Do Debt Relief Companies Really Help?
5 Reasons Debt Relief Programs Cause More Pain Than Relief
📷Liz Frazier PeckContributor
You've seen the ads. "Hounded by creditors? More than $10,000 in debt? Call us to reduce your debt, lower your monthly payments and be debt free in 24 months." Gosh that sounds great, where do I sign up? Obviously, per the article title, debt relief programs are not as benign as they'd like for you to think. It works like so: You sign up with a debt settlement company. They negotiate with your creditors to allow you to pay a lump sum that is less than the full amount that you owe. You then pay the program a specific amount each month.
Clearly there is one positive about a debt relief program. You may pay a lower, single monthly payment. And you may pay less than you initially owed on the account.
Welp, that's it for the positives. The negatives are many; get comfy.
It will hurt your credit: For a long time. Once you enroll in the program, the company tells you to stop making any payments on your debts, usually recommending to do so for six months or more. This is so the creditors will worry you won't pay at all, would rather take something over nothing and are willing to negotiate with the debt relief company. As you're ignoring the lenders, they are continuing to to report late payment updates to the credit bureau. And will continue to do so until your account is settled. Plus, the fact that you actually didn’t pay the full amount stays on your credit report history for seven years. The programs state that it's only temporary, and you can improve your score after you are debt free. They also say that it's better on your credit than bankruptcy. First, yes but barely. Second, I should hope so, since bankruptcy is the bottom of the barrel in terms of credit.
Fees: There are a lot, they are large and some are hidden.You pay a percentage of your total debt usually between 18-25% of the total debt. So if you owe $50,000 and the company charges 20%; you pay them $10,000. These are typically included in your monthly payment. However, most won’t tell you exactly how much of your monthly payment is going towards your debts and how much is actually being deducted as their “fee.”Some companies require loan insurance. Upfront fees was a major issue with debt relief companies. Some were charging for services they had not performed and keeping this money without ever settling the debt. In 2010 the FTC banned the practice of charging upfront fees, however it doesn’t apply to all settlement companies and there are cases of companies doing it since: CFPB Takes Action Against Meracord for Processing Illegal Debt-Settlement Fees)
Taxes: If you settle or are forgiven for a debt that is greater than $600, the amount will be treated as taxable income, and you may have to pay taxes. For example, if you negotiate a $10,000 debt down to $5,000, that remaining $5,000 becomes taxable income to you.