How We Evaluate Debt Settlement Companies
At BestCompany.com, we evaluate debt settlement companies on a set of carefully selected ranking criteria, which includes important qualities like a company's minimum debt requirement, national accreditations, associated account setup fees, and of course, price. For example, companies with a low minimum debt requirement (e.g. $5,000) tend to have higher scores that companies that require upward of $20,000 in minimum debt. Similarly, companies with few account setup fees, or that charge a lower service fee-a percentage of the total debt, paid to the company-below industry averages, also receive high marks. Top companies also provide their services to more states, and have been accredited by the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC) and/or the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA).
Each debt settlement provider is independently reviewed and ranked using the same set of standards, and companies that demonstrate consistent excellence across our ranking criteria earn top marks. To learn more about the specific considerations that go into our debt settlement ranking criteria, click here. After thoroughly investigating each debt settlement provider in the industry, we've identified five companies that stand out from the rest:
Topping the list is Pacific Debt Inc., which got its start in 2002 as a response to the growing consumer debt epidemic in America. Pacific Debt is an accredited member of the American Fair Credit Council and the IAPDA, and provides a simple enrollment process along with a client care team to help customers navigate the early states of debt settlement. Each customer is assigned a personal account manager, who provide monthly updates on the customer's progress, as well as negotiates with creditors to speed up the settlement process.
[h3]What we like about Pacific Debt Inc.[/h3]
One of the reasons we awarded Pacific Debt our number one spot is how easy its enrollment process is. Pacific Debt does not require customers to have a certain credit score before doing business, meaning a wider range of people-even those whose debt problems have severely affected their credit-can apply for debt settlement services with Pacific Debt. We also like Pacific Debt's low service fee of 17-20%. Many debt settlement services charge between 21% and 24%.
[h2]#2 Accredited Debt Relief[/h2]
Accredited Debt Relief has been an industry leader in debt settlement services since its founding in 2008. Through its team of expert negotiators, Accredited Debt Relief has settled thousands of accounts for businesses and individuals alike. The company is also a staunch supporter of charity work, and has donated to several prominent charities, including St. Jude's, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Accredited Debt Relief is aptly named, received accreditations from both the AFCC, IAPDA, and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
What we like about Accredited Debt Relief
Accredited Debt Relief service fees are among some of the lowest we've seen-as low as 15% in some cases. This demonstrates to us that Accredited Debt Relief is sensitive to the financially volatile situation many of its customers find themselves in. In that same vein, the company charges zero upfront account setup fees, and has a minimum debt requirement of $7,500 (below the industry average). We appreciate the company's transparency with its "Proven Results" page, which details savings figures for some of its actual customers.
Since 2002, Freedom Debt Relief has been at the forefront of regulating the debt settlement industry. In 2010, the company helped establish rules with the FTC that protect consumers from predatory debt-settlement practices. Freedom Debt Relief is also a founding member of the American Fair Credit Council and a Platinum member of the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators. In 14 years of business, the company has settled more than $5 billion in consumer debt in approximately 24-48 months per case (though this is not a guarantee).
What we like about Freedom Debt Relief
We like Freedom Debt Relief's flexible customizable program, which allows clients to set their own repayment terms. Customers can choose both the amount and the frequency of their payments, and can rest assured that absolutely no fees will be charged until after the debt settlement services have been rendered in-full. We found Freedom Debt Relief's Savings Estimator to be especially useful to customers who might be hesitant to sign up for a free consultation. The Savings Estimator calculates total savings, length of program, as well as the suggested monthly deposit.
In one form or another, CuraDebt has been assisting individuals and small businesses resolve their debt since 1996-making it one of the most experienced debt settlement providers in the entire industry. CuraDebt has received a number of accreditations and accolades from third-party organizations, such as the AFCC, IAPDA, The Netcheck Commerce Bureau, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
What we like about CuraDebt
Something that stands out to us about CuraDebt is its approach to the service fee. Rather than charging a range of percentages based on a number variables, CuraDebt simplies the process by charging a flat 20% fee on your total debt-which is still less than what some other companies charge. CuraDebt's minimum debt requirement of $5,000 is also the lowest in the industry, which drastically increases the number of people CuraDebt can assist.
Last on our Top 5 list is National Debt Relief, which has been resolving consumer debt since 2009. National Debt Relief is accredited with both the AFCC and the IAPDA. It also is an active member of the community, donating to charities such as Wounded Warrior Project, St. Jude's, Autism Speaks, and UNICEF. The company is complete compliant with the FTC, and requires only $7,500 in minimum debt.
[h3]What we like about National Debt Relief[/h3]
We are particularly impressed with National Debt Relief's wide national reach, serving 41 U.S. states, which is considerably more than what most debt settlement companies can provide. National Debt Relief charges a flat 20% for all services rendered, meaning customers won't need to worry about their rate fluctuating. Something else we found that sets National Debt Relief apart is the types of debt it can resolve. While all debt settlement companies can resolve unsecured debt, National Debt Relief also handles some secured debt, including private student loans. This is rare in the industry, and makes National Debt Relief truly unique.
To see the full list of debt settlement companies we've reviewed, click here.
The Future of the Debt Settlement Industry
While several steps have been taken to ensure fair and honest practices are being implemented and enforced throughout the industry, debt settlement, as a whole, has a long way to go toward improving its reputation. Many financial experts strongly discourage consumers from using debt settlement as a means to resolve their debt because of the affect it can have on their credit scores. Experts also cite that, at least in some cases, debt settlement can actually result in more debt plus an even poorer credit score.
When it comes to financial services in general, the knowledge gap between the financial expert and the average consumer is still very high. In order for debt settlement to remain a serviceable industry, companies must do more to foster good customer relationships. One way to do this is to be more upfront about what the debt settlement process entails, its effects, and who should or shouldn't enroll. Many people don't know that debt settlement is only ideal for those who can resolve their debt quickly, but do not qualify for other options. Companies should maintain compliance with all FTC regulations, and avoid creating false expectations (e.g., duration of program, total savings, total costs, etc.).
As the debt settlement industry continues to grow and evolve, BestCompany.com will continue to provide consumers with the latest news on industry standards, company rankings, and other pertinent news surrounding the industry. Our goal is to empower consumers to make better decisions when it comes to debt settlement; when you choose a top debt settlement company through BestCompany.com, you can rest assured it has been thoroughly inspected and approved beforehand.