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What Percentage Should I Offer to Settle Debt?

Sarah Edwards | March 28, 2024

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Edwards is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: While the average debt settlement is reached at 50% of the debt value, there are many factors that can affect how much a creditor or debt collector is willing to accept. Some of these factors include the time since your last payment, the total amount owed, whether your account is with the original creditor or a collections agency, and how much you can afford to pay. Typically, you should offer 60% or less of your debt amount to kick off negotiations.

If you have debt you can’t seem to get rid of, you may consider debt settlement. Debt settlement allows you to pay a percentage of your debt in one lump-sum payment to resolve it once and for all. Once the creditor or debt collector receives the money, they close your account and your debt goes away.

Debt settlement is a great way to save money, get rid of badgering debt collectors, and give yourself a financial refresh.

However, some personal finance experts recommend that you try various payoff methods before attempting to settle a debt. Resorting to debt settlement can potentially damage your credit, making it harder to obtain a loan or get a job in the future.

However, the repercussions of debt settlement don’t last forever. You’ll be able to put the debt behind you and get a fresh start. Once you settle the debt, you’ll have the additional money you can apply toward other obligations or your retirement savings.

This article will walk through the debt settlement process and explain how to determine a fair settlement percentage.

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What is debt settlement?

Debt settlement is a process where a consumer agrees to pay off a debt for a reduced amount. Individuals going through financial difficulty have a better chance of settling debts.

If you suddenly stop paying your monthly bills on a debt obligation, you’ll likely hear from your creditors. They may call you, email you, and send you letters. Individuals who don’t resume payments will find their credit score drops. At some point, your creditor may charge off your account and sell it to a debt collector.

Once you stop making payments for a significant time (usually longer than a year), your creditor or a debt collection agency will become more willing to settle. With debt settlement, you make a one-time payment and the creditor agrees to wipe off the remaining balance of your account.

Debt settlement can affect your credit

Debt settlement itself typically doesn’t hurt your credit. However, the time leading up to debt settlement does. Usually, consumers stop paying their bills if they intend to settle their debts. As the months go by, the creditor continues to report your non-payments, which reduces your credit score.

If a creditor sells your account to a collections agency, the agency will likely report your debt to the credit bureaus. Once they do so, your credit score takes an additional hit.

Between all the missed payments and dealings with debt collection agencies, you may damage your credit score by 160 points or more with a single bad debt.

However, once you settle the debt, collection agencies and your original creditor will stop their adverse reports. As time goes by, your credit score will slowly increase. You’ll also obtain a fresh start, free of harassing phone calls and debt collection letters.

Can I handle debt settlement on my own?

Yes, it is possible to handle debt settlement entirely on your own. You don’t need the services of a debt settlement agency.

However, if you decide to handle the process yourself, you’ll want to do so methodically and with as much information as possible.

First, you should identify the debts you wish to settle. You may have only a single old obligation or multiple debts. You’ll also need to determine the total balance you owe for each debt and where they are in the collections process.

Typically, older debts are easier to settle. If you haven’t made a payment on a debt in two or three years, it may have passed the statute of limitations for your state. If so, your creditor will be unable to sue you for the past due amount and may be more willing to settle.

Once you evaluate the total amount of your obligations, you should start saving money each month toward settling the balances of your accounts.

Let’s consider an example of a consumer with three debts they hope to settle.

Example: Jennifer owes three separate debts of $2K each, and she hasn't made any payments on the obligations in two years. None of the debts have passed the statute of limitations, but a debt collector has purchased them from the original creditor. Jennifer has $3,500 in savings to settle the debts, which are all owned by the same debt collection agency. She contacts the agency and lets them know she’d like to set up a payment arrangement for the debt or settle it entirely. Jennifer begins by offering $2,000 to settle all three debts — approximately 33% of the total value. The debt collection agency considers the offer but determines it is too low. Instead, they counter with a settlement for $3,000. Jennifer agrees and pays the $3,000 immediately. The debt collection agency sends her a notice of the entire debt settlement. All adverse credit reporting stops, and Jennfer moves on from her obligations.

It really can be that simple.

However, debt settlement isn’t always easy. Sometimes, debt collectors aren’t willing to accept low settlement offers. Thus, having a fair amount in mind when negotiating with a debt collector is helpful.

What factors affect a potential settlement amount?

The amount you offer to settle your debt depends on numerous factors, including:

  • Time since your last payment toward your obligation
  • Total of the debt owed
  • Whether your account is with the original creditor or a collections agency
  • How much you can afford to pay

Typically, creditors are more likely to accept a smaller percentage to pay off your debt if it is older and you haven’t made payments on it in years.

The value of your debt also plays a role in debt settlement offers. Debt collection agencies may be less willing to accept a small compensation for a debt of $500 or less.

Your original creditor may also be unwilling to accept a low settlement offer. If your debt hasn’t passed the statute of limitations and the creditor has proof that you owe the money, they may take you to court instead.

Finally, you can’t offer a settlement to a creditor without having the money to do so. You won’t get far with a settlement offer if you have little savings to pay off a debt. You may be better off attempting to set up a payment plan instead.

How much should I offer to a debt collector to settle my debt?

We asked an attorney, John Skiba, how much you should offer to settle debt, and here are some tips he shared.

When considering how much to offer to settle a debt, it largely depends on whether you're dealing with a junk debt buyer or the original creditor.

For junk debt buyers, a low settlement could be around 10% of the total debt, but more typically, offers between 30% and 40% are accepted, especially if you can pay in a lump sum shortly after reaching an agreement.

Original creditors usually expect higher settlements, around 50% to 75% of the total balance, particularly for lump sum payments. Payment plans are an option but often result in paying more over time.

It's important to propose a realistic plan based on your budget, without overcommitting to an amount you cannot afford. Always initiate the offer rather than waiting for the creditor, as their starting position is often to expect full repayment.

Watch the following video for more information on how much to offer to settle a debt:

Remember, all negotiations with your creditor or a debt collection agency should start small. You should anticipate that the collections agency will present you with a counteroffer, and you want to have enough room to meet their demands.

The older your debt, the lower you can offer. Keep in mind how much money you have available to pay the obligation. If you don’t have enough savings to pay toward settling your debt, then settlement may not be the right option.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Example: When Mike gets sued by Encore Capital, he uses SoloSuit to respond to the lawsuit to buy himself some time to negotiate a debt settlement. Mike investigates the debt, including the date of his last payment, the total amount owed, the statute of limitations on debt in his state, and how much Encore Capital is typically known to settle for. After taking a close look at his finances, and considering everything he learned about the debt, Mike uses SoloSettle to send a debt settlement offer of 50%. After a few rounds of negotiating, Encore Capital agrees to settle the debt at 70% of the original amount. Even though Mike hoped to settle for less, he’s glad he can pay off the debt and move on with his life.

Should I work with a debt settlement agency?

Many debt consolidation and settlement agencies offer to handle negotiations with creditors and collectors on your behalf. Some can reduce the total amount of your debt by 50% or more.

However, every debt settlement agency charges a fee for its services. Sometimes, that fee may be as much as 30% of the total value of your debt. With fees like that, you may only save 20% overall, even if the agency can reduce all of your debts by half.

Debt settlement agencies require you to follow a specific program. Typically, you’ll make monthly payments that they will deposit into a savings account for you. Once enough money accumulates, they’ll negotiate with your creditors one by one to settle your debts. Programs may last anywhere between two and four years.

Many debt settlement agencies refuse to work with individuals who don’t have multiple accounts to settle or who owe less than $10K in debt.

If you’re dealing with a few pesky accounts with low value, you’re better off handling the settlement process on your own. If you have the money available to settle them immediately, you may be able to pay them off and avoid future hassles.

Debt collectors don't have to accept your offer

A debt collector is under no obligation to accept your offer. They may refuse to do so if they believe they’ll be able to collect more from you by other means. Debt collectors may also find your proposal to be too low.

If a debt collector refuses to accept your offer, try to set up a payment plan instead. While making monthly payments, build up your savings and attempt a new settlement offer in a few months.

As time goes by, creditors may be more willing to accept your offer, especially if you can offer them more money.

Use SoloSettle to settle your debt on your own

Hiring a lawyer or a debt settlement agency is expensive. Sometimes, it can even cost more than the debt you owe. That’s why we created SoloSettle: so you can settle your debt on your own, save money, and avoid working with debt settlement companies that aren’t always reliable.

SoloSettle, powered by Solosuit, is a tech-based approach to debt settlement. Our software sends and receives debt settlement offers on your behalf and helps you negotiate the best deal for your circumstance. Once an agreement is reached, SoloSettle helps you manage the debt settlement agreement documentation and forwards your payment to the creditor, debt law firm, or collection agency. This helps you protect your financial information from unruly debt collectors.

To learn more about how to negotiate your own debt settlement, check out this video:

Check out this review from a real SoloSettle customer:

“I'm very thankful for SoloSettle.. Having a third party negotiate the settlement was instrumental in resolving this case and saved me from two giant headaches: 1) I didn't have to deal with the plaintiff's lawyer and 2) I didn't have to go to court. I also love that the payment was processed through SoloSettle. I was nervous about sharing my personal financial data with the other side, but SoloSettle protected that for me. I hope I never get sued again, but if I do, I would use SoloSettle again in a heartbeat.”

Use SoloSettle to settle your debt on your own.

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