So you need help getting out of debt? No big deal, lots of people need help these days. Just don't be like the ones who sign up for a debt relief program with no idea what they are signing up for - and then complain about getting ripped off.
Sadly, many people who complain loudly about debt relief scams got ripped off for one of two reasons:
They didn't check out the company first.
Didn't really get ripped off, but had no idea what they were signing up for.
And these people give the good, honest companies a bad reputation. So do yourself a favor, and ask yourself these 6 questions BEFORE you sign on the dotted line (or before you give away personal information without signing anything).
1 - What type of service do you offer?
There are many terms used by professional companies - Debt relief. Debt management. Debt settlement. Debt consolidation. Credit counseling. So it is critical that you get a detailed explanation of the service you will be getting. It really doesn't matter what it is called. But it does matter what the company will do for you. And if you don't know what they'll do, how can you determine if it will help you? DO NOT sign up with any company that doesn't give you specifics. A company that just promises to "help you get out of debt" is a disaster waiting to happen, and you should run away from them.
2 - How exactly will you help me?
Once you know what service the debt relief company will perform for you, then you need to know how they will do it for YOU. Sure, not every situation is exactly the same. But you should know how they will help you get out of debt. Will they consolidate your payments? Lower your interest? Settle your debts for less? And when will each step happen? What else do you need to do? Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. If you don't understand the process BEFORE you begin, you'll be setting yourself up to be miserable when the collectors call, or your credit gets ruined, and you don't know why.
3 - What does it cost?
Nothing in life is free. Including "non-profit" debt relief or credit counseling or whatever they call it. Non-profit simply refers to the way their business is set up, and does not mean you don't have to pay, or that the fees will be affordable to you, or that you won't get ripped off. So make sure you know the exact costs up front. If you don't get actual dollar amounts, walk away and contact another company.
4 - What is your BBB rating?
The Better Business Bureau will give an idea of how the company has performed for other customers. It is not perfect, but you can see if a company has a few complaints against them, or a few hundred. And you'll get to see if they respond to the complaints, or just ignore them. Don't focus on the "score" or "grade" since some local BBB's give out "F" grades to all companies in the debt industry, even if they don't deserve it. So look at the entire review, and stay away from any company with more than a 10-20 complaints.
5 - What are the downsides to using your service?
Yes, every debt relief program has some downside. Either the cost. Or the impact on your credit. Or that it takes time to get results. So be prepared for something negative. For most people that's still OK, since the end results of being out of debt will outweigh the negatives. But you should know the truth. If the company you choose won't be honest and tell you the truth, and insists there is no downside, find another one.
6 - Can I see everything in writing before I decide?
In most cases you should be asked to sign paperwork before you get started. If not, don't send any money or account numbers or anything personal without a written agreement. And when you do get the paperwork, read it carefully. If you don't understand what it means, ask the company to explain, or ask a friend or relative with some legal experience to read it over and see if they find anything wrong. Once you sign it and send it in, you lose the ability to easily back out of a bad agreement.
Don't assume that just because a company creates a fancy, expensive looking ad, or a professional looking website, that they're a good company to work with. Do your research up front. And if something doesn't seem right it probably is not. Some people don't understand personal finance very well. And that's OK. But if it sounds too good to be true - that's because it probably is!
You can search for a debt relief company on your own. Or click here for the debt relief company we recommend.
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