Telling your credit card company you can’t pay bills may not be a conversation you ever feel ready to have — but proactive and honest communication is key to minimizing the impact that not paying your bills could have on your financial life.

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 What you may not realize is that many creditors are willing to work with their cardholders on the issue. Here’s how to make a difficult conversation with your creditor a little less scary when you can’t pay your credit card bills.

1. Stick to the facts.

Emotions like frustration, fear and despair are common when you can’t pay bills — but getting to the facts quickly when you’re talking with a credit card representative could help make the conversation more productive.

It’s helpful to provide an honest and succinct explanation about why you can’t pay your bills as agreed, and then keep the conversation professional and based only on the facts.

2. Indicate how long your financial strain will last.

Once you’ve given a brief explanation of what has caused your financial hardship, provide an honest timeline about how long you expect to have difficulty paying your bills and how you are proactively working to resolve your financial situation.

3. Discuss repayment options.

Financial hardship can have many causes. While it may be temporary or long-term, you can work with your creditor to find a repayment option or other assistance. If your financial strain is due to a temporary job loss, see what your creditor can do for a few months as you get back on-track.

If your financial strain is long-term, tell the creditor up-front, and you and the rep can discuss a realistic plan for paying back the debt. Make sure you can afford to pay whatever amount your creditor is willing to accept by the date they specify.

4. Listen and take notes.

If a credit card issuer works with you on a repayment plan because you cannot pay your bills, ask for confirmation of the outcome you reach in writing, along with the name and contact information of the customer representatives you worked with. 

If the credit card issuer tells you about any next steps you can expect as a result of not paying your bills — which may include the debt being placed with a collection agency — ask when this might happen.

5. Ask your creditor about working with credit counseling organizations.

Non-profit credit counselors can be a great resource when you’re struggling with bills. Some creditors can refer you to trusted counselors, so see if your creditor can point you toward any organizations near you. Counselors can also be helpful if you are unable to reach a resolution with your credit card issuer, as they can work with you to develop a repayment plan and get back on-track, and may be able to work with your creditors on your behalf to find you financial relief. Consider a credit counseling organization that’s affiliated with a national consumer advocacy group like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America.

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