How to Find Help after Falling Behind on Credit Card Payments

If you think paying interest on your credit cards is bad, in this Money Matters report, Tara Lynn Wagner tells you why not paying is far worse.

Americans are swiping – and now dipping – deeper into credit card debt.  According to NerdWallet, households with credit card debt now owe an average of over $15,000. So when do you know it's a problem? 

"It’s a problem if you can't make a payment that month because as soon as you stop paying on time, the late fees kick in," says Carol O'Rourke, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Debtor Education – a non-profit housed at Fordham University Law School. 

O'Rourke says in many cases, that penalty is applied immediately because due dates tend to have little or no wiggle room. 

"If the money is due October 1st, if you don't pay it October 1st they just put in a 35 dollar fee so that adds up," she says.

Compounding the problem is a sudden spike in your interest rate with penalty rates hitting as high as 29.9 percent.

“And it's indefinite,” O'Rourke explais. “They keep that rate indefinitely. So if you can't pay one month, now your interest rate goes up."

And that’s all from just missing a payment or two.  Do that for a couple of months, and you might end up in court. Eventually, the problem could reach well beyond your unpaid stack of bills."

"Wages are garnished or sometimes their benefits are frozen and so there are lots of repercussions, this ripple effect of trying to just bury your head in the sand,” O'Rourke says.

 Instead she says reach out for help.  Look for a nonprofit that specializes in credit counseling or visit one of the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers for free one on one counseling or contact your local government to see if they offer any free financial counseling services.

The Coalition has also created an app to make financial education fun. Through a series of quizzes and explanations, they hope to give people a better understanding of how things like fees and penalties work and when they are applied.

"And if they are aware of these things, than they can kind of minimize the costs and be better consumers," O'Rourke says.

The app is called NYCMoneySmarts but can be used by consumers anywhere. It's available on iOS and Android devices. 

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