Is There Such a Thing as a Debtor’s Prison?

prison

In this modern world that we live in, consumers are protected and have certain rights when it comes to debt collection. The practices of debt collection agencies have to abide by rules through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) as enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the FTC, consumers are to be safeguarded from abusive, harassing or unfair debt collection practices. But, the question is, “Does this act protect consumers from being arrested for the failure to pay back their debts and sent to a debtor’s prison?” The short answer is yes, but there are some instances related to debt in which people have been sent to jail.

Debtor’s Prisons were abolished in the US in 1833, and thankfully so. Before the abolishment, being arrested for outstanding debt was a catch-22 situation. Since there were no work-release programs in place at that time, there was no opportunity for the debtors to make good on their outstanding debt. To make matters worse and put more debt strain on the debtor, they would be responsible for paying prison fees as well. So, without the financial help of friends or family, there would literally be no way to escape their sentence.

Consumers’ debt rights have come a long way, but why are people still being arrested if the debtor’s prison was abolished so long ago? Here are some answers that can shed some light.

What Could Put You at Risk for Arrest

While arrests can be made in a debt situation, it’s not the debt itself that will get you arrested; it’s the violation of the court order that can land you in jail. Depending on the court and jurisdiction, it may be required of the debtor to appear in court. If you are summoned to appear and ignore that summons, a warrant may be issued for your arrest for failure to appear in court. It’s very important to ensure that you don’t ignore any correspondence from the courts and are compliant in regards to being sued for debt and the appearances you are expected to make.

If you don’t know what to do, don’t procrastinate and push it aside. Ignoring a summons to appear in court will not go away. You have the option to represent yourself. However, you may want to consult an attorney that understands the laws on what debt collectors can and cannot do by law as well as your legal rights as a debtor. Depending on your state, there are some other specific restrictions on what creditors and debt collectors can and cannot do when trying to collect a debt.

Many types of debt collection practices are prohibited.

Should you have any debt that is in the process of collection, it’s important to educate yourself on the types of debt collection practices that are prohibited. In addition to being prohibited from harassment, debt collectors may not:

  • Use any threats of violence or harm
  • Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau such as Experian, Equifax, and Transunion)
  • Use obscene or profane language when trying to collect on the debt; or
  • Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy and harass a debtor.
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally(meaning the debt is secured and tied to an item that can be repossessed);
  • Threaten to sue, garnish your wages and freeze your bank account if they have no intention of doing so.

Knowing what debt collectors are legally allowed to can be overwhelming. Consider consulting an attorney in your county to help you find out what you need to know to keep yourself protected.

If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

 

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Debt Relief: How Will It Affect Your Credit?

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Many people ask, What’s the best way to get out of debt? Then they may often think, But I have good credit and I really don’t want to hurt it. There are many ways to lighten your debt load, and not all of them will have a major negative effect on your credit. But it’s also important to consider your situation and needs when weighing your options.

To help you decide which debt relief plan is best for you, we’ve provided a brief overview of each option and how they may affect your credit in the short term and long term.

A Few Things to Remember

Before we dive into the different debt relief options, understand that the debt you carry makes up just under one-third of your credit score. So when you pay off debt, especially credit cards that are close to their credit limits, you should see improvement in that part of your score.

However, understand that our analysis of credit relief plans is based on generalities. It doesn’t necessarily represent exactly what will happen in your case. How far your score drops—and how quickly it bounces back—depends on a lot of different factors. If your payment history always shows on-time payments, for example, and you suddenly file for bankruptcy, your score will probably drop more than someone who was already severely delinquent.

But it’s impossible to predict how a particular approach will impact your individual credit if you’re not familiar with your credit history—so get a free credit report from Credit.com to review that history.

With this information in mind, here are the main approaches to debt relief you may consider, along with a review of the impact they could have on your credit reports and scores.

Debt Relief Option Immediate Credit Impact Long-term Credit Impact
Debt Snowballs and Avalanches None Reliably positive
Debt Consolidation Small impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Credit Counseling None None
Debt Management Plan (DMP) Moderate impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Debt Negotiation or Settlement Severe damage Slow recovery
Bankruptcy Severe damage Slow recovery

Debt Snowballs and Avalanches

If you prefer to pay off your debt on your own, you might consider a snowball or avalanche payment method. The debt snowball is when you pay off your debts one at a time, starting with the lowest balance. The debt avalanche works similarly, except you start with your highest balance and work your way down.

It doesn’t make much of a difference whether you choose the avalanche method or the snowball method, but many find the snowball method is easier to stick to. Neither approach will hurt your credit, as long as you make the minimum payments on all of your cards on time.

Immediate Credit Impact: None

Long-Term Credit Impact: Reliably Positive

Debt Consolidation

Combining multiple card debts into a fixed-rate consolidation loan can be helpful, but it isn’t a strategy for getting out of debt in and of itself. After all, you still have to pay back the loan. A consolidation loan is more like a tool to get out of debt faster.

Because consolidation loans often offer lower interest rates than the credit cards themselves, you can pay off your debt faster. And if you have a lower monthly payment than before, you can better avoid late payments. This will help your credit score recover more quickly if you’ve fallen behind in the past.

But consolidating credit cards with a loan may have a positive or negative effect on your scores. It’s one of those “it depends” situations.

On the plus side, if you pay off a card balance that’s close to the credit limit, you may improve your “utilization ratio”—the ratio that compares your credit limits with the balances you currently have—provided you leave the card open after paying it off. But simply moving balances from one card to another is unlikely to do a whole lot for your scores.

On the other hand, you’ll have a new loan on your credit reports, and most credit scoring models will count that as a risk factor, which could mean a dip or drop in your scores.

The exception? If you take out a loan from your retirement account to consolidate credit card debt, you’re more likely to see your credit improve. Retirement account loans aren’t reported to credit reporting agencies, so your credit reports will show less debt with no new loan. However, retirement loans carry their own risks, so proceed with caution.

Immediate Credit Impact: None

Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

Credit Counseling

A credit counselor is a professional who can advise you on how to handle and successfully pay off your debt. A simple call to a credit counseling agency for a consultation won’t impact your credit in the slightest. But if the credit counselor or agency enrolls you in any kind of consolidation, repayment, or management plan, that could affect your credit.

Make sure you fully understand the potential impact of any debt relief program before you sign up. Don’t be afraid to ask the credit counselor how a new plan could alter your credit.

Immediate Credit Impact: None

Long-Term Credit Impact: None

Debt Management Plan (DMP)

With a Debt Management Plan (DMP), you make one monthly payment to a counseling agency, which then disburses payments to your creditors. This kind of plan can affect your credit in several ways.

Some creditors may report that a credit counseling agency is repaying the account. Don’t worry if they do. FICO, the data analytics corporation that calculates consumer credit risk, ignore such reports. An individual lender may care, but FICO doesn’t. Of course, any late payments or high balances on accounts will continue to impact your credit score.

With the help of the counseling agency, you can stay current on your payments, and that can improve your credit score. “Most major creditors will re-age your accounts after you’ve made three on-time payments in the required amount,” says Thomas J. Fox, community outreach director for Cambridge Credit Counseling.

Re-aging an account means bringing it back to “current” status, so your credit report will no longer list you as behind. Since recent late payments can really hurt your scores, getting up to date on your payments now is a smart move, especially as the sting of past late payments fades over time.

However, you’ll have to close your credit cards when you agree to a DMP, and that will likely lower your scores. How much it will hurt depends on everything else in your credit reports, including whether you have other credit accounts, such as car loans or mortgages, that you pay on time.

The impact may take time, says Barry Paperno, community director for Credit.com. He states it’s because “balances and limits won’t necessarily change right away, and utilization will be the same as before closing accounts.

He goes on to explain, “Closing an account in and of itself isn’t considered negative by the score. Over time, however, having closed the cards can hurt the score, as closed cards with zero balances are excluded from utilization and ultimately fall off the credit report much sooner than open cards that have been paid off.”

“Plan on getting a secured card when you complete the DMP so that as long as you keep a low utilization percentage on that one card, you can achieve a good score—with any [late payments] fading well into the past,” Paperno continues. “Also, your old closed cards will continue to contribute positively to your overall length of credit history for as long as they remain on your credit report (typically 7 or 10 years).”

Immediate Credit Impact: Moderate impact (positive or negative)

Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

Debt Negotiation or Settlement

Some creditors may allow you to settle your debt, which permits you to pay less than the full balance you owe. But creditors typically won’t settle debts with consumers who make their payments on time, so it’s a better option for those that already have several late payments on their credit report.

On top of that, “most creditors will report the settlement as something like ‘paid less than full balance’ if you settle the debt before it has been charged off,” warns Michael Bovee, community manager for DebtConsolidationCare.com. Creditors generally charge off debts when borrowers fall 180 days behind. And charged off debts often get turned over to collection agencies.

Bovee further explains, “When you settle a charged-off debt, getting it reported [with a] zero balance due will not in and of itself help your credit because the damage has already been done.” But it could help you ward off further damage from, say, a potential lawsuit.

In other words, settling an account before it gets charged off can prevent it from going to collections and adding another negative item to your credit reports—or causing other harm.

Brad Stroh, co-CEO of Freedom Debt Relief, adds, “Debt settlement hurts people’s credit scores but helps their credit profiles. [It’s] worth considering for anyone struggling to pay a lot of credit card debt, despite its negative effects on credit scores. It is far easier to rebuild one’s credit than to get out of debt, and people carrying a lot of debt likely have credit problems already.”

Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage

Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Bankruptcy

It’s well known that filing for bankruptcy will hurt your credit score—bankruptcies can stay on your report for up to 10 years from the filing date. However, with updates in the credit scoring algorithms, a bankruptcy isn’t the credit death knell it used to be.

Credit scoring algorithms typically segment consumers into subgroups called “scorecards.” If you experience a significant negative credit event, such as a bankruptcy, you’ll likely be compared with other consumers who’ve experienced something similar for credit scoring purposes.

That may bring a little bit of comfort, but it also means you might have a good shot at improving your credit scores if you make a real effort to rebuild your credit after your bankruptcy is discharged.

As far as your credit is concerned, you can recover from Chapter 13 bankruptcies more easily than other types of bankruptcies. In Chapter 13 bankruptcies, you typically pay back some or all of your debts over a period of three to five years, and they come off your credit reports seven years after the filing date.

So if it takes you four years to complete your Chapter 13 plan, you have to wait only three more years before the bankruptcy disappears from your reports.

However, you’ll probably end up paying more in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy than a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where you wipe out all or most of your debts by selling some of your assets. Make sure you discuss both options with a qualified consumer bankruptcy attorney.

Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage

Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Getting Back on Track

Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to pay off your debt so you can save and invest for future goals. A hit to your credit may be worth it if it means you can finally get your balances to zero. Monitor your credit, consider getting a secured card if necessary, and keep your financial situation in perspective.

“People just worry about their credit too much,” says Fox. “If your couch is on fire, would you not throw water on the fire because you don’t want to damage the upholstery?”

As you work to pay off your debts, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit score to see how you’re improving. Get your credit score for free from Credit.com.

Image: Alija 

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7 Holiday Debt Traps that Can Sabotage Your Finances

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For some consumers, the cheer of the holiday season soon will be replaced with dread over debt.  

Holiday shoppers in 2016 took on an average of $1,003 worth of debt, up from $986 in 2015, and 11 percent said they would only be making the minimum payments, which can extend the payoff date by years.  

“Consumer debt is at the highest of all time,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com.

Total household debt rose to a record $12.96 trillion for the third quarter of this year, according to data released in November by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Credit card debt, for example, rose by 3.1 percent, to $808 billion. 

Dvorkin expects that this holiday season will be expensive as consumers make more online purchases with credit cards and because of overall optimism about the economy. 

Retail holiday sales were expected to grow to $1.04 trillion-$1.05 trillion in 2017, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast. Deloitte also projects that e-commerce sales during the holiday season will grow to $111 billion-$114 billion, an 18-21 percent increase from the 2016 holiday season, and 55 percent of survey respondents planned to shop online for gifts. 

“When people feel really good about things, they tend to spend more,” Dvorkin says.   

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says people have a tendency to overspend during the holidays, relying heavily on credit cards and not paying off the debt until later, sometimes even years later.   

McClary has also noticed that credit card delinquencies have been increasing slightly over the last two quarters. The Federal Reserve Bank notes in its report that “credit card balances increased and flows into delinquency have increased over the past year.”
 

While most Americans are aware and ready to spend a little extra during the holiday season, you can make it a little more merry by avoiding these common debt traps.  

Keeping up with the Joneses

Holiday purchasing pressure ranges from buying the hottest toys to giving (or buying for yourself) the latest tech gadget or the biggest TV on the block. People are tempted to get the latest and greatest, Dvorkin says. 

The average consumer spent roughly $967 on holiday shopping in 2016, up 3.4 percent from 2015, according to the National Retail Federation. Deloitte forecasts that the average consumer in 2017 will spend an average of $1,226, or nearly $2,226 among households earning $100,000 or more.

It all adds up, especially if you’re out to outdo a neighbor: The tree and all the trimmings; hostess gifts for parties; food for your own holiday meals and entertaining; your Clark Griswold-style light shows. Randy Williams, president of A Debt Coach, a counseling service in Kentucky, says the desire for personal reward can contribute to holiday debt. 

“You feel good when you do something for somebody,” he says. 

But then consumers may have the motto “One for you, one for me,” and purchase an item for themselves, which continues the spending cycle. 

Hot holiday toy crazes

Unfurling your child’s Christmas wish list can be at once fun and terrifying. Parents planned to spend, on average, $495 per child, according to 2016 holiday shopping data from the Rubicon Project. 

Lists could include hot holiday toys for 2017 like the $30-$45 Fingerlings (the little plastic monkeys that attach to fingers and move in response to sounds and touch) a $300 Nintendo Switch gaming console or even the $799 Lego Ultimate Collectors Series Millennium Falcon, the company’s biggest set with 7,541 pieces. 

When the toys start to run out, the prices can escalate. The Fingerlings, for example, typically retail at $14.99, but some were listed in November for twice as much on eBay. Since it can be harder for parents to say “no” to the frenzy when it’s a gift that’s going to bring a smile to a little one’s face, Williams says there’s extra incentive to plan well. 

Store credit card pitches

McClary warns not to get into store credit card offers. The instant savings of 10 percent off on the day of your purchase could come with a high cost, such as 29.99 percent APR later. 

“People should resist the temptation,” he says.  

Williams says there’s a reason for the incentives, such as a discount on your purchase, because the company will make back whatever you initially saved. 

“Most people do not pay off their cards within the intro offer time,” he says. 

Instead, set aside cash for holiday spending and use it, instead of credit. If you’re sure you can “affordably borrow,” Williams suggests using an existing line of credit instead of falling for the attractive offers from retailers.  

“Special” offers

Deals seem to abound when shopping online or in stores, but if you aren’t careful, some can land you in more trouble than no deal at all. 

McClary advises to avoid promotions like deferred interest cards and convenience checks. Discounts during the holidays are usually found during other times of the year, too, when the budget is less tight.  

“It’s to the advantage of the consumer to be looking at sales during the year and look for opportunities to get the most out of their money,” he says. 

Trying to keep family traditions alive

Wanting to continue your grandparents’ or parents’ traditions may be sentimental but also pricey in today’s economy. Maybe they held extravagant dinner parties, paid for holiday trips and gave their children  a certain number of gifts every year. You want to follow suit, but can’t afford it. 

“(I’m a) firm believer that what gets us in trouble in the holidays is wanting to do what Mom and Dad did,” Williams says. “Things are more expensive now.” 

Shopping with family members post-Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, although a tradition, also may be a temptation because of impulse buys or if family members don’t hold you accountable to sticking to a budget. 

“It’s tradition but it’s also a day people can’t afford,” Williams says.  

Hosting hordes of holiday visitors

While milk and cookies are left out for Santa, entertaining guests, from neighbors and co-workers to out-of-town family and friends, can increase your food and utilities spending in December. 

According to a holiday retail survey by Deloitte, 24 percent of people plan to attend and/or host more parties and events during the holidays.  

“You spend money in all sorts of ways,” Dvorkin says. 

Indulgent spending

“Where the problem is, we don’t plan for Christmas, we just do Christmas,” says Williams. He says that means sometimes consumers plan, mentally, to go into debt.  

He advises to plan ahead for the next season, adding that he knows people who start checking items off their list in February during sales, or in June or July when fewer people are buying and prices are lower.  

The NRF predicts holiday sales, including gifts and food and beverage items, to reach nearly $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion in 2016. Without careful spending, a large amount of that could be a debt burden on consumers until the next season comes around.

“You don’t want this to be a compounding problem that continues to grow each year,” McClary says. 

The post 7 Holiday Debt Traps that Can Sabotage Your Finances appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Ultimate Holiday Debt Survival Guide for 2017

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Millions of Americans have an overwhelming amount of debt, and during the holidays, many consumers spend more than they have. Don’t fall victim to overspending and accruing debt this holiday season. You can still love and celebrate the holiday season without overspending on holiday gifts, food, decorations, lights, and entertaining. After all, the holidays are a time to gather with friends and family and to be grateful for what you have!

We compiled the ultimate holiday survival guide to get you through this season of giving without going into debt. Here are five tips to help you spend wisely and protect your finances.

1. Create a Holiday Budget

You might be tired of hearing about budgeting, but if you’re serious about not overspending this holiday season, you should make a holiday budget. It’s important to be realistic—don’t make guesses if you can avoid it. Look back on how much you spent last year to guide you as you create your budget, and see where you could cut back.

The key to staying on budget is proper organization so you can have a holiday season that’s free of financial stress. When it comes to gift giving, be sure to make a list and check it twice. Don’t feel pressured to give to friends or extended family if your budget doesn’t allow it.

2. Use Cash

It can be discouraging to start off the New Year already behind on the eight ball in money matters. To avoid a financial hangover in January, you may want to consider using cash or a debit card for your holiday purchases—instead of a credit card. By having cash on hand when holiday shopping, you will be less likely to go over budget. You’ll be forced to spend only what you have available as opposed to a large credit line.

If you do plan to use a credit card, remember that you’ll have to pay interest on your purchases if you don’t pay the entire balance in full. Be sure to add due dates to your calendar for each of your credit cards and schedule a reminder on your phone. Overdue payments can hurt your credit score and push you further into debt with late fees.

Additionally, learn to prioritize your bills. Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first—otherwise you’ll pay more over time. You should also consider dropping any retail credit cards after you’ve paid them off. These tend to have the highest interest rates and limited benefits.

3. Plan Ahead

Last-minute shopping is stressful, and it can also be costly. If you’re in a rush, you’re more likely to forget about your budget and instead grab what is most convenient. Taking the time to research the best deals, sales, and prices can save you time and money. Try spreading your holiday gift purchases throughout the year, in place of doing it all in December.

4. Get Creative

If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy for everyone you would like to this year, a great alternative is a holiday grab bag. With a grab bag, everyone buys a few small gifts to wrap and throw into a bag or a box, then each participant randomly picks one gift at a time until all the gifts are gone. Anyone who would like to participate should agree to a price that fits into everyone’s budget and how many gifts each person should buy. This is not only frugal but also fun!

If you’d rather stick to traditional gift giving, get creative with it. Try making do-it-yourself projects or crafts—a homemade gift is much more sentimental than a store-bought one anyway. For your children’s teachers or coaches you would like to include in your holiday list, consider gift cards, home-baked goodies, or both combined. Gifts don’t need to be lavish to show someone you appreciate them.

5. Implement Damage Control 

If it’s too late and you’ve already overspent this holiday season or are already in deep credit card debt, don’t panic. There are ways to recover and do damage control after the holiday season is over.

The most important thing of all is committing to paying off your debt. It might be easier to simply continue your regular spending habits and pay the minimum balance when you remember. But giving debt priority, even when it’s an insignificant amount, will do wonders in helping you maintain good financial health.

With all the new items you’ve received during the holiday season, you might have some older things you can sell. Clothes, electronics, and even books could earn you a little extra cash to help pay off your debt. Amazon, eBay, and your local consignment shops or thrift stores are fantastic venues for selling your unwanted stuff.

Take a look at your budget and make sure you set aside enough money each paycheck to make at least double the minimum payment. But if you can manage it, you should aim to pay much more than that. Fine-tune your budget to see where you can cut back so you can make more substantial payments to your credit cards. The sooner you’re out of debt, the sooner you can start putting that money where it really matters.

Don’t let your finances take a major hit this season. Follow these tips to avoid overspending, and keep an eye out for other common holiday pitfalls. By building more frugal shopping habits, you can also improve your credit score. If you’re curious about how your credit’s faring now, take a free look at your credit score through Credit.com.

Image: gilaxia 

The post The Ultimate Holiday Debt Survival Guide for 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

What Happens to Debt When You Divorce? 

what happens to debt when you divorce
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For every two to three new marriages in 2014 there was at least one divorce, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data — a grim statistic that could easily kill deflate your inner romantic.  

Breaking up a marriage is hard to do and it’s made all the more difficult by the financial implications. 

The average price of a divorce, from start to finish, lands at around $15,500 (including $12,800 in attorney’s fees), according to a 2014 survey put out by Nolo, a publisher specializing in legal issues. If the legal expenses are one side of the coin, figuring out what to do with your joint financial assets and debts is the other.  

We’ve talked about what happens to debt after you’ve married. Now it’s time to ask what happens to debt when you divorce. 

Here’s everything you need to know, plus some tips for protecting your finances when a marriage ends. 

Where you get divorced 

When it comes to splitting up debts, the state you live in can sway the outcome in a big way. A majority are considered equitable distribution states, where the judge uses his or her discretion to divide up debt in a way that’s deemed fair and evenhanded. 

Each state has its own set of laws and procedures, but Vikki S. Ziegler, a longtime matrimonial law attorney licensed in multiple states, says the court generally has more leeway in an equitable distribution state.  

Simply put, the judge has the freedom to take multiple factors into consideration. This might include everything from one spouse’s income to another’s employment status.  

The situation could play out much differently if you live in a community property state. These states are listed below, and in them, debt is viewed a bit differently. 

  • Alaska* 
  • Arizona 
  • California 
  • Idaho 
  • Louisiana 
  • Nevada 
  • New Mexico 
  • Texas 
  • Washington 
  • Wisconsin 

*Alaska has an optional community property system. 

Community property states typically split all marital debt right down the middle, regardless of who actually accrued the debt. This means that if your spouse racked up hidden balances during the marriage, you’ll likely be on the hook for half. In community property states, the divorce process is typically more cut and dried than subjective. 

“The most important thing for someone leaving a marriage to understand is how the law applies in each state that they are getting divorced in,” Ziegler told MagnifyMoney. “How are you going to allocate debt, and who’s going to be responsible for what?” 

An experienced divorce attorney can help fill in the blanks. 

The type of debt 

The type of debt you have is another biggie. Let’s first zero in on secured debt, like a mortgage or car loan.  

According to John S. Slowiaczek, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, whichever spouse decides to keep certain assets — such as the house or a car — will also assume whatever debt is left over.  

“Debt associated with an asset will ordinarily be allocated to the person acquiring the property,” Slowiaczek tells MagnifyMoney. 

Your mortgage: The loan will likely be the responsibility of both parties equally, unless it’s only in one party’s name. If you both co-borrowed the mortgage, you’ll have to decide who will keep the loan and who will exit if one partner wants the house. One way to get one name off a mortgage loan is to refinance the debt and put the loan under just one person’s name.  

The equity built up in the home usually belongs to each party 50/50 as long as the title is held as joint tenants with right of survivorship or tenants by the entirety; don’t be intimidated by the legal jargon. All this means, essentially, is that you legally own the home together.  

If you decide to sell the house, either the couple or the court will likely compel that process, after which you can divide the proceeds equally after paying off the debt.  

If you’re planning on staying in your home, refinancing your mortgage before you divorce can help ease the financial blow. With divorce being as costly as it is, finding ways to trim your budget can better prepare you for a single-income lifestyle. Refinancing could do just that, lowering your monthly payment and potentially your interest rate, assuming you have good credit.  

A lower bill may also make it financially possible for you to stay in the house, if that’s what you want. Plus, if you apply before splitting, you’re more likely to get approved since a combined income will likely make you more attractive to lenders.  

Your car loan: The same usually goes for car loans — if one spouse wants to keep the vehicle, he or she could refinance the loan under his/her own name. Or you can sell altogether and divvy up the cash. As Slowiaczek mentioned above, remaining debt follows the asset, so whoever keeps the car will assume the debt. 

Credit debt. The way nonsecured debts, like credit cards, are handled goes back to individual state laws.  

In a community property state, Ziegler says the courts usually take a 50/50 view of marital debt. But equitable distribution states typically look at who contributed to the debt, how much money each party makes, and other statutory requirements that allow them to potentially allocate the debt differently. In other words, things aren’t as black and white, and the courts have more interpretive wiggle room.   

Barbara, a 36-year-old sales professional in Tampa, Fla. is eight months into the divorce process. Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning the debt she and her husband accrued could end up being split any number of ways. One of the toughest parts of her experience has been the $35,000 of credit card debt she says she shares with her ex. 

“It was mostly accrued by [my husband], but mostly in my name,” she told MagnifyMoney. The couple also have a $202,000 mortgage, and deciding who will assume the mortgage (and the equity in the home that comes with it) has been a point of contention.  

Ziegler says Barbara probably has more leverage than if she lived in a community property state.  

When you acquired the debt 

One bit of good news: no matter where you live, Ziegler says premarital debts are off limits. Where divorce is concerned, the court is only interested in debts that were accrued during the marriage. The same generally goes for debt acquired post-separation.  

How the debt was used 

Every case is different, but the reason behind the debt can sometimes be argued. If, for example, debt was taken on for one spouse’s personal use, the other spouse might argue against being on the hook for it, depending on the property laws in the relevant state. 

“Credit card purchases to buy groceries or make a car payment are obviously marital, but what about debt that was racked up for personal use, like [cosmetic surgery] or gifts for someone your spouse was having an affair with?” asked Ziegler. “It can be argued that those expenses are not marital debt and should be assumed by the individual.”  

This underscores the importance of parsing out individual versus marital debts. To help make it easier, Ziegler recommends that couples maintain two different types of accounts: joint for marital expenses, and individual for personal spending. It’s also wise to keep your statements handy.
 

How to financially protect yourself during a divorce 

Divorces don’t usually come cheap, but there are steps you can take to soften the blow. 

Sign a prenup

Prenuptial agreements aren’t as taboo as they once were. According to a survey released by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in 2013, “prenups” are on the rise; a whopping 63 percent of divorce attorneys cited an increase in recent years. This is because they serve as a loophole against state rules, dramatically simplifying the fight over debts and assets. 

“Most prenuptial agreements say that if the debt is in either party’s name, it’s separate debt that cannot be allocated or redistributed for payment,” said Ziegler.  

If you’re already married, it isn’t too late to protect yourself. As of 2015, 50 percent of AAML members reported an uptick in postnuptial agreement requests. 

Safeguard your credit

Take steps to safeguard your credit before you divorce. As soon as you begin the separation process, do yourself a favor and make a list of all your individual and joint debts to get an idea of what you’re dealing with. Are you or your spouse listed as authorized users on any accounts? If so, cancel those straight away to avoid accruing any new joint debt. To make sure you don’t miss anything, pull your credit report and take a thorough look at your open accounts. 

Ziegler also suggests making it clear in the divorce agreement who’s responsible for which debts — but that doesn’t always protect you. 

“The reality is, if your name is still attached to the account, and your ex-spouse defaults on payments, it’s going to negatively impact your credit,” she warned.  

If your ex agrees to pay off any debts, you can protect yourself by transferring the balances fully into the former partner’s name. 

The post What Happens to Debt When You Divorce?  appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Back to Our Pre-Recession Ways, Americans Are Spending More and Saving Less

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Americans appear to be back to their pre-recession savings habits. The personal savings rate in the U.S. dropped to 3.1 percent in September 2017, according to the Commerce Department — the lowest level since the Great Recession took hold.

Meanwhile, Americans are spending more (household debt is at a 10-year high) and consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in almost 17 years, according to data released Tuesday through The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research association.

3 reasons we’re saving less:

Household debt is on the rise again. Total household debt increased to $12.84 trillion in the second quarter of 2017, up $114 billion, or 0.9 percent, from the same quarter last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported in August. This was a new high since the third quarter of 2008, the peak of the mortgage crisis. People may feel they can get access to funds by borrowing when it is needed, rather than holding money in savings, said Andrew Opdyke, economist at the First Trust Advisors.

But incomes are up and we’re spending more. While personal income rose 0.4 percent in September, consumer spending surged 1 percent, the fastest pace since 2009, Commerce reported.

Hurricanes don’t come cheap. The Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said August and September estimates of personal income and spending reflected the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Millions were displaced by the hurricanes, and experts say the spending jump was driven by a hurricane-induced uptick in auto sales and increases in gas and household utility prices.

Year

Personal Savings Rate

Total Household Debt

Consumer Confidence

2007

3.0%

$11.85 trillion

99.6

2008

4.9%

$12.60 trillion

97.3

2009

6.1%

$12.41 trillion

98.1

2010

5.6%

$11.94 trillion

97.9

2011

6.0%

$11.73 trillion

96.8

2012

7.6%

$11.38 trillion

99.0

2013

5.0%

$11.15 trillion

99.0

2014

5.7%

$11.63 trillion

99.8

2015

6.1%

$11.85 trillion

100.4

2016

4.9%

$12.29 trillion

100.4

2017

3.7%*

$12.84 trillion

101.1

Sources:

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis


*as of Q3

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development

It’s not exactly news that Americans aren’t the greatest savers. The Federal Reserve reported that in 2016, 44 percent of Americans could not come up with $400 in cash to cover emergencies.

But should we worried that we’re saving less and spending more than we have in a decade?

Economists say that as the economy is humming along, consumers are feeling more confident that they can spend and borrow more without putting themselves in financial distress. It’s no coincidence that Americans saved the most in the same year (2012) that consumer confidence was comparatively low.

Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors, writes that rising debt levels aren’t so alarming when you factor in overall income growth. Household incomes grew by 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Census Bureau.

“Yes, consumer debts are at a record high in raw dollar terms, but so are consumer assets,” wrote Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors. “Comparing the two, debts are the lowest relative to assets since 2000 (and that’s back during the internet bubble when asset values were artificially high.”

How to calculate your personal savings rate

Take your total monthly income from all sources (salary, retirement account, etc.), less taxes and money spent on everyday expenses, including debt payments.

Next, divide your monthly savings amount by your total income. Then multiply by 100 to get your personal saving rate.

There’s no magic savings rate to aim for. A good rule of thumb is to save 10 percent of each paycheck for retirement, and establish an emergency fund covering at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses.

Evidence suggests that many Americans are just getting by, shouldering record levels of student loan debt while grappling with rising fixed costs. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September reported that 43 percent of American adults struggled to make ends meet in 2016.

But savings is key to achieving financial security. The CFPB study found that adults with savings and financial cushions had a higher level of financial well-being than those who didn’t have a safety net to fall back on.

7 strategies to boost your savings:

  1. Automate. Many employers can set up automatic deposits of your income into multiple checking or savings accounts. You can have a portion of your paycheck automatically transferred into a savings account so that you will be less inclined to touch that money. It makes easier for you to resist the temptations to spend.
  2. Make retirement a priority. If you are not able to set aside 10 percent of your income, you should try to contribute enough to capture the full company match for your 401(k), if your employer offers one.
  3. Track your spending. You will be surprised by the amount of money you spend on groceries or Starbucks once you actually track the money coming in and out. The more you know about your finances, the better off you’ll be. A simple app to track spending patterns is a good place to start engaging in day-to-day money management and establish a habit of saving and budgeting.
  4. Get rid of high-interest debts. Debts are anti-assets. It makes more sense to pay off high-interest debt, such as credit card debt, than to save. Here are four tips to help you pay down debts.
  5. Avoid lifestyle inflation. Lifestyle inflation means people spend more as their incomes increase. It is one of the ultimate budget-killers.
  6. Don’t keep up with the Joneses. Forget them. The key to being satisfied with the state of your finances and your life is focusing on your needs and goals rather than comparing with your friends and co-workers
  7. Find ways to help break your negative spending habits. Here is a simple $20 rule that can help break your credit card addiction. We’ve also written about other strategies to break bad money habits here.

The post Back to Our Pre-Recession Ways, Americans Are Spending More and Saving Less appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Trapped in Payday Loan Debt? Here’s How You Can Escape.

Trapped in Payday Loan

Nobody likes being in debt, but it’s even worse when it seems like there’s no way out. That’s how the 12 million Americans who take out payday loans each year usually feel. That’s understandable, considering they pay out around nine billion dollars in loan fees. But there is hope—you don’t have to be stuck in the payday loan debt cycle forever.

Why It’s So Easy to Get Buried in Payday Loans

Payday loans are unsecured personal loans targeted at people who need money fast but don’t possess the type of credit or collateral required for a more traditional loan. Usually the only requirements to qualify for a payday loan are an active bank account and a job. Companies like MaxLend, RISE Credit, and CashMax have made an art out of providing high-interest loans to people who feel desperate and out of options.

The very structure of payday loans is set up to keep people on the hook. Here’s a breakdown of what payday loan debt looks like, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts:

  • It’s not short-term. Although payday loans are advertised as quick, short-term loans, the average payday loan borrower is in debt for a full five months each year.
  • Loan fees are huge. Average loan fees are $55 every other week, and the average borrower pays $520 per year for multiple loans of $375.
  • People borrow for the wrong reasons. Most payday loan borrowers—70%—spend the money on everyday expenses, like groceries, gas, and rent, rather than on emergencies.
  • It’s a vicious cycle. To totally pay off a loan, the average borrower would need to fork over $430 the next payday following the loan. Because that’s a big chunk of change, most people end up renewing and extending the loan. In fact, 80% of all payday loans are taken out two weeks after another one was paid in full.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Payday Loan?

As with any other loan, if you default on a payday loan, it can result in growing fees, penalties, and possible legal action. Because many payday loans use automatic debit payments to take funds directly out of a bank or prepaid account, you can also end up with overdraft fees on top of everything else. This can leave you without the funds you need to pay for necessities like food, childcare, and utilities. To top it all off, you may also experience a barrage of calls and threats from debt collectors.

This all sounds extremely unpleasant, but there are ways you can get help with payday loans.

How to Get Out of Payday Loan Debt

As we’ve established, it’s crucial to stop the vicious cycle of payday loan debt. There is payday loan help, but it can be hard to know where to start.

The best way out can depend on where you took out the loan. Laws governing payday loans vary from state to state. Some states, like Colorado, are currently working to change the way payday loans are administered in order to make it easier for customers to pay loans back and avoid the snowball effect of constant loan renewal. Other states require payday lenders to offer borrowers an  Extended Payment Plan (EPP), which stops the accrual of fees and interest.

Here’s a closer look at some of the options available to get rid of payday loan debt.

Extended Payment Plans (EPPs): If you borrowed from a lender who is a member of the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA), then you may be in luck. CFSA’s Best Practices allow a payday loan customer the option of entering into an EPP.  This means you’ll have more time to repay the loan (usually four extra pay periods) without any additional fees or interest added for that service. Best of all, you won’t be turned over to collections as long as you don’t default on the EPP. Here are the steps to follow if you want to apply for an EPP:

  • Apply on time. You must apply for the EPP no later than the last business day before the loan is due.
  • Sign a new agreement. If you took out your loan through a storefront location, you’ll have to go back to that location to turn in your application. If you took out a loan online, you’ll need to contact your lender for instructions about how to sign your new agreement.

Credit Counseling: If an EPP isn’t an option, you may want to talk with a credit counseling agency. While credit counseling agencies spend their time helping consumers get out of debt, these kinds of loans can present unique challenges. “It’s not a traditional loan with set guidelines in terms of how they work with us,” explains Fox. In spite of those challenges, there are things a credit counseling agency can do to help you get out of payday loan debt:

  • Restructure the payback. Fox says that payday lenders who are members of the CFSA “seem to be more lenient” and are “more apt to try to work with people.” Those lenders will often “restructure to pay back (the balance) over six to twelve months when coming through our program.” But he also adds that this applies in  only about 40–50% of the payday debt situations clients are dealing with.
  • Negotiate a settlement. If restructuring the payback terms isn’t an option, the credit counseling agency will try to work with the lender to determine a settlement amount that will resolve the debt altogether. If you can pay off the loan with a lump-sum payment (this is the time to ask Mom or Dad for help), the agency may be able to settle the debt for a percentage of the outstanding amount.
  • Adjust your budget. If no other options are viable, the agency can work with you to come up with a budget that will help you find the money to get the loan paid off. Sometimes that means reducing payments on other debts, consolidating debts, or reprioritizing other expenses.

Bankruptcy: Nobody wants to resort to this option, but sometimes it’s the only way to get out from under this kind of debt. There is a myth out there that you can’t include payday loans in a bankruptcy. However, that is not the case: “For the most part, payday loans aren’t treated any differently in bankruptcy than any other unsecured loan,” writes attorney Dana Wilkinson on the Bankruptcy Law Network blog.

Another unsubstantiated claim is that you may be charged with fraud or arrested if you can’t pay a payday loan back or if you try to discharge the loan. One of the reasons this fear is so widespread is that payday loan debt collection scammers often make these kinds of threats, despite the fact that these threats are illegal.

What to Do After You Get Rid of Payday Loans

After you get out of payday loan debt, you want to make sure you never go to a payday lender again. Some of the smartest things you can do to start cleaning up your credit include signing up for a free credit report. Regularly checking your credit is the best way to make sure you clear up any mistakes. Plus it’s rewarding to see your credit score improve.

You can also sign up for credit repair or search for a consolidation loan to help you pay off all of your debt. This allows you to start moving in the right direction financially.

Getting out of payday loan debt can seem daunting, but it’s worth the effort and hard work. Taking control of your finances—and actually being able to plan for the future—is a reward worth striving for.

Are you trapped in payday loan debt? Or have you found your way out? Share your story in the comments below.

Image: Ingram Publishing

The post Trapped in Payday Loan Debt? Here’s How You Can Escape. appeared first on Credit.com.

1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know

Photo of a young couple going through financial problems

Not many know what a 1099-C is or why they receive it. But these forms can be a little scary because they’re tax documents—and no one wants to mess up their taxes. When you get one, it’s because you had a portion or all of a debt canceled.

It’s important to understand what a 1099-C is and what to do about it to ensure you are filing your taxes correctly. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s a 1099-C?

A 1099-C falls under the 1099 tax form series of information returns for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These forms let the IRS know you’ve received income outside of your W-2 income. Any company that pays an individual $600 or more in a year is required to send the recipient a 1099. You often receive a 1099-C when $600 or more of your debt is forgiven or discharged.

When you use credit or take out a loan, that borrowed money is still currency you can use—even if you don’t pay it back. So when debt is canceled, that money is considered ordinary income and is therefore taxable (if over $600), which means you have to report it on your tax return. Yep, Uncle Sam gets a cut of the portion of your debt that was forgiven or discharged.

When you get a 1099-C, you can find the reason you received it in the sixth box of the form. Some common reasons you may get a 1099-C are included below:

  1. You negotiated a settlement to pay a debt for less than the amount you owed and the creditor forgave the rest.
  2. You owned a home that went into foreclosure and there was a forgiven deficiency (a difference between the home’s value and what you owe on it).
  3. You sold a home in a short sale where the lender agreed to accept less than the full amount you owe.
  4. You didn’t pay anything on a debt for at least three years and there has been no collection activity in the past year.

Are My Debts Erased with a 1099-C?

If you know you received a 1099-C because of a settlement agreement, where you paid off debt for less than the full amount due, then you don’t owe anything. If the form was filed because you haven’t made payments for three years and they haven’t tried to collect recently, then you may still owe the debt. Your state’s statute of limitations may determine what debt you are and are not responsible for.

Anytime you receive a 1099-C, check the form for errors. If you find any, first work with your creditor to get the information corrected. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then you can include an explanation with your tax return. To find out if a 1099-C has been filed, you can request a wage and income transcript from the IRS for the tax year or years in question. The transcript should list any 1099-Cs that were filed under your Social Security number.

Do I Have to Pay Taxes on the 1099-C Amount?

The IRS will automatically assume that the amount listed on the 1099-C is accurate and will expect you to include that amount in your ordinary income when you file your tax return. Depending on the other income you earn and your tax bracket, you could receive a larger tax bill or a smaller refund. However, if you can demonstrate that you qualify for an exclusion or exception, you may be able to avoid paying taxes on part or all of that phantom income.

One of the most commonly used exclusions is the insolvency exclusion. It works like this: you are insolvent to the extent that your liabilities (what you owe) exceed your assets (what you own). If the total amount by which you are insolvent is larger than the amount listed on the 1099-C, you can exclude the entire amount listed on the 1099-C from your income. You’ll have to file Form 982 with your tax return to claim this exclusion.

If the amount by which you are insolvent is less than the amount on the 1099-C, then you may be able to avoid including part of that amount in your income. However, the insolvency exclusion may not be the perfect fit for everyone—there may be another exclusion that fits your situation better.

What if I Don’t Receive a 1099-C for Canceled Debt?

Even if you don’t receive a 1099-C, you are still responsible for reporting canceled debt as taxable income. Make sure you do not leave any forgiven or discharged debt off of your tax return. If you do, you will more than likely hear from the IRS in the future for failure to pay, which will cost you more money in the long run. Look at your credit report to ensure you don’t have any unpaid debt from the last three years.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Old Debt?

Be careful when it comes to old debt and 1099-Cs. Creditors who follow IRS guidelines should send out 1099-Cs when a debt lies dormant for three years and there has been no significant collection activity for the past year.

Specifically, the IRS 1099 instructions state that debt is canceled “when the creditor has not received a payment on the debt during the testing period. The testing period is a 36-month period ending on December 31.”

However, the creditor can rebut this cancelation if “the creditor (or a third party collection agency on behalf of the creditor) has engaged in significant bona fide collection activity during the 12-month period ending on December 31.”

If a creditor sends out 1099-Cs years (or decades) after the 1099 deadlines, the responsibility falls upon the taxpayer to explain to the IRS why they believe it should not have been filed that year. Again, there is no specific form for reporting this kind of dispute. You’ll have to include an explanation, and you may wind up arguing with the IRS to get it resolved.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Debts Canceled in Bankruptcy?

You don’t have to pay taxes on personal debts discharged in bankruptcy. And creditors aren’t required to file 1099-Cs for those debts. If they do, however, you can file Form 982 and claim an exclusion because the debt was included in bankruptcy.

Don’t panic if your bankruptcy occurred long ago and you don’t know where to find a copy of your bankruptcy papers to prove the debt was discharged. Although it’s anyone’s guess why a creditor would send an unrequired 1099-C years after the fact, you likely won’t have to jump through hoops to prove the debt was discharged.

Getting a 1099-C can be confusing, especially if you don’t have a handle on your credit. Avoid future credit surprises by using Credit.com’s free credit report tool.

Image: David Sacks

The post 1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know appeared first on Credit.com.

1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know

Photo of a young couple going through financial problems

Not many know what a 1099-C is or why they receive it. But these forms can be a little scary because they’re tax documents—and no one wants to mess up their taxes. When you get one, it’s because you had a portion or all of a debt canceled.

It’s important to understand what a 1099-C is and what to do about it to ensure you are filing your taxes correctly. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s a 1099-C?

A 1099-C falls under the 1099 tax form series of information returns for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These forms let the IRS know you’ve received income outside of your W-2 income. Any company that pays an individual $600 or more in a year is required to send the recipient a 1099. You often receive a 1099-C when $600 or more of your debt is forgiven or discharged.

When you use credit or take out a loan, that borrowed money is still currency you can use—even if you don’t pay it back. So when debt is canceled, that money is considered ordinary income and is therefore taxable (if over $600), which means you have to report it on your tax return. Yep, Uncle Sam gets a cut of the portion of your debt that was forgiven or discharged.

When you get a 1099-C, you can find the reason you received it in the sixth box of the form. Some common reasons you may get a 1099-C are included below:

  1. You negotiated a settlement to pay a debt for less than the amount you owed and the creditor forgave the rest.
  2. You owned a home that went into foreclosure and there was a forgiven deficiency (a difference between the home’s value and what you owe on it).
  3. You sold a home in a short sale where the lender agreed to accept less than the full amount you owe.
  4. You didn’t pay anything on a debt for at least three years and there has been no collection activity in the past year.

Are My Debts Erased with a 1099-C?

If you know you received a 1099-C because of a settlement agreement, where you paid off debt for less than the full amount due, then you don’t owe anything. If the form was filed because you haven’t made payments for three years and they haven’t tried to collect recently, then you may still owe the debt. Your state’s statute of limitations may determine what debt you are and are not responsible for.

Anytime you receive a 1099-C, check the form for errors. If you find any, first work with your creditor to get the information corrected. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then you can include an explanation with your tax return. To find out if a 1099-C has been filed, you can request a wage and income transcript from the IRS for the tax year or years in question. The transcript should list any 1099-Cs that were filed under your Social Security number.

Do I Have to Pay Taxes on the 1099-C Amount?

The IRS will automatically assume that the amount listed on the 1099-C is accurate and will expect you to include that amount in your ordinary income when you file your tax return. Depending on the other income you earn and your tax bracket, you could receive a larger tax bill or a smaller refund. However, if you can demonstrate that you qualify for an exclusion or exception, you may be able to avoid paying taxes on part or all of that phantom income.

One of the most commonly used exclusions is the insolvency exclusion. It works like this: you are insolvent to the extent that your liabilities (what you owe) exceed your assets (what you own). If the total amount by which you are insolvent is larger than the amount listed on the 1099-C, you can exclude the entire amount listed on the 1099-C from your income. You’ll have to file Form 982 with your tax return to claim this exclusion.

If the amount by which you are insolvent is less than the amount on the 1099-C, then you may be able to avoid including part of that amount in your income. However, the insolvency exclusion may not be the perfect fit for everyone—there may be another exclusion that fits your situation better.

What if I Don’t Receive a 1099-C for Canceled Debt?

Even if you don’t receive a 1099-C, you are still responsible for reporting canceled debt as taxable income. Make sure you do not leave any forgiven or discharged debt off of your tax return. If you do, you will more than likely hear from the IRS in the future for failure to pay, which will cost you more money in the long run. Look at your credit report to ensure you don’t have any unpaid debt from the last three years.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Old Debt?

Be careful when it comes to old debt and 1099-Cs. Creditors who follow IRS guidelines should send out 1099-Cs when a debt lies dormant for three years and there has been no significant collection activity for the past year.

Specifically, the IRS 1099 instructions state that debt is canceled “when the creditor has not received a payment on the debt during the testing period. The testing period is a 36-month period ending on December 31.”

However, the creditor can rebut this cancelation if “the creditor (or a third party collection agency on behalf of the creditor) has engaged in significant bona fide collection activity during the 12-month period ending on December 31.”

If a creditor sends out 1099-Cs years (or decades) after the 1099 deadlines, the responsibility falls upon the taxpayer to explain to the IRS why they believe it should not have been filed that year. Again, there is no specific form for reporting this kind of dispute. You’ll have to include an explanation, and you may wind up arguing with the IRS to get it resolved.

What if I Receive a 1099-C for Debts Canceled in Bankruptcy?

You don’t have to pay taxes on personal debts discharged in bankruptcy. And creditors aren’t required to file 1099-Cs for those debts. If they do, however, you can file Form 982 and claim an exclusion because the debt was included in bankruptcy.

Don’t panic if your bankruptcy occurred long ago and you don’t know where to find a copy of your bankruptcy papers to prove the debt was discharged. Although it’s anyone’s guess why a creditor would send an unrequired 1099-C years after the fact, you likely won’t have to jump through hoops to prove the debt was discharged.

Getting a 1099-C can be confusing, especially if you don’t have a handle on your credit. Avoid future credit surprises by using Credit.com’s free credit report tool.

Image: David Sacks

The post 1099-Cs and Your Taxes: What You Should Know appeared first on Credit.com.

What Happens to Debt When You Get Married?

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According to the New York Federal Reserve, total student loan debt in the U.S. has reached $1.3 trillion, while more than 44 million Americans have student loan debt. Between these figures and soaring credit-card debt, paying off all we owe can take some people years, if not decades. 

The problem can seem particularly acute for young couples, more and more of whom are getting married with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off. In many instances, one partner has significantly more debt than the other. 

When Jeff and Cassandra Campbell of Austin, Texas.,  got married in 2006, Jeff was $61,000 in debt — his was a combination of credit card debt, a second-home mortgage and a car loan. Cassandra was debt-free, but the couple immediately agreed that with marriage, his debt was now the burden and responsibility of both of them.   

“I believe that successful couples combine everything when they say, ‘I do,’” says, Jeff, 53. “It’s no longer my income or your debt, it’s ours.”
 

Deciding how to tackle a single spouse’s or partner’s debt is no simple thing. It might be nice to chip in to help pay down your beloved’s debt, but in the eyes of the law, marriage doesn’t necessarily mean you have to. 

What happens to debt when we marry? 
 

Adam S. Minsky, a Massachusetts-based lawyer and expert in student loan law, says that although it varies by state, most of the time debt brought into a marriage only affects the spouse who brought it in.   

“Generally speaking, certainly where I practice here in Massachusetts, there is no way to make a spouse liable for a debt,” he says.
 

An exception might be if the couple did a form of refinancing once they got married and now jointly own the debt together. But if one spouse brought a debt into the marriage and both spouses paid off the debt together, the other spouse would not be liable for the debt, and that debt wouldn’t affect his or her credit score.

“As long as [the debt] only stays in one of their names, it’s only going to be reported for one of them,” Minsky says. 

There are, of course, slightly different rules when it comes to couples who are divorcing. For example, if a spouse helped pay off the other’s debt in marriage, that circumstance is often taken into account in divorce proceedings, Minsky notes. 

Learning the legal nuances of spousal debt, having necessary premarital conversations and understanding  optimal strategies for paying off debt can allow a couple to avoid the uncomfortable and frustrating conversations that might accompany one spouse having significantly more debt that the other.
 

Here are some tips on how to tackle debt as a couple:  

Have those tough (but essential) conversations before getting hitched.

Minsky says his greatest piece of advice for couples in which one partner has significant debt and the other doesn’t boils down to this: Talk about it openly before marriage. 

“Communication is the most important thing,” he says. “Because you don’t want to get married and then find out there’s a bunch of debt you didn’t know about, or you didn’t fully understand the nature of the debt, or you didn’t have a plan. I’d say develop that communication and be comfortable talking about it.” 

Eric Bowlin, 32, a real estate investor based in Worcester, Mass., says he and his wife, Jun — whom he met during graduate school—always approached their finances as a team. Eric says Jun accepted his roughly $85,000 debt ($60,000 of which was related to student loans) before they got married in 2009. But a tough conversation ensued when Eric wanted to make a large real estate investment before they had paid off the debt.  

“I deployed to Afghanistan” around 2010, he says, “and when I got home, we had saved about $100,000. We could have easily paid off all my student loans, car and half the multifamily house we owned, but I told her I wanted to use every dollar to invest in more real estate and I wanted to drop out of our Ph.D. program.” 

He says despite Jun’s hesitation, she agreed. “To this day I’m amazed she ever agreed to let me do that,” Eric says. He spent all of his savings, maxed out all his credit cards and borrowed about $40,000 from friends.  

“She was crying at night and I couldn’t sleep because of the stress,” he says. But his decision paid off. He has since built up a successful real estate portfolio, and the couple paid off their debt in 2016.
 

Employ strategies for paying the debt off together.

Once you and your partner have agreed to tackle the debt together, come up with a solid plan.  

“I’ve seen trouble happen when married couples never really talked about [debt], and then it’s a thing,” Minsky says. “Or they didn’t really come up with a plan and now there’s complicated feelings of resentment or guilt or shame.” 

The plan a couple employs will vary based on an array of variables: the amount and type of debt, income level, housing situation, location and more. The Campbells, for example, didn’t decide to pay off their debt until the birth of their first daughter. 

Shortly thereafter, they discovered the “snowball method,” popularized by personal finance personality Dave Ramsey, and decided to pay off their debts from smallest to largest.

They put retirement savings and vacations on hold, paid cash for everything except bills and generally limited their eating out and social activities. They became debt-free about five years ago.

Jeff’s advice for newly married couples is to agree on a budget before each month. 

“Some spouses will naturally be more of the spender, saver or math nerd,” he says. “So while it’s not crucial that both be involved in doing everything, the discussion should happen prior to the start of each month about where ‘our’ money is going to go, and what out of the ordinary expenses may be happening.” 

 Don’t forget about your taxes.

Minsky advises giving thought to how you will file your taxes, especially in the case of student loan debt.

For example, if one spouse mostly has federal student loans and is going to do an income-driven repayment plan, there could be incentives for filing taxes as an individual as opposed to making a couple’s joint filing. That way, the income of the spouse without student loan debt won’t be factored in.   

We have previously explored the nuances of deciding whether or not to file jointly or single when spouses have student loan debt. 

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