Tips for Finding a Reputable Debt Consolidation Company
Written by: Kristy Welsh
Last Updated: July 14, 2017
Are you carrying a large load of debt? Do you feel like you can never get out from under all of this debt? Does it seem no matter what you do, you can't get rid of all of this debt? These are thoughts shared by thousands of Americans who are in the same debt laden boat as you. This leads us to our next question: Are you thinking about using a professional debt consolidation company to get out of debt? If so, you better read this article on how to find a reputable debt consolidation company.
Helpful Tips When Looking for a Debt Consolidation Company
- Read the FTC Regulations regarding debt relief, settlement and negotiation companies.
- Locate a Local Consumer Credit Counseling Office. Of all the debt consolidation companies, in my opinion, they are the least harmful to you and your credit. The NFCC.org is a good place to search for the one nearest you, by zip code. Local companies are also a good idea because the local authorities have jurisdiction over them. They can do little if the company is out of state.
- Check Out the Company with the BBB. You can check out any company you are thinking of signing up with immediately online. In addition, you should also call your state's consumer protection agency/state attorney general's office to see if there have been complaints.
- Evaluate Advertisements. Just because a credit counselor has a big advertising budget does not necessarily mean it is a good company! Also, you would be wise to ignore e-mails that arrive "out of the blue" from credit counselors offering their services. Good credit counselors often rely on past clients for referrals; they do not need to solicit business through constant television advertising, infomercials, telemarketing or spam e-mails.
- Are They a Member of a Reputable Debt Consolidation Organization? Check to see if the firm is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). Agencies that are members of these organizations must adhere to strict standards of professionalism and accreditation and use only certified credit counselors.
- What are the Qualifications of Their Counselors? Ask if the counselors are certified and by whom? Try to select an agency whose counselors are certified by an outside organization, preferably NFCC. One way to test a counselor's knowledge: debt consolidation monthly payment fees are subject to state law, and the agency representative should be able to tell you the specific regulations for your state of residence.
- How are the Counselors Paid? Steer clear of organizations that pay employees a commission; that might well influence the number or nature of services they decide you need.
- Are Their Services Personalized? A cookie-cutter approach most likely will not address your financial situation. Find out if the counselor will devise a plan tailored to fit your personal circumstances. Also, think beyond your immediate credit/debt problems and find out if the agency will offer you advice on avoiding problems in the future.
- Make Sure They Provide Their Terms of Service in Writing. Debt settlement firms are required to give you a good faith estimate regarding all fees, the time it will take to finish their program and how much money they can save you. Only do business with agencies that offer formal written agreements or contracts. Carefully read through the terms of agreement or contract. It should describe in straight-forward fashion the services to be performed, the counselor's name, business name, address and contact information.
- What are Their Fees? Fees are required to be presented to you up front. It is illegal for a firm to collect any money until some actual work is performed. If there are set-up fees or monthly service charges, the agency should explain what they are based upon. In general, you should not expect to pay more than $75 in set-up fees or make a monthly payment that exceeds $40. The agency should also be willing to advise you how your funds will be protected before payment to your creditors.
- How are Payments Distributed to Your Creditors? Your creditors should always be credited with one hundred percent of the amount you pay through a debt consolidation agency. Why would your money NOT go to your creditors? With unscrupulous firms the money gets eaten away by extra fees.
- How is the Agency Funded? Most credit counseling agencies are partially funded through voluntary contributions from creditors who participate in Debt Management Plans. (Creditors have a business interest in receiving their payments, so most of them are willing to help support participating credit counseling agencies.) Go elsewhere for assistance if the credit counseling agency refuses to discuss its funding sources. If the agency claims to be tax-exempt or not-for-profit, double-check with your state charity official (for contact information, visit the Web site of the National Association of State Charity Officials at http://www.nasconet.org). Some credit counseling organizations using questionable practices have sought tax-exempt status in order to circumvent consumer protection laws. It is illegal for a company to represent itself as non-profit when that is not the case.
- Do They Offer Budget and Credit Education? Reputable organizations are willing to help you manage your finances through counseling and education. Ask if the agency offers workshops or educational materials. Are they available for free? Are they accessible online or can the materials be mailed to you? If the agency insists that a debt management plan is the only option for clients, look elsewhere. Creating and maintaining a budget should be a primary tool of the agency.
- Where is the Debt Consolidation Firm Located? Not all states require licensing for debt consolidation agencies. The most notable examples are the states of Maryland and Florida. In addition, some states have started licensing credit counselors. If you know your proposed counselor's name, another question to ask your state attorney general is whether or not he or she is licensed.
- Look Before You Leap! It is crucial to think things out carefully and do your homework before signing on the dotted line. This contract will affect you, your credit and therefore your lifestyle for years to come. A few days will not make any difference in the overall scheme of things if you are really behind in your bills or if creditors are hounding you. You can tell any callers that you are going to join a consumer credit counseling service and this should quiet them.
You need to consider how you got into this mess in the first place — not being able to exercise control over your finances, right? If you only come out of these programs with your debt gone, you are only treating the symptom without addressing the root problem. You should look for programs which include "financial fitness" programs and budgeting plans as one of the primary focuses.