Without a doubt the most controversial debt reduction strategy is debt settlement. If you listen to the "experts" (remember them from my recent post?) debt settlement is either a scam or something that will ruin you financially.
If you listen to the companies that offer debt settlement, its the perfect answer for nearly anyone with credit card debt.
If you listen to those who tried debt settlement and it didn't work out for them, it's evil.
If you listen to those who used it successfully, its a blessing.
So what is the truth? Is debt settlement good? Or bad? Or evil? Or none of the above?
The honest truth is that it is the right option for some people (those really struggling), the wrong option for other people (those looking for an easy way out of debt), good when you use the right company (so ask lots of questions first), and bad when you use the wrong company (run away if it sounds too good to be true or you get rushed into signing up). How's that for a roundabout answer? But it is the truth. Really, it is.
so, you need to decide for yourself if it's right for you - and if it is you need to do your homework before going forward on your own, or hiring a company to help you.
And since there are so many factors involved, and so many opinions about debt settlement, here is a list of the pros and cons:
- Faster than most other debt reduction options. This isn't a long-term debt restructuring process. Once you settle, your debt is paid off. It doesn't happen overnight, but it won't take years of payments like credit counseling or home equity loans.
- Debt paid off completely. Again, once you settle, your debt is paid off. Then it's up to you to STOP using your credit cards, so you don't end up BACK in debt all over again.
- Save 40-60%. The amount can differ, depending on the bank that offers the credit card. But typically, each debt will be paid off at a significant discount from your original balance. That's what makes settlement so appealing. And so aggressive and stressful at the same time.
- Some companies help you save up money for a settlement payment. Some don't and require that you find your own way to come up with the money to pay off each card. But those that do will put your money into an escrow account, and once you accumulate enough, will use that money to pay off the settlement amount.
- Can avoid bankruptcy. If you're way behind on your payments, this is a alternative to bankruptcy. And typically its a lot less stressful and complicated than bankruptcy, too.
- Don't need a lawyer. Some settlement companies are located within law offices, or use company names that look like law offices, to sound more official. And some lawyers even offer settlement services. But you don't need a lawyer to settle your debt.
- Need to be behind or stop paying. Otherwise why would the banks accept less than what you owe? The threat of getting nothing, like when you are behind in your payments, entices them to consider a settlement offer. So if you are not behind, settlement won't work unless you stop paying (keep in mind I'm not telling you that you should stop paying, just letting you know how it works).
- Many unethical companies. The biggest problem is usually that these companies don't fully educate people how the process works. So when it gets stressful, people panic because the stress is not expected. And you don't negotiate settlements right away, especially if you're not more than 30 days late with your payments.
- Pay taxes on savings. If you owe $10,000, and settle for $6,000, you owe taxes on the $4,000 you saved. Of course, this is still usually a LOT less than what you would have paid in interest over 20 or so years it would have taken you to get out of debt. Talk with your tax person if you're not sure how this will affect you.
- Fees. You'll either need to pay someone to settle the debts for you, or you'll need to learn how to do it yourself (which can take time, money, or both). The fees vary quite a bit, so its a good idea to shop around.
- Some companies require lump sum. In which case you'll need to create your own separate account to save up enough money to settle. Typically, you would take the amount you normally pay the banks and put that into this account. So it's not necessarily a problem, but you will need to be disciplined enough to save if you don't already have enough saved up.
- Credit score will take a hit. After all, you're not paying your debts back as you agreed to when you signed up for the credit card. So the settlement will appear on your credit report, along with the late payments. And your credit score will be lowered. But if you have so much debt that you're in financial trouble in the first place, "good credit" is merely an illusion anyway.
- Creditor calls. If you're behind in your payments, your creditors will call. A good settlement company will help to reduce or eliminate these calls. But you'll still get them. And they're no fun. But if debt settlement is really the right solution for you, they're simply a small bump in the road.
- Not for everyone. Debt settlement is aggressive. And stressful. And takes time. And requires you to stop paying if you're not behind already. So if you're not comfortable with any of the "cons" above, or if you really can pay your bills, it probably is not right for you.
So there you have it. The "truth" about debt settlement, from someone who's been through it. Keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer. Or a tax pro. Or a financial advisor. So I'm not telling you what the right solution is for your debt problems. But I hope this info helps you weight the pros and cons of debt settlement, and pick the right solution for your debt problems.
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