The Credit Guy

Keeping up credit while in jail may not be possible


It’s noble to want to help a jailed friend keep up his credit score while serving time, but unless you want to pay his bills, some things just aren’t possible, says The Credit Guy.

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The Credit Guy, 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 expert

My ex-partner has been incarcerated for about four months now and still has six to go. He asked if I would get a hold of his creditors and explain his situation, since his credit cards are now all behind. In a situation like this, how do the creditors help the card users? What are his options? I would like to help, but I don’t exactly know how to go about doing it? Please help!
JaquelineQuestion for the expert

Dear Jaqueline,
Unless you are a joint holder on his credit card accounts, or he has signed a power of attorney stating you are able to act on his behalf, you will not be able to communicate with your ex-partner’s creditors for him. He will have to do the communicating himself.

I am sure that this is not the first time someone with credit card debt has been sentenced to serve time. The odds are good: More than 2 million Americans are now in jail.

Perhaps the best place to start to seek answers is within the prison system.  Many nonprofit social service agencies visit prisons on a daily basis and would be able to recommend to your ex-partner who he should talk to regarding his debt issues. Unfortunately, even though he has no means of earning an income, being incarcerated does not relieve him from his debt obligations.

If you choose to try and handle the situation between the two of you, which in this case I wouldn’t advise, you might consider contacting a credit counseling agency for him, who could then communicate with his creditors on his behalf. If he has access to a phone for more than a few minutes, he could visit with a counselor and he or she could assist him.

If he has not communicated with or paid any of his creditors in four months, many of the creditors may have already charged off the debt or are getting close to doing so. What that means for your ex-partner and the credit counselor he contacts is that they counselor may have to communicate with whatever collection agency or department that bought or inherited the debt from the original creditor.

With that being said, it will be difficult at best to get his creditors to wait 12 or 13 months for payment on the accounts. I would be willing to bet that a credit counselor might recommend that your ex-partner write to or seek help from a bankruptcy attorney. There are many cases where bankruptcy is the only viable solution and this might be one of those situations.

I realize it may be difficult for your ex-partner to just walk away from the responsibility of paying the creditors he owes, but bankruptcy is designed to give people a chance at a fresh start.

Lastly, I would suggest that your ex-partner make sure he has a sound financial plan in place once he gets out to assure he doesn’t end up in the same situation again.

Take care of your credit!

Related story: “Finding a credit counseling agency

Todd Ossenfort is the chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling in Rapid City, S.D. Pioneer Credit Counseling has been a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies since 1997.

The Credit Guy answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a reader each week.
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