What are options for a 12k credit card debt my gf has?
August 3, 2010 1:31 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend recently found out her parents will be getting a divorce. She just graduated undergrad but still lives at home. She also has college debt that she's trying to pay off so she could move out. However the mother is looking to move out of state and she doesn't want to go with her.

My girlfriend is currently 25 years old. She graduated undergrad the end of June and has been working full time since for a beverage company that offers good health benefits. She makes about $11/hour and weekly tips as well.

Due to reasons beyond her control her father refused to help with her college education costs pretty much at all and she put herself through college. In doing so she doesn't have college loans, but she does have around $11k of debt spread between 2-3 credit cards. Her plan was to whittle it down as much as possible this year.

Recently she found out that her mother and father are getting a divorce. He is emotionally and verbally abusive to the mother and has been for years. The mother also has rheumatoid arthritis which makes her life hard enough as it is. The marriage seems to be beyond repair and she just wants out. She's seen a divorce lawyer and apparently the plan is for her to move out of the house within weeks. We believe that she would move down south and out of state.

My girlfriend could not remain in the house with the father as he would most definitely take his anger out on her (not physically but again emotionally/verbally). With her monthly car and credit card bills she could not afford to move out and pay rent somewhere even with a roommate. (Our state is pretty expensive).

Are there any options for her that she could look into? Bankruptcy is not really one of them since it trashes your credit for a decade. We're looking to get engaged within the next 2-3 years. I myself still live at home as I had a harder time in the IT industry post 2004 where most work was contract and there weren't any benefits. I'm just now really saving up and planning on a move out myself, although we likely wouldn't live together before marriage as we're both Roman-Catholic.

Should she look into consolidating her cards onto one card and one payment, so that she could pay more than the minimum at a lower APR, and afford to live at the same time? Are there charities or services or anything she could do otherwise?

The last resort would be to move with her mother down south and relocate her job, but the divorce would affect her as much as it would the mother, who at least would get alimony.

Are 18+ children who are "dependents" given any consideration in divorce proceedings? I don't know much about this but I know she's ridiculously stressed out...
posted by PetiePal to Law & Government (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where is she located? There may be a nonprofit consumer credit counseling service available in her location.
posted by headnsouth at 1:41 PM on August 3, 2010

Consumer credit counseling services are good but be forwarned if she uses one her credit score will be down the toilet. That's really a last resort.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:46 PM on August 3, 2010

She may just have to suck it up and live with the old man awhile longer. Does she have friends she can visit if he starts his crap? Maybe look into some family counselling where she looks into ways she can stand up to him? I would think a divorce could actually shock a wee bit of sense into him.

Also, nothing at all wrong with consolidating -if her credit scores are good perhaps she can find a lower interest card as well. She would probably need to do this before she moves, if she does that.

Finally, are you certain there's no way you can move up a wedding? Wouldn't be the one of your dreams, maybe but if this guy won't pay for college I doubt he'd help with wedding expenses.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:50 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Her credit score will not be 'down the toilet' if you use a credit counseling service. There is a likelihood that if someone settles to pay below what is owed they may suffer a credit score infraction but the majority of banks understand and value credit counseling and do not lower scores. What they will do is not allow the person to take on any new debt for a period of 12 months following enrollment.
posted by parmanparman at 1:53 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

In terms of divorce, I've never heard of one that requires support beyond college. Usually it's until the child is eighteen. Sometimes that's extended to 21 or completion of college, but that isn't really standard. Getting support for a 25 year old college grad with a job and without any sort of developmental issues or disabilities seems pretty far from the realm of possibility.

Were it me, and keep in mind I'm not a paragon of fiscal responsibility, I'd request a hardship deferment on my student loan payments to save money to move. I'd then negotiate a lower payment based on my change in living expenses once that was up. The phrase "I can give you X or nothing" should occur often in the conversation. When they realize you actually won't become homeless for student loan payments they become a lot more willing to budge on those monthly payments. (that's why a good friend of mine pays $100 a month instead of the $400 they originally demanded)
I'd also close the account with the card company and try to negotiate a lower monthly payment, or go to a decent NONPROFIT credit counseling service.

I don't really think charity is an option in her case. She's got a job, and she has someone willing to support her, it just isn't where she wants to be. Given the current economy and the number of people still out of work I think a lot of charities are basically strapped to their limit just keeping folks from having to live on the street. The idea of using that money for someone who doesn't really NEED it (since really, she doesn't. She has other options and just doesn't like them: moving, bankruptcy, etc) when so many do leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:53 PM on August 3, 2010

Not sure what state you live in, but I know plenty of people in various states who are dishwashers/fastfood (meaning: min. wage) workers that are able to live on their own or with roommates.

I lived with two other roommates in an expensive city and I certainly wasn't making a whole lot of money. We only split the rent and internet and everything else was paid for. Maybe she could look for a place like I did - where utilities are included. One of my roommates was living off unemployment for most of the time and the other worked in a call center for $12/hr.

Are there other expenses she can cut/reduce? Such as: cable, cell phone, internet, groceries, eating out, coffee, manicures, salon haircuts, DVDs/video games/alcohol, etc?

How much left does she have to pay on her car?

Not sure what she planned on doing ? Living with her parents forever? I think there's a huge percentage of independent adults that are paying off student loans, credit cards and making around $11/hr all the way down to minimum wage. Some with kids. You just have to reduce your spending and be careful about what you spend your money on.

Is she waiting to get a job in her field? How about she updates her resume and looks for a higher paying job? That wouldn't hurt just to try that.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get married, and have her move in with you. This plan has the advantage of skipping the Wedding Industrial Complex's plans for getting you in more debt, gets her away from her dad, and gets you both started with your lives. Do this before her mother leaves town.
posted by pickypicky at 2:02 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

"In response to changes in consumer behavior, in about 1998 we changed the FICO scoring formula so that it ignored all such references to credit counseling on the credit report," however, the creditor may report debts being paid not as (originally) agreed, which could affect one's credit score.

Going to a reputable counselor to examine her options will not harm her credit score.
posted by jamaro at 2:03 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she does go to consumer credit counseling, make sure it's an approved agency
posted by KogeLiz at 2:05 PM on August 3, 2010

She can start by just calling the credit card companies and explaining what's going on. Sometimes they'll give you some period of time interest free to get back on your feet.
posted by callmejay at 2:08 PM on August 3, 2010

1. Get herself to a credit counseling service so that she won't have as high monthly payments.
2. She needs to look at her spending. Does she NEED a car or could she do public transit? Is there a job closer that would allow her to get rid of the car? Can she sell her car and get a cheaper one?
posted by k8t at 2:16 PM on August 3, 2010

I'd request a hardship deferment on my student loan payments to save money to move.

She doesn't have student loans.

I think you're in New Jersey. I know a 23 year old waitress with absolutely zero family monetary support who just graduated from college and is living with two roommates in one of the most expensive parts of NJ just fine. It can be done.

Your girlfriend shouldn't have a car with payments. She should sell it and buy a cheaper used car straight out. She should get a second job part-time and find a couple of roommates to move in with. She should definitely consolidate her debt onto a single card, but credit counseling should be a last resort. It doesn't sound necessary to me in this case. Would that she could turn back time, I would tell her that she should have taken out student loans instead of putting school on her credit card - the interest rates are way lower and you can get hardship deferrals.
posted by amro at 2:24 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

As above, credit counseling/debt consolidation is nothing to be afraid of. It won't hurt her score much or for long, and anyway she is still young. I have ruined and un-ruined my credit score multiple times. It really is pretty easy to repair over time as long as you don't completely default on debts.

However, there are other options. She may be able to get a debt consolidation loan from her bank, especially if she's with a Credit Union. This would lower interest rates, consolidate the payments, and increase her credit score dramatically (since it would become non-revolving debt.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:41 PM on August 3, 2010

I can not imagine a court ordering child support for a 25 year old post college. However, it could be negotiated as part of a divorce settlement ( seems doubtful given the statements re: father). Or, if her mother negotiates alimony (particularly if there is a chronic illness) the daughter might ask for a time limited subsidy from the mother. This has nothing to do with the divorce agreement except to the extent the mother might be able to negotiate a higher alimony for 2-3 years. As an outsider looking at this information I tend to concur with the posters who said--get a second job, share room mates, get rid of car payments (if possible) and extract herself from economic dependence.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:04 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far.

From what I understand she just has her car payment (about $119 a month), gas, credit card bills and that should be it for bills. I think her cell is still paid on the family plan and she lives basically rent free for the moment.
posted by PetiePal at 3:14 PM on August 3, 2010

From what I understand she just has her car payment (about $119 a month), gas, credit card bills and that should be it for bills.

Then by my calculations she should be able to afford to rent a room or share a place with roommates.
posted by amro at 3:20 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, she should take a hard look at her budget. She should definitely be able to live somewhere else, particularly if she has a roommate or two.
posted by Justinian at 3:49 PM on August 3, 2010

Bankruptcy isn't a bad deal if you need it. If you declare before you go late on any of your debts and buy a car or whatever you're going to need a loan for before you declare, it's not that big of a deal.

Just make sure you affirm a card or open a new card before declaring bankruptcy so that you will have good post bankruptcy history. That's what really matters. Yes, your score will suck for a couple of years. It's not a big deal if done right. Her score will suffer far more with late payments and chargeoffs.

That said, based on those expenses, it sounds like she just needs to stop spending money on crap unless her cards are at 30% interest, in which case it might be time to shop for a different card while her score is still good and she has a bunch of household income to put on the application. (some creditors ask for household income, others ask for your income..give them what they ask for)
posted by wierdo at 3:49 PM on August 3, 2010

I used a credit counseling service to pay off my debt. My interest rates were reduced to 0% and 6%, and my monthly payments ended up being quite a bit higher than the sum of all minimum payments. My credit rating was and is stellar, as in 800-ish, despite it (or because of it). It was around 620 when I started paying off my debt, not because I had missed payments, but because my debt was so close to my credit limits.
posted by halogen at 3:59 PM on August 3, 2010

Is there a possibility of getting a line of credit to pay down the credit card? Line of credits often have lower interest rates than credit cards and she may be able to work out a regular payment schedule with the bank that accommodates her lifestyle.

Also, there are tons of ways to save on living arrangements. My sister lived in a trailer park for many years and did fine. We do not have trailer parks in my area (they do not allow them) but we instead have basement apartments, which are about the same price. They often include things like cable, internet and utilities. I lived in one for several years and was able to knock the price down an extra little bit by tutoring the landlady's son. I have also seen ads where people agree to lower the rent if you shovel snow, do yard work or other tasks.

For people on even tighter budgets, people often rent out rooms in their homes to students or other people. Usually it is similar to a basement apartment type situation (i.e. they often are in the basement or in a separate area of the house) but you must share a kitchen or bathroom. I lived in such a situation while overseas---the landlady worked in my town for three days a week and would come and stay over for two nights a week and spent the rest of her time at her other home in a neighbouring area. There was one other roommate as well. We shared all parts of the house except the bedroom---two of us most of the time, and the landlady while she was there. There were fringe benefits to all of us because since the ladlady lived there too she wanted the house kept nice, and the other roommate had a car which was occasionally handy.

Once housing is taken care of, look at expenses. I read a great book on this which suggests you use percentages: 60-65% for fixed expenses, 10-15% for savings, 10-15% for investing (or debt repayment) and 10-15% for 'fun money.' All you have to do is set up a basic spreadsheet, plug in your income numbers and it will tell you how much you have for each area.
posted by JoannaC at 4:11 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Others have already given good advice about seeking an approved, nonprofit counseling agency. I'll only add that your mention of alimony and 18+ children in divorce proceedings prompts me to point out that divorces take time and money, especially where one partner is the kind of person to abuse his daughter out of rage at his ex-wife. Even if your 25-year-old girlfriend does come into some money through her parents' divorce, she is likely to hit cashflow problems long before anything gets sorted out (likely shortly after her mother physically moves out of the house). It would not be prudent for your girlfriend to build her budget around expectations of any payout from an acrimonious divorce that her mother has not yet initiated.
posted by Marty Marx at 4:12 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your girlfriend needs to find somewhere to live before anything else. I mean, even if the expensive state you live in is MA, she can live around Boston for $300 a month, including internet and utilities.

Once she has a baseline for expenses, she'll be in a position to talk to a credit counselling service. But she needs to have a good idea what it's going to cost her to live to know what she has left over to pay her debts with.

$12,000 is actually a small amount of debt to hold. Yes, credit card companies are the worst to hold it with, but really, she is going to be able to work her way through this and it will be OK.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:38 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: State in New Jersey by the way
posted by PetiePal at 5:49 PM on August 3, 2010

Just one person's opinion: This is a terrible reason to get married. If, for whatever reason, either of you is not ready for marriage yet, don't view getting married as a solution to this very temporary problem or as something you "should" do because you're the man and you love her.
posted by Houstonian at 6:37 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd like to temper stoneweaver's advice with my impression that $100/month car payment wouldn't get me a very nice car, so I can't see that selling a depreciated asset to replace with another depreciating asset would help her situation much. But only you and she know for sure.

The main project in budgeting a lifestyle change is to look at every single expense you've got: very carefully weigh how important it is, whether you can do without it, whether there's a way to cut back on the payment (by requesting better rates, or decreasing the service), if there's something cheaper than can substitute, or if there's a short-term patch (second job, living with dad, couch-surfing, etc.) that will make the long-term preferable option a possibility later. We're suggesting options (Is there a cheaper car? Can the CC payments be consolidated or the interst rate lowered? How low can rent get if there are enough roommates? or is there a subsidized housing option? Can she reduce her phone or internet bills?) but they key thing is we don't really know her, we don't know what's important to her, and we don't know what's available to her. Some of the things we suggest won't be realistic, and we may totally overlook something you didn't mention. Use our suggestions as a running start at managing these choices, and she can make her decisions in the way that will be best for her.
posted by aimedwander at 6:47 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where in Jersey are you?
posted by WeekendJen at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2010

I've heard cars consistently cost $.30 to $.50 per mile (including insurance and repairs). A fully-paid-off used car might end up costing more in repairs. So, I'd only sell the car if you can get by with no car or if you plan to buy a more reliable car (ie trading a pontiac firebird for a toyota yaris).
posted by sninctown at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2010

I live in NJ. It's a dense state with lot of people. One positive aspect of this is that there are very few areas in the state that aren't within commuting distance of (relatively) cheap housing.

For example - Short Hills, one of the "ritzier" areas in NJ is a 10 minute drive from Irvington, where you can rent apartments for $525/month. No, you're not going to get a gated community with swimming pool and fitness club and the ability to leave your bicycle outside on your front step at that pricing, but it is liveable.

My parents divorced when I was in college and in my very early 20's. I struck out on my own at that point, rented a room in a house with 2 other bachelors until I got on my feet.

If faced with the choice again, I'd make the same one.
posted by de void at 11:11 AM on August 4, 2010

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