Why are there only 3 companies listed here for the top 10 Debt Settlement/Debt Consolidation Companies?
First off, it's a daunting task to find and review the best debt consolidation company or best debt settlement company. We also want to make sure that we only review legit debt settlement companies. Picking the best debt settlement companies and best debt consolidation companies for this page was not easy! We have reviewed many firms and and have narrowed our choices down to the three listed on this page. We feel that these 3 are 100% legit, they follow the laws and their programs actually work if the consumers follow through until the end. We are confident that the debt negotiation and debt consolidation solutions that we recommend on this page are very reliable and will be able to help you become debt free. Always use caution when getting debt advice on debt consolidation, debt settlement, bill consolidation, debt consolidation loans, dealing with payday loans and collection agencies. It is very possible to make your life debt free in an organized manner with a good company. There are many scam companies out there, so beware! Always use due diligence when selecting a debt settlement or debt consolidation company.
Also be wary of firms that give you an exact percentage of what you will save on a debt negotiation with one of your creditors. They may make a claim that they you can pay back only 30% of what you originally owed. There can be no promises with this number. it depends on your current situation, how late you are with the debt and ultimately what the creditor is willing to negotiate. The information below should prove helpful when deciding to get help from a professional company.
Debt Settlement Laws: What You Need to Know Before Working with a Company
With so many people out of work, keeping up with your debts can be very difficult. How do you pay all of the bills without falling behind? Is there a way to truly consolidate your debts and get just one bill for everything? The answer is yes and there are more than one way to do this. One of the most popular methods that people opt for is debt settlement but unfortunately, there are some flaws with this method. This is the reason why the FTC has now enforced laws related to this. Now, fortunately New Jersey consumers (all US consumers) have protection from the FTC laws. Let's start with the basics first.
What is Debt Settlement?
This is when a negotiator gets the balance due on your debts down with an agreement from the creditor. The total amount owed is lower than what the original balance was to begin with. Once this agreed amount is paid, it's paid in full with no other balances due. If you have more than one debt, the process continues with each creditor and then a single monthly payment is setup for your convenience as well as the other party.
United States FTC Debt Settlement Regulations
At one time, the fees to contract a service like this were huge. Many companies would charge fees in advance long before the debts were settled or before even negotiating with creditors. This changed in October of 2010 when debt settlement companies were banned from charging fees over the phone. This was developed to stop companies from literally stealing people's money with fees to be paid in advance.
Other regulations include the necessity to disclose all applicable information to those who contact them for debt relief services and stop all falsifications. Information such as how long it will take to pay off a debt or even to get agreement results must be disclosed. Costs must also be clearly stated. This Act is known as “The Final Rule” and is to protect consumers who need debt settlement services.
When Debt Settlement Fees can be charged
1. Fees can be billed to the consumer if the debt has been successfully negotiated or settled or if the terms of at least one debt have been modified.
2. If the consumer has made a minimum of one payment toward the debt based on the agreement made between the debtor and the creditor.
3. Written settlement agreements or any type of plan for the resolution of debt allows a debt settlement company to request fees legally. The consumer must sign the agreement before fees are charged.
In addition, debt settlement fees cannot charge “full price” per debt that has been negotiated. The bottom line must be one figure for all services without charging a huge fee to a consumer. Fees must be charged based on the settlement of all debts as a total and not per debt. If a percentage is charged, it must be uniform for each debt.
Opening a Dedicated Account
Some debt management agencies may ask you to setup an account specifically for this purpose. This can only be done if certain conditions are met. All of these conditions must be met for this, not just one, two or three but all five.
1. The bank you have the account in must be insured.
2. The consumer must be the account holder with full deposit and withdrawal rights plus other control abilities.
3. Fees cannot be shared with the debt settlement company or anyone else that may be acting as administrator of the account.
4. You are not associated with in any way, with the enterprise that is controlling the account on your behalf.
5. Penalties are not charged if the consumer decides not to continue debt settlement services. All funds must be returned to the consumer.
At one time, there wasn't anything in writing regarding agreements that have been made with creditors and debtors but this has changed. Another rule that has been created requires this to protect the best interest of those who use this type of service. After all, you want to reduce debt without having to incur anymore. The fees companies charge can be used to pay off debts, this is how bad the fees were at one time.
Loopholes in the System and Alternatives to Fee Charging
Even though the FTC forced laws on debt settlement companies, this didn't stop them from trying. Some debt settlement companies had to shut down but then other issues arose. People were still paying an arm and a leg in fees through other methods. Some methods may be legitimate but there were still consumers who were being taken advantage of with advanced fees.
Method 1 - There were lawyers who were helping with debt settlement services and claiming they are exempt from the law because they're not debt settlement agents. Those who accepted lawyer services for debt settlement were deceived into thinking they will get legal advice in the case they have a lawsuit initiated by creditors they owe money to.
In this case, under the misunderstanding of getting a lawyer to protect them, people need to dish out more fees in addition to what they paid for debt settlement for real legal representation. There have also been cases where upfront fees have been charged but no services were rendered. The person or company hired just vanishes off the face of the earth.
Method 2 – Internet debt settlement companies are now pulling people in online. The reason for this is that “The First Rule” applies to telephone “sales” and not online sales. Lawmakers are now arguing that the rules still apply to companies doing business online, since the use of the phone is required at one time or another. There are others that hire people to get leads and forward these leads to them or to a sign up page online, an affiliate so to speak.
There are still internet websites and lawyers that are providing debt settlement services but you must be careful when working with them. You may think it’s a way around the law but in reality there could something sinister in store.
So now that we have gone over the FTC laws and some things to be careful about, lets discuss a few other common questions and concerns.
How much can I save on my original debt?
Again, the answer lies (depends) on what the creditor is willing to take to settle the debt. Typically most debts can be settled around 45-50% of the original debt. That means if you owed $10,000, the creditor will take somewhere between $4,500 to $5,000 to settle your debt. If your debt has been outstanding for quite some time and your debt settlement company has some good negotiating skills, we've seen debts settled at the 25% mark and even lower depending on the circumstances.
Even if you had to pay back 60-70% of what you currently owe, it can still save you substantial money. If you have $60,000 in credit card debt and you had to pay back 65% of it, you would only have to pay back $39,000. A savings of $21,000. For illustrative purposes, we are just using those numbers as a worst case scenario. On a better side of that coin, if you originally owed $60,000 and your debt negotiation company negotiated a 40% deal where you only have to pay back 40% of the original debt amount, you would only have to pay back $24,000, which would be a savings of $36,000. The $24,000 would typically then go into a 3 year payment plan and you would be debt free usually in 3 years. It would not be worse than a typical car payment to get yourself out of debt in 36 months or less. During that time, you can work on managing your money and working on you credit repair
portfolio.Things to consider
Before you do business with any company, be sure you are picking a qualified and trusted debt consolidation company or debt settlement company. You can do this by checking them out with your local area consumer protection agency and the State Chamber of Commerce of where the business is located.
Does the company belong to the Chamber of Commerce?
Does the debt settlement company belong to the local Chamber of Commerce? If so, is the Chamber an accredited member of the Chamber of Commerce of the Unites States? This is always a good sign that the company is legit and is truly out to help you, and in the end, has your best interests in mind.
Does the company belong to the IAPDA?
They should also be a member of The International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (which is the Industry leading Professional Debt Arbitration & Debt Settlement Certification). The debt settlement company that you are considering should have IAPDA certified debt arbitrators. IAPDA certified debt arbitrators possess a solid understanding of the laws governing the Debt Settlement industry and fully understand your current financial situation. The International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators accreditation also reduces risk somewhat to consumers because the member company has been independently evaluated by a third party for its competence and performance capabilities. Any company you choose should be a member. If not, use caution.
We also recommend that the debt settlement company you are considering is accredited by The Association of Settlement Companies (TASC).
How much do the best debt settlement or consolidation services cost?
Pricing is different for every company and depends on the service they perform for you as a client. When looking for a debt relief solution, it is very important to make sure the program looks like something that is affordable and realistic while being within your monthly budget. Always make sure you find out the companies fees before committing to anything. A good company should charge fees based on performance and results. Most companies will charge a flat fee based on a percentage of your debt amount. The problem with this is that they collect their fees up front, before your debt is settled.
According to the FTC laws (mentioned above) which have been implemented to protect the consumer, the majority of fees should only be paid after the work is done, not before! If a company is collecting their fees in advance of the work being done, this could mean that the company may not reputable. Most debt settlement companies will build their fees into the payment program so the consumer will not hardly feel it.
Make sure you can afford the program
This may seem like it is a given, but we have seen too many consumers drop out not long after signing up for a program. Talk with your settlement company and make sure you can afford your payment plan. If you cannot afford the program and join anyway, you could be causing more long-term financial problems for yourself.
If a debt settlement company seems pushy or tries to convince you that you can afford a high payment, stay away. The company should be realistic and sensitive to your needs and what you can truly afford. If the payment is too high and you cannot afford it, it will only burden you with more stress and you will end up falling behind, quitting the program and find yourself treading in more debt than when you started.
You should of course try to make a payment plan that shortens the term, do you can pay back the debt quicker, but you must make sure that it is realistic. Do not commit yourself to a payment hat you truly know you cannot afford. It would be like taking a $70,000 car off a lot with a monthly payment of $1450 when you are used to affording a $430 monthly car payment.
If you are able to meet the monthly financial requirements of the program, debt settlement does work like a charm and is s a great form of debt relief for unwanted credit card debt. Most people do not realize that debt settlement can be the quickest and least expensive form of debt relief besides the worse alternative of bankruptcy.
Does the company offer any type of guarantee?
If a company cannot get a settlement on your debt, you really shouldn't have to pay a fee, or the fee should be fully refunded. Stay away of any debt settlement services that promises a quick fix to your debt related problems or a company that tells you that debt settlement will not have a negative effect on your credit. Initially debt settlement can have a negative effect on your credit score.
When enrolling in a debt settlement program, your credit score will probably get worse before it gets better. This is a minor price to pay for being given a substantial debt settlement and not having to file for bankruptcy!
Does the debt settlement company you are considering offer any type of bankruptcy assistance should debt settlement not work out for you? Some debt settlement companies will offer a refund of some of the program costs to help pay for a bankruptcy attorney of your choice should you need to go that route. Of course, the funds would have to be paid to a licensed attorney and not directly back to you. Again, a company that does this will most likely have your best interest in mind.
Do the employees of the company get paid on commission?
If salespeople are paid by commission, use caution.
Always Use Due Diligence
Does the company representative go over your situation and tell you about solutions that make sense to you? When you ask the representative questions does he/she give you honest answers to your questions? Always use due diligence and common sense. If you feel pressured or uncomfortable, then chances are that the company may not be right for you. If they are pushy and forceful, it should raise red flags in your head. Do not feel pressured to do anything by salespeople. Do not leap into anything that seems even a bit fishy or is something that you are completely unsure about. A true debt representative or even a tried and true salesperson would never push a potential client into a situation that might be uncomfortable.
If they are legit and they truly cannot help you, they should recommend you to a business that can help even if it is their competitor. Have you ever noticed when this has happened to you? When a business recommended a competitor? It does happen and when it does it makes you realize that a true salesman will only help you if his product truly can. He will never force an issue to make a sale.
-You would also respect him and remember the fashion that he helped you and you and would still be a potential client in the future. It's just good common sense and just good business.
While using due diligence, also try to find out how long a company has been in business. If a company is not willing to provide any type of proof of their experience, you should really stay away. Try to use good old fashioned common sense when dealing with any company.
Did the company come up with a good debt settlement program?
The best debt settlement programs are ones that are realistic. The settlement program must reduce your debts considerably and have an affordable monthly payment plan. A good debt settlement program will help you get rid of credit card debt quickly and efficiently. Make sure the debt settlement program is realistic and suited to your current credit card debt settlement needs.
The most important factor in making a debt settlement plan work is that you can afford to make your payments so that you continue and follow through with the plan until the end. A good debt settlement company will plan a realistic debt settlement program that will get you out of debt within 12 to 36 months.
Do settlement companies make monthly payments to your creditors?
Except for rare occasions, settlement companies do not make monthly payments to your creditors. If they claim to do so or if they give you the impression that they do, stay away.
Can you get sued?
Yes you can. It is not likely but always a possibility. If your settlement company denies this, stay away!
Who holds your money while waiting on a settlement?
Your funds are usually held at a third party escrow company in an FDIC insured trust account. If the company tells you to save your own money or to send the funds to them, they most likely are not a very legit company!
The debt settlement industry and laws change all the time. This page was just checked for accuracy and all of the information was just last updated on 3-2-15
Also see our other financial and debt related resources