Q&A: Paying credit card debt after death

Dear Liz: I am 80 and I have a substantial amount of credit card debt, approximately $30,000. What becomes of this credit card debt in the event of my death? Will it become a future liability for my two sons or will this eventually become a bad debt for the credit card company? I would hate to see this become a financial burden for my sons.

Answer: Any credit card balances you leave behind will be a liability for your estate, not for your sons — although the debt could reduce any inheritance they get. Creditors have to be paid before any remaining assets are distributed. If you don’t have enough assets to cover the bill, creditors will get a proportionate amount of whatever’s left after paying your final expenses. Any remaining debt will be a write-off for the creditor, and your sons typically wouldn’t get anything.

You didn’t ask for help dealing with this debt, but you shouldn’t assume you can just tread water until you die and leave it for someone else to sort out. Your life expectancy at age 80 is another eight years if you’re male and nearly 10 years if you’re female, and you could live considerably longer. If overspending or medical bills led to the debt, you could accrue a lot more before you’re done. If you rack up so much debt that you can’t make the minimum payments, your interest rates could skyrocket and you may have to fend off collection calls.

You should at least discuss your options with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and with a nonprofit credit counselor.

Q&A: Cashing out an IRA to pay off credit card debt

Dear Liz: I owe about $49,000 on my credit cards and now have the money to pay them off in full. Should I? Or should I slowly pay them in large amounts?

Answer:
There’s typically no reason to delay paying off credit card debt. Carrying balances costs you money and doesn’t help your credit scores. You’ll see the fastest improvement if you pay them off in one fell swoop.

The only excuse for delaying would be if this windfall comes from a retirement fund. Cashing out a 401(k) account or IRA to pay off debt is not wise, since you’ll trigger huge taxes and penalties. Add in the future tax-deferred compounding you lose and the total cost is far more than you’ll save in interest.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Pile of Credit CardsToday’s top story: The hidden bonuses of paying off credit card debt. Also in the news: Financial tips for the sandwich generation, how to start preparing your taxes, and the changes coming to your credit card perks.

The Hidden Bonus of Paying Off Credit Card Debt
Your credit score will thank you for it.

The Sandwich Generation: 5 C’s To Deal With Your Financial Challenges
The financial challenges of taking care of your young and old.

11 Tax Moves Every Taxpayer Should Make Before the End of the Year
Time to get organized.

Big Changes Coming for Your Credit Card Perks
What’s in and what’s out.

6 questions to ask before getting a store credit card
Know what you’re signing up for.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

smartphones_financeToday’s top story: Apps to help you manage your household finances. Also in the news: Why not saving enough for retirement in your 20’s could spell doom, what college students need to know about money, and the pros and cons of using balance transfers to pay down credit card debt.

The Best Tools for Managing Household Finances
New apps to help keep your household finances running smoothly.

Why Saving Too Little For Retirement In Your 20s Is A Bet You’ll Die Young And Broke
A little straight talk.

What College Students Need to Know About Money
So that they don’t die young and broke.

The pros and cons of using a balance transfer to pay off debt.
Beware accumulated interest.

How Often Can I Apply for New Credit Cards Without Hurting My Credit Scores?
The cost of a hard inquiry.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: More than half of college students don’t check their credit scores. Also in the news: Avoiding common home buying mistakes, the habits of successful savers, and three employee benefits you may be missing.

More Than Half of Students Don’t Check Their Credit Scores
A very big mistake.

How To Avoid Common Home Buying Mistakes
Don’t turn your home into a money pit.

6 Habits of Highly Successful Savers
Learning from the best.

3 Sweet Employee Benefits You May Be Missing
You may be leaving money on the table.

What’s a Tax Consultant, and Do You Need One?
Deciding when you need tax help.

Q&A: Personal loan debt vs credit card debt

Dear Liz: I need to understand how credit reporting agencies treat personal unsecured loan debt versus credit card debt.

I am considering getting a personal loan from a reputable lender to pay down my credit card debt. The amount of my overall debt will still be the same, just in a different category. How will my credit score be affected?

Answer: What you need to understand is how credit scoring formulas treat installment debt (loans) versus revolving debt (credit cards). Credit reporting agencies maintain the credit reports used to create scores — but don’t bless (or curse) particular types of debt.

The personal loan’s overall effect on your credit scores is likely to be positive if you pay the loan on time. What you owe on an installment loan is typically treated more favorably than a similar balance on a credit card.

Installment loans have other advantages: You typically get a fixed rate, rather than the variable one charged on most credit cards, and your balance will be paid off over the term of the loan, which is usually three years. If you stop carrying balances on your credit cards, you should be in much better shape: free of debt with potentially higher scores.

Often the best place to get installment loans is from credit unions, which are member-owned financial institutions that may offer lower interest rates.

Avoid any lender that gives you a high-pressure sales pitch, that offers you a loan if you have bad credit or that pitches debt settlement, which is far more dangerous to your finances than a personal loan.

If the lender tries to tell you about a new “government program” that wipes out credit card debt or tries to collect big upfront fees, you’ve stumbled onto a scam.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

8.6.13.CheckupToday’s top story: It’s time for your midyear financial checkup! Also in the news: Credit card vows for newlyweds, how your credit score could affect your auto insurance rates, and the surprising affects of credit card debt.

A Guide to Your Mid-Year Financial Checkup
How’s your year going so far?

6 Credit Card Vows Every Newlywed Couple Should Make
Saying “I Do” to a budget.

Study: Credit scores impact auto insurance
A low score could mean higher premiums.

5 Weird Ways Credit Card Debt Can Hurt You
Where you’d least expect it.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Picking up the keysToday’s top story: How being frugal can actually cost you money. Also in the news: Tips for a better financial future, what to know when refinancing your credit card debt, and how to save when your teenager starts driving.

10 Ways Being Frugal Can Actually Cost You Money
Unintended consequences.

Listen to your mother: 6 tips for a better financial future
Mom knows best.

7 things to know about refinancing credit card debt
Pay close attention to the terms.

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts Driving
The rite of passage doesn’t have to break the bank.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: What happens to your credit after you die? Also in the news: Secrets to buying long-term-care insurance, how to calculate your personal savings rate, and five steps to planning a secure retirement.

What Happens to Your Credit When You Die?
Who, if anyone, is responsible for paying it off?

4 Secrets to Buying Long-Term-Care Insurance
How to find the best policy.

Calculate Your Overall Savings Rate to Measure Your Financial Health
Discovering your personal savings rate.

5 steps to planning a secure retirement
What you need to do in order to retire peacefully.

Q&A: Credit card debt and surviving spouses

Dear Liz: You’ve answered a number of questions regarding credit card debt when a person dies. But I haven’t quite seen the answer I need. If a spouse dies, and the remaining spouse is not on the credit card account, is it still the responsibility of the survivor to pay the card? Does the answer vary by state? Or is it a federal law?

Answer: As you read in previous columns, the dead person’s assets are typically used to pay his or her debts. If there aren’t enough available assets to pay the creditors, those creditors may be able to go after the spouse in certain states and certain circumstances.

In community property states such as California, debts incurred during a marriage are typically considered to be owed by both parties. Other community property states include Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In the rest of the states, a spouse’s debts are his or her own, unless the debt was incurred for family necessities or the spouse co-signed or otherwise accepted liability.

Collection agencies have been known to contact spouses, children and other family members and tell them they have a legal or moral obligation to pay the dead person’s debts, regardless of state law. If you are married to someone with significant debt, contact an attorney to help you understand and perhaps mitigate your risk.