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Can The United States Help Me Get Out Of Debt When I’m Abroad?



Question: I live abroad, but I read your articles every now and then to enlighten my knowledge on how exactly getting out of debt. How do you start? I have two credit cards that are basically maxed out. I’m not behind but its getting harder and harder to make my payments. I still use them because as soon as I make my payments, I’m out of money. Any advice?

— S. in Panama

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

If your credit cards were opened in the United States, and if you pay them monthly in dollars, I have good news: You can avail yourself of all the American debt programs just like everyone inside the United States.

This isn’t uncommon for U.S. military personnel, and it also happens with U.S. citizens on assignment overseas for their work. I’ve even seen it happen with residents of upstate New York who move to Canada.

Then again, if you opened your credit cards in Panama, or if you pay them in Panamanian Balboas, you wouldn’t qualify for a debt management program offered in this country.

However, no matter where you live in the world, and no matter how you pay your bills, any nonprofit credit counseling agency will still offer you thorough credit counseling with a certified credit counselor.

My guess is that you’ll qualify for a debt management program. While you don’t indicate exactly how much you owe, a big red flag is that your income is only enough to cover your credit card balances.

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I urge you (and anyone in your situation) to read Debt Consolidation: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. You’ll learn some tips for helping ease your burden, although nothing compares to getting professional advice.
One related question I have for you, S: Do you have student loans, an auto loan, or a mortgage? You might wonder what this has to do with your credit card balances. But if you’re making other loan payments, getting rid of those frees up more money to apply to those credit cards.

For instance, if your student loan payments are steep, and they’re the typical federal loans most U.S. students have, there are special programs backed by the government that can reduce and will eventually eliminate your monthly payments.

If you have an auto loan, I’ll suggest something dramatic: Trade down. Sell the car if you can get back at least what you owe, then buy the most reliable vehicle you can. Finally, if you don’t have a monthly budget, make one. The most painless way to do so is using a secure online tool like Mint or Powerwallet.

Whatever you do, S., don’t do nothing. The longer you wait, the worse debt gets. That’s true no matter where you live.

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