rates are typically reduced, which often reduces the monthly payment. There are fees associated with a debt management plan and the credit cards will be closed. Your counselor will explain everything in more detail if a plan is suggested. The best way to find a qualified agency is through either the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Be wise with your credit!

See related: Pros and cons of debt management plans

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Updated: 01-19-2018