Is working with a debt settlement company a good idea?
You've seen the ads where people who once owed tens of thousands of dollars claim that a debt settlement company helped them get out of debt for just a few hundred bucks. While this may be true for a few people who work with debt settlement programs, for many others the experience is far from perfect. That's why, before signing any agreement with a settlement company, it's important to understand how debt settlement companies work, what the risks are, and how you can find the best debt settlement arrangement for your financial situation.
What does a settlement company do?
A debt settlement company will instruct you to stop paying your creditors for several months and to save that money as your bills add up. When your accounts are really overdue, and your creditors are eager to collect, the settlement company will approach them and offer a lump-sum payment (from the money you saved) that is a portion of the total amount you owe. Some creditors will say yes if they feel the offer is all they are going to get from you. In this case, you'll pay the settlement company a fee (usually 25% of the amount you save) and taxes on any amount of debt that was forgiven.
However, when approached with an offer by a settlement company, some creditors may say no. They may instead choose to initiate collections or legal proceedings to get what you owe them. In this case, you'll have additional penalties and interest charges to pay, plus legal fees.
How bad does debt settlement hurt credit? This is the riskiest part of working with a settlement company. Whether your debt settlement offer is accepted or not, your credit rating will be irreparably damaged. You may not be able to get a credit card, a car loan, an apartment, or a mortgage for up to seven years.
That's why, before agreeing to work with a settlement company, it's important to explore all your options for getting out of debt.
Free advice about choosing a debt settlement company from ACCC.
American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit organization that provides free credit counseling for consumers just like you who are trying to find the best way out of debt. When you meet with our professionally certified counselors by phone or in person, we'll help you to get a clear picture of your finances and we'll explain all the options available to you for paying down your debt. We can answer questions like "Is debt settlement bad for my financial future?" and "What are the pros and cons of a debt management plan vs debt settlement vs. debt consolidation?" With help from ACCC, you can determine which strategy for paying off your debt makes the most sense for your financial situation and financial goals.