This may seem like a strange topic..When to Give Advice, especially considering I just finished a credit eBook that gives advice on improving credit scores. However, because I have learned many things about how credit works along the way to my own financial freedom, I’ve been asked to give advice to a friend or two recently.
Just yesterday, an older woman who I’ve helped over the years, asked me what she should do about her credit card debt. Now granted, this particular case is unusual and interesting, so my answer wasn’t complete because there are so many variables affecting her life of debt. Some background on this woman to put things in perspective: She is nearing 65 years of age and has accumulated $120,000 of credit card debt over the years. Her excuses for this behavior are plenty: her mom died (10 years ago), her husband left her (12 years ago), her dad died (4 years ago). Her excuses go on and on. Her income is generated from her family’s businesses and her ex-husband’s social security and residual income, it comes out to about $80,000 annually. On top of this income, she also has investment accounts that her parent’s left her. Basically, she hasn’t really had to earn much of her income over the past 25 years, it just sort of accumulated from relatives. Her grasp on finances has dwindled due to this and other factors.
She asked my advice about calling and asking a credit card company to increase her credit limit or reduce her APR. The reason being was that Chase reduced her credit limits on two of her cards. She has stellar payment history, but her credit to debt ratio is well over 30%. I explained this to her, as it was one of reasons listed on the Chase letter she had received. She didn’t understand why they were looking at her overall debt including all of her credit cards. Once I explained that they see her as a risk because she is using much more than her 30%, she sort of understood, but felt it was unfair. My advice to her was to call Chase and ask them to either reinstate her original credit limit or reduce her APR. My thought on this was that it doesn’t hurt to ask, the worst they can say is no. Obviously the better option is to reduce the APR.
She then asked if she should pay more towards that card, thinking it might act as an incentive to change their minds. My advice to her was that she needed to figure out what the goal was: Was she thinking she wanted to pay off the card quicker? Her answer was no. Was she thinking of paying a large portion of debt off this year due to some additional income coming her way? Her answer was she wasn’t sure. I then explained to her that if she receives this additional income she is expecting, she might want to put a large portion of it towards her debt. However, by the end of the conversation it was clear she just wanted to reinstate her original credit limit of the card.
After I hung up with her, my husband who had overheard the entire conversation chimed in that she really needs to speak to a financial consultant. She did that two years ago, but didn’t like their answers: 1) Pay off the entire debt and save up to $20,000 a year on finance charges, or 2) file for bankruptcy. But I realized what the underlying problem is that’s causing her to be indecisive: She doesn’t realize that by paying off her debt, she will be saving the money she spends on finance charges.
There are some great calculators out there, like CreditKarma’s Debt Repayment calculator. I think my next strategy with her will be to show her how long it will take her to pay off her debt with the online calculator. Maybe then she’ll realize the sooner she pays it off, the better!
What are your thoughts? Obviously, this is an unusual scenario. She makes plenty of money, but just can’t seem to see the big picture. How would my credit eBook helped someone like this 25 years ago?