Q. I don’t earn enough to pay all my bills. I’ll either have to be late or skip payments for credit cards or student loans. Which is worse? — Drowning
A. Missing payments on any debt is a bad thing.
The best option, if at all possible, is to stay current on both, but you say your cash flow situation makes that difficult.
“You’re paying higher interest, most likely, on your credit card debt so it makes sense to pay the cards off as quickly as you can,” said Beverly Harzog, a consumer credit expert and bestselling author.
She said if you still have good credit, see if you can qualify for a balance transfer card with a zero percent introductory rate. This will give you a chance to make payments without accruing interest for a year or so, she said. (You can learn more about the best balance transfer credit cards in America here.)
But if this isn’t an option, call your credit card company and explain the situation and how you’d appreciate lower payments for a bit.
“Most card issuers have ‘hardship departments‘ and they often work with cardholders who can’t pay the bills,” Harzog said. “You might get lower monthly payments. These programs often last for about a year.”
None of this means you should just let the student loan debt slide. Missing payments and being late can affect your credit score in a negative way, Harzog said.
“Call your lender and ask about getting some help,” she said. “Many federal student loans have programs that work with you if you can’t pay your bill on time. You might be able to get lower payments, for instance, with income-based programs.”
Before you fall behind, take a serious look at your budget and cut back any discretionary expenses. Then look to your current savings. While we hate to advise you to put retirement savings on hold, you first need to get a handle on your debt.
[Editor’s note: It’s also important to monitor your credit score while you’re paying off debt to help make sure you’re improving and so you know where to make any necessary adjustments. You can view two of your credit scores, updated monthly, for free on Credit.com.]
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt