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Are You in a Credit Emergency?*

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you arguing with your spouse over bills?

  2. Is an increasing percentage of your income being used to pay off debts? Are you near or at the limit of your lines of credit?

  3. Can you only make the minimum payments on your revolving charge accounts?

  4. Are you extending repayment schedules--paying bills in 60 or 90 days that you once paid in 30?

  5. Are you chronically late in paying your bills?

  6. Are you borrowing to pay for items you used to buy with cash?

  7. Do you put off medical or dental visits because you can't afford them right now?

  8. If you lost your job, would you be in immediate financial difficulty?

  9. Are you threatened with repossession of your car or credit cards, or with other legal action?

  10. . Do you know your total debt, or are you afraid to add it up?

If you said "YES" to any of the above questions, you could be in financial difficulty and should take steps to re-examine your priorities, budget, and credit obligations.

What can you do if you cannot meet a payment?

  • It is to your advantage to work with your creditors to find a way for you to pay off your debts.
  • Call the credit manager, merchant or lender. Explain the situation. Perhaps there has been a job loss, sickness, or other family emergency that has made it difficult to keep up with your payments.
  • Discuss your future financial prospects with your lender to work out a plan for repaying the debt.
  • Do your best to follow that plan.
  • Make your plan realistic. Don't make false promises that you will be unable to keep.
  • Keep in continual contact with your creditors until the problem is resolved.

What are your consumer rights?

Federal legislation requires that consumers receive information with regard to disclosure of credit terms, discrimination, credit denial, as well as protection from errors in credit billing, and from collector harassment.

The next section describes the laws regarding credit disputes, errors in credit billing, and protection from creditors who harass debtors.

Fair Credit Billing Act

The Fair Credit Billing Act allows consumers to correct errors on their credit cards or charge accounts in a speedy and effective manner. Consumers must dispute changes in writing (other than on the bill) within 60 days. Payment should continue to be made for the part of the bill not in dispute. The creditor must acknowledge the written complaint within 30 days, investigate and notify the consumer of the action taken within a maximum of 90 days.

Consumers cannot be billed or forced to pay the disputed amount until the investigation is finished. Nor do they have to pay any finance charges on the disputed amount while it is under investigation. However, if it is determined the bill is correct, then a consumer must pay the finance charges. During the investigation of a disputed charge, the creditor may not report the consumer as delinquent to a credit bureau.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

When a creditor employs an outside collection agency to obtain the money outstanding on a delinquent loan, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outlines legal debt collection practices. The collection agency personnel cannot:

  • Use abusive language to coerce a consumer into making a payment
  • Call at unreasonable hours--considered to be before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.--or make excessive calls
  • Threaten to notify an employer or friends that a consumer has not paid his bills
  • Use false pretenses to gain entry to a home with the intent to identify or take something of value
  • Attempt to collect more than is owed
  • Send a consumer misleading letters that appear to be from a government agency or court of law

* Courtesy of The National Foundation for Consumer Credit

 
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