Have you ever trusted a company that ended up letting you down? Not only is this a horrible feeling, but it can also lead to financial ruin if you had invested a large amount of money in the business.
Companies that advertise debt relief sometimes sound too good to be true — can a company (that is trying to make money itself) really save you money or help you work toward being debt-free in a way that doesn’t leave you worse off? Can debt relief companies really be trusted to have your best interests in mind?
The short answer is yes, some can. Legitimate debt relief companies do exist, but you as the consumer need to know what to look for in a company so you don’t end up getting scammed.
Below, we’ll detail the signs of a trustworthy debt relief company, as well as some common myths about debt relief. We’ll ultimately answer this question: should you use a debt relief company?
In the end, you’ll be equipped to ask all the right questions to a debt relief provider and better identify a shady company well before you commit any of your own money to it.
A debt relief company may be in business to make money, but a trustworthy one will only make money if it also helps you settle your debt for less than you owed before, or if it helps you save money in other ways. These ways can include negotiating a lower interest rate for your debt or helping you pay off your debt in less time to minimize interest charges.
You should beware of a company that charges upfront fees and doesn’t have a refund or money-back guarantee policy associated with those fees. You should also beware of a company that charges you whether or not it actually helps your financial situation improve.
Top debt relief companies such as National Debt Relief and Freedom Debt Relief do not charge upfront fees for their services. This indicates that the company is legitimate and can be trusted to handle your finances without stealing your money.
A trustworthy debt relief company will offer a free consultation, either in person or over the phone, to discuss your financial situation, the amount of debt you owe, and other relevant factors that may determine whether or not you would be a good fit for the company’s services.
If you come across a company that charges for this initial consultation, just know that most top debt relief companies do not. You shouldn’t have to pay anything up front to learn about a debt relief company and decide if you want to enroll in its debt management program.
Trusted debt relief companies typically hold at least one, if not multiple, industry accreditations. These recognitions come from third-party organizations and set standards of ethical behavior in the debt relief industry.
One word of warning, however: "Accreditations are only as valuable as those doing the accreditting...and for the most part (in the debt relief industry at least) that is going to be founders of major [debt relief] companies," says Adam Selita of thedebtreliefcompany.com. So you'll want to beware of any bias there.
If you notice that a company is accredited with a multiple trade organizations such as the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC) and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA), this signals that the company cares about providing legitimate and certified help to its clients.
One of the most important indicators of a reliable debt relief company is positive reviews from multiple customers. Both positive and negative reviews can help you determine how the company treats its customers and how people feel about their interactions with company representatives.
However, if the majority of customer reviews or even a large minority are negative, this should be cause for concern. Make sure to read what customers are actually saying to determine if their negative experience was an isolated incident or if multiple customers have had the same problem.
With debt relief being so closely tied to your financial situation, you need a company that continually pleases its customers and keeps its word. The best way to know if it does this is to read debt relief reviews yourself.
Now that we’ve established the signs of a trustworthy debt relief company and what you should look for as a potential customer, let’s dive into some common myths in the debt relief industry and find out what you really can believe about debt relief.
We asked experts in debt and finance to debunk some common myths or misconceptions related to debt relief. Just remember, every individual’s financial situation is unique, so while these debunked myths can alleviate some concerns you have about debt relief, they might not answer the exact questions you have.
To get your specific questions answered in a way that meets your needs, we suggest consulting a certified financial planner or credit counselor.
Many people worry that a debt relief company will just rip you off. However, according to Andrew Latham from SuperMoney.com, “debt settlement companies can be expensive, but, on average, they can save clients two to three times what they pay in fees.”
You can always find cheaper debt relief options than working with a debt relief company, but your DIY or other solutions might not include the expertise, credentials, or experience that a debt relief company can offer, similar to how working on your own car may not produce the same quality of results as hiring a certified mechanic would.
Contrary to what you might think, many debt relief companies really do have your best interest in mind and want to help alleviate the financial burden you are carrying. Just look for “legitimate companies with proper licenses,” advises Rasti Nikolic from LoanAdvisor.
Debt relief companies seeking to make a profit are just one of many options you can turn to to get help with your unmanageable debt.
“There are plenty of debt charities out there and free online services that do not require that you pay anything throughout the process, and even those debt relief companies you do have to pay won't hide any fees or costs and won't make you pay for anything you don't agree to,” says Scott Nelson from MoneyNerd.
If the idea of spending money to save money sounds ridiculous to you, you’re not alone. Your best bet might be to find a nonprofit credit counseling service or debt relief agency, such as Greenpath Financial Wellness, that can help you work towards getting out of debt with fewer fees or less impact to your credit score.
This is simply not true. Not only can you take steps to manage your debt so that it doesn’t consume your life, it is also completely possible to become debt free with the right kind of help.
“The best thing to do is research all your options, start a budget, and set goals,” according to Nelson.
Sometimes, the weight of debt can feel so crushing that it almost seems easier to hang onto it than to try to pay it off. This feeling is completely understandable and common. However, you don’t need to lose hope of being debt free.
Many honest debt relief companies do exist, and while they still seek to make a profit, their strategies and know-how can be of great help to you, and as we mentioned earlier, good companies only make money if they do actually help you save money or settle your debts for less than originally owed.
So don’t give up! Debt relief is a process, but being debt free is a realistic and attainable goal.
Just as debt accumulates over time, “debt relief requires commitment and time” (Lou Antonelli, Beyond Finance). The debt relief process typically takes 24–48 months to settle all possible debts, but this is small in comparison to a lifetime of debt if you leave it unresolved.
According to a 2021 Harvard Kennedy School report, 74 percent of people who start a debt relief program have at least one account settled in the first 36 months, and in fact settle over half of their enrolled debt on average during this same time period.
These are encouraging statistics and hopefully help you realize that in the grand scheme of things, debt relief doesn’t take forever at all, and may be well worth your time if you are feeling financially buried and looking for a way out.
According to Fred Hoffman from Seniors Life Insurance Finder, “there is nothing wrong with trying to negotiate with your creditor by yourself.” While this is the case, this doesn’t mean that negotiating with creditors is easy.
A debt relief company comes with a staff of certified debt experts who have worked with creditors across the country and settled debt before. If you are trying to negotiate without any help, you forfeit this additional expertise.
However, if you have some finance background and feel confident in your negotiation skills, it is completely possible to negotiate your own debts and try to reach a settlement with your creditor(s).
Now that you know how to identify a legitimate debt relief company and have clarified some incorrect information you may have heard about debt relief, the question remains: is debt relief right for you?
The answer to this question will always be "it depends." However, we asked debt relief experts what makes an ideal candidate for debt relief services, and here’s what they shared. If you check enough of these boxes, debt relief might be for you:
If you’ve identified yourself as a good candidate for debt relief, you can find trusted, top debt relief companies using your newfound know-how, and ultimately, you can avoid trusting the wrong company to negotiate down your debts. Happy debt relief!
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