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Death by credit card?

By Janna Herron ·
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Posted: 3 pm ET

What's the worst that can happen if you don't pay your credit card debt? Hounding phone calls. Bad credit. Court order.

How about death?

Sounds outrageous, but that's exactly what Indonesian police officials alleged happened to one man who met with debt collectors hired by Citibank to settle his $11,000 credit card obligation.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Irzen Octa, a struggling businessman, collapsed in Citibank's Jakarta office where he was being questioned about his debts. Octa died later after what the police spokesman called a "harsh interrogation," the report said.

The details surrounding the mysterious death are unclear. There are reports that Octa was battered and bloodied and possibly died from blunt force trauma. But the bank said its internal investigation found no evidence of physical violence.

A key point to reiterate: No actual Citibank employees were involved with the questioning.

Octa's widow is suing Citibank for $350 million in damages. Meanwhile, the bank wrote off Octa's debts and offered his family a monthly stipend and life insurance along with paying for his two daughters' education.

Citibank has been banned from issuing new credit cards in the country for two years and can't use third-party debt collection services during that time.

Of course, there's no real danger in the U.S. that creditors will break your knees for unpaid debt. But stress from a heavy debt burden can weigh on your health. Here a few tips to get out from under credit card debt from Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

  1. Figure out which debt to pay down first. If you want to get rid of the debt doing the most harm, put your money toward the highest interest rate. If you need constant motivation, start with the smallest balance and work from there. Remember: Keep paying the minimum balance each month for all other credit cards.
  2. Bring in more income with a part-time job, side-odd jobs, or freelance work. "As burdensome as a second job may sound, debt is burdensome, too," Cunningham says. "So, pick your poison and make it happen!"
  3. Save $5 a day and put it toward debt reduction. Skipping a latte in the morning or brown bagging your lunch adds up to an extra $150 per month.
  4. Track your spending for a month to see where you can make changes for bigger savings. But don't cut things out completely, Cunningham says. Rather, cut back. So instead of going to the movies four times a month, make it once a month and try having movie nights at home.
  5. Seek credit counseling. If you're still having problems paying your bills, seek out a nonprofit credit counseling service to help you get on the right track.

Do you have any debt collection horror stories? I'd love to hear them.

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron

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August 18, 2011 at 8:47 am

Not long now until that Indonesian case begins the "new normal" in the United States.