I’m Sick and Can’t Pay Off My Credit Card. Now What?

Get in touch with your card issuer. They may be able to make accommodations to keep your account in good standing.

Lindsay KonskoMay 23, 2014

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Bad things happen to good people. You can be the most responsible person a credit card company has ever approved, and something can happen that makes it difficult or impossible to pay off your credit card — a serious illness, for instance.

What happens then? Is there any way to prevent a default on your card, or any way to prevent negative credit card actions from impacting your credit score? The answer is “probably.”

Hardship plans can help

Many credit card companies offer hardship programs for cardholders going through tough times, whether that's a layoff, an illness or another emergency. The logic behind helping a consumer out in hard times has plenty of evidence to support it. A credit card company wants to at least get back the money it has loaned you for your credit card purchases. If it can get some interest on top of that, so much the better.

Even in the worst-case scenario, a credit card company wants to get something back by working with the cardholder instead of getting nothing because the customer defaulted on their debt. If a consumer is in terrible shape and the credit card company won’t help, it raises the likelihood that the customer will default.

Get the conversation started

Card companies often won't advertise that they have a hardship program, since they'd prefer that you turn to such programs only as a last resort. You might not find any information on the card issuer's website. Call customer service and ask what relief they can offer you. You may even be able to get the issuer to agree to certain accommodations without formally entering the hardship program. For example, the issuer may let you skip a payment, or it may waive interest or late fees for a month, or it may reduce your minimum required payment.

Be prepared to discuss different options and negotiate. If you make it clear that you want to make good on your obligation and that you don’t want the card company to be put in a bad position, you're maximizing your chances of getting an adjustment or accommodation. Don't exaggerate. Just be honest.

Ultimately, no matter what anyone says, everything is negotiable. The more detailed a plan you work out, the better.

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