Americans are having a hard time making ends meet in these tough times, but those in debt are having an even tougher time because of unscrupulous debt relief companies. Make sure you hire a reputable company. The Federal Trade Commission passed new rules to give consumers more protections.
Make sure any for-profit company that calls you or if you call them, that you are given information on how long debt relief will take, the fees charged for various services, and the negative consequences of debt relief.
Then, DO NOT pay a company upfront fees UNTIL:
— the company renegotiates, settles, reduces, or changes the terms on at least one debt
— there is a written settlement or written agreement between the consumer and creditor detailing a debt management plan
— the consumer makes one payment to a creditor as part of the debt relief plan
Once a consumer begins making payments, they must go into a dedicated account or escrow of sorts. Five conditions must be met for this dedicated account and these include:
— an insured financial institution maintains the account
— the consumer owns the funds and accrues interest
— the consumer can take out money at any time without penalty
— the provider can’t have any affiliation with the company that holds and manages the account AND
— the provider doesn’t exchange referral fees with the company managing the account.
If you really need help managing your debts, there are non-profit credit counselors that can help. You typically pay around $50 for their services, and I’ve worked with many of these agencies and they are very knowledgeable counselors. Click here to find an agency near you.
Apprisen Financial Advocates also known as Consumer Credit Counseling Services is a non-profit counseling agency that charges you minimal fees, and I mean minimal, to help you with your budget. They also have a FREE online tool called “Webvisor” that analyzes your financial situation and gives you an action plan. It takes about thirty minutes and can be done anonymously.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has some good tools to help you manage your expenses including a budget worksheet, and calculators for myriad of life scenarios like buying versus renting, figuring out how much home you can afford, and finding out how to save a million dollars, etc.
The best advice is to manage your money smartly. I know it’s difficult for some families who have experienced job loss and other financial hardships, but just don’t dig yourself further into debt. Live within your means.