Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

A debt collector pressured my 25-year-old son into accepting a repayment schedule for $3,500 of old credit card debt. He can't pay it. He's unemployed, has medical expenses, no income or assets, and lives with me. He hasn't signed a repayment agreement. What should he do?


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Your son has two options. One is to come up with enough money to negotiate a settlement for less than the amount he owes. The other is to send the collection agency a certified letter (return receipt requested), stating that he currently has no income or assets and therefore can't yet repay the debt.

From what you say, the letter may be the better option. People in your son's situation often are scared into accepting an unrealistic repayment schedule, says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit .com. "But when you're unemployed, repaying credit card debt is usually a lower priority than buying food, paying medical bills, and putting gas in the car to get to job interviews."

His letter should say he'll contact them when his situation changes, and request that they stop communicating with him. They're legally required to honor that request. What happens next? One of two scenarios, says Detweiler. The agency can put his debt at the bottom of their pile or sell it to another collection agency; eventually, your son will get a job and settle it. Or they can write one last time to say they're going to sue him; from what you've described, however, all they can hope to win is a judgment to collect against his future wages or assets. If they write that they intend to sue, Detweiler advises consulting a consumer law attorney. To find one, go to

The bottom line When you're unemployed, you must prioritize your financial obligations.

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