To try and save us from ourselves, the Office of the Controller has recommended that credit card companies make their customers pay higher minimum payments, up to double the current amount. This will affect at least 7% who currently only pay the minimum and those who can only afford to pay a small portion over the minimum.
These days the average consumer has 4-6 credit cards and $8-20 thousand dollars in credit card debt and rising. Paying only the minimum and never charging again will keep you in debt for 30-60 years, depending on interest, late fees and over limit costs.
The guidelines to raise the credit card minimum were made in 2003, but the banks and credit card companies wanted some time to ease into it. Some say, they waited until the new bankruptcy laws were into effect, so they would have less to lose. There’s no set date when your credit card company will start increasing your minimum payments, just know they will and probably soon. Some already have. I have read dates from July to October of this year and many thought it was going to happen last year, so be warned.
What can you do, if you will not be able to afford this increase?
You can contact your credit card companies and see if any will work out a lower payment for you on a temporary basis. Keep in mind that frequently, when you have payment arrangements like this, they will not let you use your credit card, so keep at least one available for emergencies.
You can hire a debt consolidation company to get a personal loan for you and pay off all your credit cards. Personal loans usually don’t have very low interest rates, like a home equity loan or refinancing your home. If you don’t think it will take you too long to pay off or you don’t own a home, this may be the way to go. You can also hire these people to make payment arrangements for you or charge off some of your debt. Be careful here, any debt they get “charged off” for you will show that way on your credit report, lowering your credit score dramatically, and you will have to pay taxes on the charge off amount as income.
One solution, besides trying to curb your spending, is to either get a home equity line of credit or refinance your home. The interest rates are lower than a personal loan or credit card and spread out farther, so you will pay a much lower monthly payment. You always have the option of paying more than the minimum when you can afford to.
If your debts are moderate, but you may need more in the future for home repairs, my suggestion would be to go with the home equity line of credit. Get approved for a little more than your debts and expected home repairs, so you won’t have to worry about getting another one for a while. Try to pay more than the minimum whenever you can without risking your cash flow.
If you have a lot of credit card debt, home repairs that need to be made, an unstable job or other situation that could make matters much worse at any time, you should probably consider refinancing. If it’s been at least a year or more since you purchased or previously refinanced your home you probably have enough equity, depending on where you live of course. Also, if you’ve been making your payments on time for the past year or more, you’ll have a good payment history and should have a good enough credit score to get a decent rate.
If you have late payments, you still may want to consider refinancing at a higher rate, as a temporary solution. Your interest rate will probably be much less than your credit card interest, so you’ll pay a lower monthly payment and not risk ruining your credit or worse, losing your house. If you pay all your bills on time for the following 1½ to 2 years, you can refinance again to get a better rate.
If you think that the rise in credit card minimum payments will affect you adversely, try to make a decision on what you are going to do about it soon. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be to deal with in the future.
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