You see the ads. They promise you huge debt relief from the government. Your creditors will forgive your debt because it’s your “right” and you’ll be debt free in as little as 18 months! It sounds great, especially if you're neck deep in debt, but more likely than not, enrolling with a company who uses this type of advertising will cause you more problems than when you started.
One common feature in these ads is President Obama talking about bringing relief to debt-ridden individuals and insinuations that the program they offer is related somehow to stimulus money received by banks in 2008 and 2009 or the credit card reform bill in 2009. The stimulus bill as you may recall was passed to stimulate job creation through loans to businesses and communities, as well as tax breaks to individuals, while the credit card reform act had mostly to do with creating mandatory disclosures that credit card companies had to make to prospective and current card holders.
The “bailout” referred to in many of these ads is simply referring to a common creditor practice of "writing off," "charging off", or settling a debt. A "write off" or "charge off" is simply an accounting term used by banks and other businesses when they move an account from an asset to a loss on their books, which happens when a cardholder does not make a payment for six consecutive months. This of course has an impact on the value of their business and in turn, their stock price, but unfortunately, it has very little to do with your legal liability for the balance owed. Settling a debt, which is in fact a legal way to satisfy your debt obligation but is in no way government-sanctioned, involves negotiating a mutually agreeable amount that is less than the full balance to satisfy a debt. Creditors are willing to do this when someone is severely past due, usually at least four to six months behind, because it makes financial sense for them to get “something instead of nothing”, not because of the Obama stimulus bill.
You may get mailers with words like "National Debt Relief," more often than not resembling an IRS notice with a return address of Pennsylvania Ave. (where the White House is located) in Washington D.C. Just like the television and radio commercials advertisements you may have seen, this is simply a dishonest attempt by marketers to solicit phone calls for debt relief programs. Companies generating interest in their service in this manner should likewise be avoided. Not only does this harm the overall landscape of the debt relief industry and in turn consumers by rewarding unscrupulous companies, but chances are a company with this marketing style probably has little interest in staying in business for a long time, particularly since the FTC and other consumer protection agencies have made it a point that these ads will not be tolerated.
If you are looking for a reputable debt relief company your best bet is to talk to someone who has worked with a company and completed their plan. The Better Business Bureau complaint record of a company is also a good indicator of how well they are satisfying their clients.
Robert Zangrilli is the CEO of Franklin Debt Relief, a debt settlement company in Chicago, Illinois.
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