Handling a Credit Crisis in Retirement

Sometimes a credit crisis is unavoidable, perhaps due to a lost job or a significant health crisis. In those situations, communication with creditors is critical. In nearly all cases, talking with creditors earlier rather than later will yield you more favorable results.


Dealing with a Credit Emergency

  • Ask your creditors for more favorable lending terms: lower finance charges and a lower minimum monthly payment. While this will lengthen the time to pay down the debt and may result in paying more finance charges over the long run, it could allow you to meet your monthly essential expenses and prevent your utilities (for example) from being cut off in the short term.
  • If a debt situation becomes intolerable, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org). This organization will help you take control of your spending and work out an affordable repayment plan.
  • Protect your financial assets while you’re in a credit crisis. Avoid services that claim they can eliminate debt or fix a credit score. You  typically will spend a lot of money for these alleged services and may end up in a worse credit situation.

Avoid Credit Traps

Wise use of debt in retirement also means avoiding credit traps. Repeated rolling of a debt from one credit card to another, for instance, can lower your credit score. Unless a credit card interest rate reduction is significant, such as a drop of 4 or 5 percent or more, moving a debt around is only delaying the inevitable. In addition, balance transfer fees generally will be charged, which decrease the amount of interest rate savings. Rather than moving a debt around, pay down the debt as aggressively as possible instead. Or consolidate many higher-rate debts into one at a lower rate, if possible.

No matter how bad your credit crisis may seem, steer clear of the following lenders:

  • pawnshops
  • check-cashing stores
  • cash-advance firms
  • payday lenders
  • rent-to-own companies
  • auto title loan companies

In nearly all cases, the costs of using one of these so-called “loan shops” will far, far outweigh any benefits you might gain.