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Banks reach out to troubled borrowers

October 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's no doubt there's a credit crunch out there. With more and more Americans trying to figure out how to pay off their credit card bills each month, delinquencies are on the rise. There is a growing number of banks reaching out to borrowers who may be behind in their payments.Getting married is always exciting, but new beginnings can also be pricey, just ask this 28-year-old.

"We had a lot of financial obligations on our plate between a new mortgage payment and financing our wedding," said the man, who did not want to be identified.

Plus an additional $7,000 in credit card debt. He's willing to share his story, but not his identity. Not long ago he had a hard time paying down one of his cards, and fell behind on a couple of payments. Then, an unexpected call from the bank.

"I just assumed it was them hassling me for a payment. But when I answered the phone, much to my surprise, he's calling with a solution to help me," said the 28-year-old.

The bank proposed a deal: Make monthly payments of $50 for the next five years and they'll cut his interest rate from almost 25 percent to 7.5 percent.

"I was really surprised that they reached out to me," said the 28-year-old.

Consumer advocates say banks and other card issuers are going after money sooner because delinquencies are on the rise, and more are offering special "workout programs," such as reducing interest rates to waiving fees, restructuring payments to online financial help. Even debt settlement in some cases.

"It's helpful to the banks because it means they're more likely to get repaid rather than losing the entire loan amount. It's beneficial to the borrower because they can come up with a manageable program," said Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel, American Bankers Association.

While the programs may help some crawl out of debt, advocates warn they're not for everyone.

"If you're somebody that's just missed a payment, you think you're going to be able to keep on your feet, there are clear downsides to getting into one of these workout programs," said Linda Sherry, Consumer Action.

If the card issuer makes you an offer, you need to ask how the deal will be reported on your credit report.

"If they have debt waived it may be reflected as a debt not paid. This would mean that in the future they may find that credit is more expensive or more difficult to get," said Fedddis.

If you find yourself headed for financial trouble, whether it's your credit card, auto loan or mortgage, it's best to contact your bank as soon as possible to increase the options available to you.

 

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