Are debt relief companies for real?

March 9, 2009 5:09:44 PM PDT
You hear the ads on the radio and have probably gotten an email or two about programs that can eliminate your debt. Before you sign up with someone who claims they can wipe away what you owe, there are some important things to consider, so you don't end up in worse financial shape.

Offers like only paying pennies on the dollar for credit card debt sure sound tempting. We will start seeing these deals more and more so it's important to know what you are getting into. "They constantly bug you, they are in your email, on your phone," said Tanisha Gill who receives debt cancellation offers.

Gill is like the rest of us, inundated with offers to eliminate debt, but she is not signing up anytime soon.

"I think they run a lot of scams and just try to take people's money and make them pay more money back," Gill said.

When it comes to debt cancellation, experts say it is wise to be skeptical.

"There are no laws out there that give you any right to pay less than the full amount you owe," said UH law professor Richard Alderman. "All anyone can do for you, you can probably do for yourself."

Alderman says before you agree to let anyone consolidate your debt, take matters into your own hands.

"Right now, all any creditor wants to do is get paid," Alderman said.

While Alderman says the direct approach may not wipe away your debt, it is free to try yourself.

"You have the right and should try to negotiate," Alderman said. "If you cannot afford to pay your bills in full, talk to the credit card company, talk to the creditor."

However, if you feel you need help, ask questions before allowing anyone to negotiate debt relief for you.

"They want to look for someone with a local presence, local offices," said Tommye White with Money Management International. "They want to look to see if the agency is accredited by a third party."

White says there are two things you must know before agreeing to anyone offering debt consolidation, "the other things they want to look for, is they disclose fees in advance and they either offer at low cost or no cost."

Remember, according to the Federal Trade Commission, one way to figure out if a debt elimination service is a rip off is if they guarantee they can remove your unsecured debt. When you call a company you owe money too, they have instant access to your credit report and can see all the debts you have, so be honest when trying to get your debts lowered.

If you do not or cannot get the companies to lower debt, how can you find a credit counseling service that can help?

There are a couple of national associations that list services in our area that have third party accreditation. We have links to them and the FTC Web site on my consumer blog, so you can make the right choice when it comes to debt elimination.

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