Key takeaways

  • A bank cannot typically take money from your checking account to pay off your credit card debt
  • There are exceptions to this protection. For one, if the bank gets a court judgment against you that doesn't rule out this offset, it could take your deposited money
  • In case you risk falling behind on card payments, negotiate with the issuer and look into other financial options so your credit score doesn't take a hit

If you owe your friend money, you could pay for their meal at a restaurant. This is called offsetting and is another way of canceling out the debt. But what if you bank with an institution that is also the issuer of your credit card and owe the bank money on the card? Can the bank offset this debt by helping itself to the money you deposit in your account?

Banks cannot use offset for credit card payments

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), which protects consumers from unfair credit card billing practices, rules that banks cannot typically seize funds deposited into a consumer’s bank account to pay off their credit card. According to the FCBA, a “card issuer may not take any action to offset a cardholder’s indebtedness arising in connection with a consumer credit transaction under the relevant credit card plan against funds of the cardholder held on deposit with the card issuer.” The law recognizes that using an offset provision to go after your credit card debt would give the bank some leverage against you.

However, there are some exemptions to this rule that would allow a bank to take funds deposited to make your credit card payment. For one, you may have authorized your bank to pay off your credit card debt using the money in your checking account. For instance, you might have signed up for an automatic bill payment arrangement.

In spite of any such arrangement, though, if you dispute a credit card payment and ask the bank not to take the payment from your monies deposited, it would have to heed your request.

Court order could allow bank to offset

There are other circumstances in which a bank could take money from your bank account to offset credit card debt. For one, the bank could go to court and get a judgment against you. If the judgment doesn’t rule out the offset approach, and there are no state or other laws that prohibit this action, the bank could take your money for the credit card debt.

And in case “the terms of a security agreement permitted the card issuer to place a hold on the funds,” that would also mean the bank can take your money to offset the credit card debt. However, a card issuer cannot routinely include terms in its credit card agreement that give it a security interest in a credit card consumer’s bank accounts.

For the security interest to apply, you should have agreed to it as a condition for the credit card account or for getting more favorable terms for the account. The issuer should make a separate disclosure of the security interest provision (apart from the regular terms and conditions of the card agreement), and you should have signed off on it.

And in case the card issuer closes your account, and you continue to add on credit card debt after the closing, it could take your money to pay for any charges you made after the closing (but not toward the amount outstanding before the closure).

Don’t fall behind on card debt

Even if you have run into financial difficulties, it is not a good idea to fall behind on your credit card payments. You could be charged a late payment fee, for one. Even worse, your issuer could raise your card’s interest rate. And if you are more than 30 days late, your issuer could report the lapse to credit bureaus, and your credit score could take a hit.

At a certain stage of delinquency (typically six months), your issuer could write off your debt or sell it off. If your debt is charged off in this fashion, it will tarnish your credit score for up to seven years.

If you are not able to make your card payments, your first resort should be to negotiate with your card issuer. If you are a valued customer, you may be able to work out a deal with it. Also, see if you can transfer the debt to a balance transfer credit card with a promotional 0 percent APR. That would buy you some time to sort out your financial situation while avoiding interest payments. A personal loan may also offer a lower interest rate.

The bottom line

If you have a banking relationship with your card issuer and have fallen behind on your card payments, it cannot typically seize the money you have on deposit to pay off your credit card debt. However, there are some situations in which it can offset your card payments with the money in your bank account.

If you run into difficulties making your card payment, even though this protection against offset is a benefit, you should aim to sort out the situation with the card issuer. There could be consequences to your credit score depending on how long you fall behind on your payments.