Debt Settlement companies work with your creditors to help you reduce your unsecured debts though arbitration and negations. The important thing to realize about Debt Settlement is that it is a different type of program than Consumer Credit Counseling or Debt Reduction. Traditionally, these types of programs work with your creditors to lower your interest rates. Debt Settlement companies work with your creditors to reduce your credit card and unsecured debt balances, sometimes by as much as 40-60%! While this type of program can be quite effective, there are some major issues that must also be considered.
Typically people in need of Debt Settlement are people who have suffered some type of financial hardship. This can range from job loss or divorce to medical issues. Debt Settlement is for people who are deep in debt and are without the means to repay their creditors. These types of people should be the only ones to use Debt Settlement. Debt Settlement should not be used by someone who is simply trying to escape their financial obligations.
When you begin a Debt Settlement program, there is normally some type of startup fee that will be charged for services. However, this fee should never be more than you're your monthly payments will be. Additionally, the company will most likely charge you a monthly maintenance fee. Some companies charge a flat fee of that ranges from 10-15% of your total outstanding balances.
Once you have joined a Debt Settlement program, you will start saving money, on a monthly basis, so it can build until you have enough money to begin settling on one or more of your current accounts. Under no circumstances should you do business with a company that requests that they hold your money in an "escrow account". You should always be in complete control of your settlement funds. The Debt Settlement Company will contact your creditors and begin negotiating a reduced payoff amount. Once the company negotiates an acceptable, written, settlement offer, they will arrange for you to send funds from your settlement account to pay off that debt. This process will be repeated for each creditor until all of your debts have been repaid. As each of your creditors receives payment, you should receive written confirmation documenting that your debt has been paid in full. This documentation should come from the creditor via your Debt Settlement Company.
It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that while you are accumulating funds in order to pay off your debts you are still accruing late fees and interest charges, which is increasing your balance. If the Debt Settlement Company that you are working with charge a settlement fee, request that the fee be based upon the original balance, not the current balance!
By not making the required minimum monthly payments to your creditors, it is possible that you are breaking the terms of your agreement with them and most likely will be reported to consumer reporting agencies as a delinquent customer. This is the case whether you are currently enrolled in a Debt Settlement program or not. Upon enrolling in a Debt Settlement program, your credit score will probably get worse before it gets better. Additionally, it is possible for creditors and third-party collection agencies to use legal means as a way to collect debts. However, the likelihood of being sued or having your wages garnished depends largely on the creditor that is owed money. If you currently earn a respectable salary, own a home that has a sizable amount of equity, or can most likely afford to repay your current debts without the use of credit counseling, Debt Settlement, or bankruptcy, then there is a possibility that a judgment may be filed against you if begin to miss your monthly payments.
It is important to consider both the pros and cons of Debt Settlement prior to using it as alternative to filing bankruptcy. In many cases, with a sound budget and proper planning, it is possible to avoid debt related problems altogether.
IAPDA Certified Debt Arbitrator
President and CEO of Debt Regret