Debt relief is a process of reducing debt through a variety of strategies, including counseling, budgeting, debt consolidation, and negotiating with creditors. The best debt relief companies offer cost-effective plans to help you reduce your debt and get on sound financial footing.
Before choosing a debt relief company, it’s important to first understand what debt relief is, how it works, and the tactics involved. Then, you can find a company that offers solutions appropriate to your particular needs so you can reduce your debt quickly and efficiently.
What is debt relief?
Debt relief is a term used to describe several different methods of reducing a person or business’s total debt. Stated another way, it involves using various tactics to aggressively reduce or eliminate debt. The precise tactics used can vary by provider and by the borrower’s circumstances.
How does debt settlement work
Debt relief and debt settlement are two terms often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Debt settlement is a type of debt relief that involves negotiating with creditors to accept a lump sum payment that is less than the total amount owed, working out a reduced payment plan that fits into your monthly budget, or other strategies. If you’re struggling to pay off your debts or your debts were sold to collectors, debt settlement may help you reduce your debts quickly.
These are some of the most common debt settlement strategies:
Negotiating with creditors: This involves working directly with your creditors to reduce the debt you owe. The goal is to get them to accept a lump sum payment of less than the total amount owed in exchange for releasing you from the remainder of the debt.
Debt consolidation: Debt consolidation involves combining multiple debts into one. This can be easier and more efficient to manage since there will only be one loan repayment instead of multiple payments for different loans. It can also result in lower interest rates and potentially lower monthly payments—especially if you negotiate to settle one or more debts as part of your consolidation.
Debt management plan: With this strategy, you work with an experienced credit counselor who will create a plan tailored to your financial situation. This strategy may involve renegotiating or refinancing existing loans. You may also get access to additional credit counseling services to negotiate or settle other debts.
Bankruptcy: When all other options fail, bankruptcy may be necessary to wipe out most or all your unsecured debts, including medical bills and credit cards. However, filing for bankruptcy may require you to give up certain assets or future income. Bankruptcy also has long-term consequences for your credit and can limit your ability to get financing in the future.
In addition to the negative impacts debt settlement can have on your credit, working with a debt settlement company isn’t free. Most of these firms charge fees for their services, and these costs can vary widely. However, if you’re unable to keep up with your monthly payments, debt settlement can be a valuable tool to regain control of your finances.
What is the difference between debt relief and debt consolidation?
Debt relief is the process of reducing or eliminating debt through various strategies. These can include negotiating with creditors for a lower amount and payment plan. Debt consolidation involves combining multiple debts into one loan, so you only have one balance to keep track of and one payment to make. Debt relief may be a great option if you have multiple debts (especially if they’re in default) and if consolidation isn’t an option or won’t improve your ability to pay your debts.
Debt consolidation, on the other hand, can be beneficial if you can afford to pay your debts but struggle to keep up with multiple payments on several loans or credit cards. Consolidating your debt means combining multiple debts into one loan, potentially with a lower interest rate or a longer loan term, which can lower your monthly payments. Consolidating your debts also reduces the number of monthly payments you need to make, making it easier to manage your finances. Consolidating debt will not erase any existing debt but could make it more manageable.
What is a debt relief company?
A debt relief company is an organization that provides services to help individuals and businesses reduce or eliminate their debt. These companies specialize in helping clients negotiate with creditors, consolidate debt, construct debt management plans, and sometimes navigate bankruptcy. These companies can provide a range of services to help you get back on track financially, including providing budgeting assistance, dealing with creditors, reducing repayment rates, and negotiating interest charges.
These companies can be especially useful if you’re in financial distress due to medical bills, job loss, or other unexpected expenses. If you’re struggling to pay debts due to student loans, car payments, or home mortgages, there’s often less these companies can do to help. Still, they may offer valuable guidance to help you get back on track.
What does a debt relief company do?
A debt relief company helps businesses and individuals reduce or eliminate debt. These companies typically negotiate with creditors to lower the amount owed or arrange a payment plan to make debts more manageable. Debt relief companies do not provide loans or pay off debt directly. Instead, they work with clients to create a plan to get back on track financially. By combining financial education with debt relief strategies, these companies can help you take control of your finances and find a path to debt-free living.
5 Things To Look For In A Debt Relief Company
Not sure how to go about choosing a debt relief service? Here is what to look for:
While looking for a debt relief company, your first thought is to look at their pricing. After all, you are looking to reduce your debt without adding any more expenses. Unfortunately, many companies in the debt consolidation and settlement industry do not provide a whole lot of transparency on their website in regards to their pricing and terms, something which we believe should be easy to find.
While many websites do have a debt calculator that gives you an estimate, the following debt relief services go above and beyond when it comes to transparency regarding prices, terms, and frequently asked questions.
Freedom Debt Relief: Freedom Debt Relief prominently displays a complete step-by-step explanation of how their customizable program is designed to resolve your debt for significantly less than you currently owe (and as quickly as possible). Freedom Debt Relief even directly compares their program to 5 other debt strategies (like bankruptcy and debt consolidation) and clearly maps out the pros and cons of each, so you can fully understand why debt settlement may be the best option for you.
Accredited Debt Relief: As its name suggests, this highly accredited debt relief service not only works with bankruptcy, debt consolidation, debt management, and debt settlement, but they also have a page of detailed FAQs regarding program time, taxes on forgiven debt, how to work with creditors, and more.
Pricing And Fees
"What is the cost to reduce my debts?" This is probably high on the list of requirements when you are searching for a debt relief company.
Debt consolidation and settlement companies should never charge upfront fees and should only bill a customer after they negotiate, settle, reduce, or change the terms of one of the debt accounts. In the case of settlement, some companies may charge a monthly "maintenance" fee for a separate savings account used to eventually pay off your debts, which is legal but a fact that many consumers and experts believe is unethical.
Fees for debt consolidation and debt relief generally range from 15-25% of enrolled debt. For a 100% free quote and to speak with a certified debt consultant, we recommend contacting Freedom Debt Relief, our top rated pick for debt settlement.
One way to ensure that you are working with a credible debt relief service is to look at the accreditations. The majority of reputable services are FTC compliant and hold accreditations from the IAPDA (International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators), AFCC American Fair Credit Council), and the BBB (Better Business Bureau).
Debt relief services that are accredited by the BBB, AFCC, and IAPDA include Freedom Debt Relief, Accredited Debt Relief, and DebtAway Relief.
Time In Business
Debt relief is not a simple process, so a company with extended industry experience and a track record of success proves that it is a reputable service you can trust with your money.
Some companies with over 10 years in the business include:
Customer Service and Reviews
When choosing a debt relief service, it is always a good idea to check customer service and reviews to determine how a company really treats their clients. You can check the BBB (Better Business Bureau), Yelp, Google, or Trustpilot to see if actual clients rated the business positively or negatively. Some important questions to ask are:
- Are they easy to contact and do they respond quickly to any questions or concerns I have?
- Furthermore, do I have an account manager or someone I can contact 24/7 by phone, email, or live chat?
- Do they inform me of any changes during the debt relief process?
- Do they have an online portal or mobile app that allows me to check any progress?
- Do they have additional tools like educational blogs and resources to assist me in the future?
- Are the financial experts qualified and how many years of experience do they have?
- Do they have ethical practices? Avoid companies that ask you to pay up front, since that practice is banned by the FTC.
Here are a few debt relief companies that have many rave reviews and satisfy all of the above criteria: Freedom Debt Relief, Accredited Debt Relief, and National Debt Relief.
How much do debt relief companies cost?
The fees that debt relief companies charge vary significantly based on the company, the type and size of debts owed, and the tactics used to reduce debt. Some companies charge flat fees for various packages that vary in length and complexity. Others charge fees based on the amount of debt you want help with (15% to 25% is typical).
The fees charged by relief companies can be considerable, especially if you want help with a large amount of debt. That’s why it’s important to research multiple debt relief companies before deciding which to work with. That way, you can ensure a company’s fees and strategies align with your needs and ability to pay.
How long does debt relief take?
Debt relief is a process that takes time and effort, and how long it takes depends on the individual’s financial situation. Typically, debt relief can take anywhere from three months to two years or longer, depending on how much debt needs to be resolved. Other factors that could affect the timeline include the types of debts, the strategies employed by the debt relief company, the number of outstanding balances, the number of creditors involved, and the individual’s overall financial health.
The first step in the debt relief process typically involves an analysis of your finances and debts. This helps create a plan to reduce or eliminate your overall debt burden. After this initial evaluation, you and the debt relief company will develop a game plan for addressing outstanding debts. Many debt relief companies start by negotiating with creditors. Depending on how much negotiation is required and how many creditors are involved, negotiations can take several months or longer. During this period, it is important to continue making payments to avoid unwanted consequences like late fees or credit score damage.
Once all parties come to an agreement about reducing or eliminating certain debts, follow through with making payments as detailed in your agreement with the creditor. If done correctly, making payments as agreed will help rebuild your credit score over time, giving you greater access to future financing options.
Who qualifies for debt relief?
Debt relief can be a helpful tool if you’re struggling with your finances, but not everyone qualifies. For example, you may need a minimum amount of debt to qualify for debt settlement—sometimes as much as $10,000. The exact qualification criteria for debt relief can vary by provider, type of debt (including whether it’s secured), and debt status (such as whether it’s in default or has been sold to collections).
There are a few situations that may qualify for debt relief:
People facing financial hardship due to job loss or other unexpected events: Individuals who have experienced a sudden life event such as a job loss, medical emergency, divorce, or death in the family may qualify for debt relief if their income has been significantly reduced. In these cases, creditors may be more willing to reduce or eliminate certain debts to help consumers get back on track financially.
People with high levels of debt relative to their income: Individuals with high levels of debt who cannot make their payments can benefit from debt relief programs, as they offer lower interest rates and repayment plans tailored specifically to a consumer’s unique financial situation.
People stuck paying minimum balances each month: For borrowers who can only afford minimum payment each month and are unable to pay off significant portions of their loan principal, negotiating with creditors may be the best way to reduce their total debts.
Seniors living on fixed incomes: Seniors whose monthly Social Security checks aren’t sufficient to cover their living expenses may qualify for debt relief.
People with poor credit scores: In some cases, individuals with low credit scores may benefit from debt relief as it provides an opportunity to reduce or eliminate certain liabilities to lower their credit utilization rate and boost their credit score. Improving your credit score can help you qualify for additional financing options with lower interest rates.
If you want to learn more about whether you qualify for debt relief, contact a debt relief company or speak with a qualified financial advisor or credit counselor about your situation. Doing so can help you determine if or how debt relief can help.
Pros and cons of debt settlement
Debt settlement is a form of debt relief that can help you pay off debts for less than what you owe. While debt settlement has many benefits, it also comes with some costs and risks. Below are the pros and cons of using debt settlement to resolve debts.
Lower interest rates: Debt settlement can result in a lower average interest rate on your remaining debt. However, this depends on the amount and types of debt being settled.
Reduced or eliminated fees and penalties: Depending on the agreement made with creditors, debt settlement can help you get fees or penalties waived. This can help you save money you can pay toward other debts.
Lower total balance owed: The ultimate goal of debt relief is to reduce your total debt. This can reduce the total monthly cost of your debt service and makes it easier to qualify for financing later on.
Faster repayment schedule: It’s not uncommon for people who successfully settle a portion of their debts to accelerate their repayment schedules on remaining debts. This can be beneficial if you’re trying to get out of debt quickly.
Potential damage to credit: Settled accounts typically remain on an individual’s credit report for up to seven years. This can negatively affect your credit score, as it shows that you settled a debt for less than originally agreed to.
High fees: Debt relief companies often charge high fees for services—sometimes thousands of dollars. These fees are typically nonrefundable, even if their efforts aren’t successful.
Consequences from creditors: Creditors may refuse to accept debt settlement offers or even take legal action to collect a debt. When considering debt relief, be aware that lenders may not react positively.
How to choose a debt relief company
If you think debt relief may help your finances, picking the right relief company can have a huge impact on whether your efforts are successful. Take time to research and evaluate different options so you can choose the best debt relief program for your needs. Here are some things to look for when finding the right debt relief company:
See what types of debt are covered
Some debt relief companies only work with credit card debts, while others may cover other liabilities such as private student loans and medical bills. Research what each company offers before signing an agreement so you have the best chance at successfully negotiating a settlement.
Review application requirements
Most debt relief companies require some form of application before being accepted as a client. Review what’s required as part of your application to see what the relief company will focus on and the ways they might be able to help you.
Each company has its own fee structure and policies. Read through each company’s pricing to ensure there are no hidden costs or unexpected surprises during or after the negotiation process.
Evaluate terms of service
Debt relief companies have different restrictions and limitations for the services they offer. Before signing any agreements, read the terms of service carefully to understand your obligations and those of the company. Also review whether there are any limitations on the services.
Learn about the process
Familiarize yourself with the process each company uses so you know what to expect. Most companies provide information on their methods online, but you may need to call for a free consultation. Likewise, ask what you’ll need to do to get the most out of the process.
Check company reviews and reputation
Debt relief companies typically have their own websites where potential customers can read testimonials from previous clients. Check these testimonials and independent online reviews to get an idea of how successful companies have been in helping people get out of debt. Also review the types of negative experiences other customers have had in the past.
Beware of scams
Unfortunately, debt relief scams are common, so take steps to protect yourself from fraudsters. Only work with companies that have an established reputation and carefully check credentials before signing any agreements. Additionally, never give up financial information over the phone or online until you confirm the company is reputable.
Alternatives to debt relief
Debt relief can be a great way to reduce your debt quickly and easily, but it’s not the only option. There are other alternatives that may work better for your circumstances. Here are some common strategies used as alternatives to debt relief:
Credit counseling is designed to help individuals manage their finances and pay down debt. Unlike traditional debt relief options, credit counseling focuses on empowering individuals to take control of their finances and use debt responsibly. With credit counseling, a licensed credit counselor will work with you to create a budget and repayment plan tailored to your specific circumstances.
It’s a good alternative if you don’t qualify for—or prefer to avoid—more drastic debt relief options. Credit counseling can also be helpful if you want to learn more about budgeting and financial planning, as credit counselors provide valuable education on personal finance best practices.
Debt consolidation loans
A debt consolidation loan can be useful if you want to simplify your finances by having fewer debts to manage. Essentially, a debt consolidation loan combines multiple debts with varying interest rates into a single loan—often with a fixed interest rate—making it easier to manage and budget for payments.
This can be particularly beneficial if you’re struggling with high-interest debts like credit cards. It can also help you pay off your debts in a manageable timeframe without the negative impact on credit that can come with debt relief. That said, debt consolidation may not be the best option for everyone, as it typically requires a good credit score and steady income to qualify.
Debt management plans
Debt management plans are an effective tool for managing debt and regaining control of your finances. These plans typically involve working with a credit counseling agency to negotiate lower interest rates and monthly payments on your debts. You then make one monthly payment to the agency, which distributes funds to creditors on your behalf.
Done correctly, debt management is particularly beneficial because it allows you to pay off your debts in an organized manner while also improving your credit score. It’s an excellent alternative to debt relief options such as bankruptcy or debt settlement, which can have significant long-term consequences on your credit.
Bankruptcy is a legal process that allows individuals or businesses to get a fresh start by restructuring or eliminating their debts. There are two primary types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves liquidating all non-exempt assets to pay off creditors, while Chapter 13 allows individuals to create a repayment plan to pay off creditors within three to five years.
Bankruptcy is never ideal but may be a good alternative to debt relief if you’re struggling with an overwhelming amount of debt, as it provides a fresh start and relief from creditor harassment. However, only consider it as a last resort after exhausting all other options. Bankruptcy may be a suitable option if you have little to no income, significant debt, and little hope of repaying it. Consult with an attorney to see if bankruptcy is right for you.
These guidelines can help you pick the right debt relief company to set you on the best path to a debt-free life. A new financial future is right around the corner.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some ways I can utilize debt relief?
- Debt settlement is a legitimate option for taking care of unsecured debt.
- A balance transfer credit card has a 0% APR for a period of time before it is raised, meaning you initially save much more on your payments.
- Personal loans allow you to pay off your high-interest debt and then pay back your loan in installments.
What are some other debt relief options?
If you are deep in debt but want to explore other options, then you may be interested in alternative forms of debt relief:
Consumer credit counseling: Credit counseling can help you enter a debt management plan with your creditors and give you the opportunity to reduce your monthly payments while still paying your full balance.
Hardship plan: You can work out a payment plan with your creditors in the case you have missed a couple of payments. Be sure to ask for a hardship program if you have any financial difficulty. This could help you receive a reduced payment for six to twelve months.
Bankruptcy: Declaring bankruptcy is another way in which you can take care of the overwhelming debt.
Unfortunately, this hurts your credit even more than debt settlement. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to ten years, while a Chapter 10 bankruptcy and debt settlement only stay on for seven years.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can take care of unsecured debt but your income can't be above a specific amount to qualify. Even if you do qualify, you may have personal property possessed that goes towards the amount you owe.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years, does not have required minimum income, and requires you to pay your creditors for up to five years. This payment is just one monthly payment based on your income and expenses paid to your creditors. Once this period is up, your debts are considered settled.
Debt consolidation: This method of debt relief consolidates your unsecured debt (such as credit cards)and lets you pay off your creditors with a personal loan. Over time, you will have one single (ideally low-interest) loan instead of many debts with different payment dates and interest rates.
Secured loan: You have the option of taking out a secured loan, which is backed by collateral like your car or other valuable personal property. This is riskier than an unsecured loan since lenders may collect your property if you default on your payments.
Negotiation: You can try negotiating your debts yourself with your creditors. Although this isn't as effective as hiring a debt settlement company, it is an option you may want to explore before going through with hiring a company.
Where can I get help with debt relief?
There are several ways to get help with debt relief. You can contact a credit counseling agency, look into debt consolidation loans, or research various debt relief companies. If all else fails, you can consider bankruptcy as an option to restructure or eliminate certain debts. Most commonly, though, you can research different debt relief companies that specialize in negotiating debt settlements on their clients’ behalf.
Can I do debt settlement or debt relief by myself?
If you prefer not to work with a debt relief or debt settlement company, you can attempt to negotiate with your creditors and settle your debt yourself. However, this is often very difficult and time-consuming. Debt relief companies have trained professionals who are skilled in negotiating with creditors and credit bureaus on behalf of their clients. This means they may obtain better outcomes in a shorter amount of time.
How much does debt relief cost?
The cost of debt relief varies widely based on the type of service being provided and the amount of debt being settled. Generally, fees range from $500 to $2,500 or 15% to 25% of the total debt amount being negotiated. On top of that, there may be additional fees for setup and ongoing maintenance costs. If you prefer to negotiate debt settlements yourself, costs are usually limited to any legal advice or guidance needed and any payments made to creditors as part of the settlement agreement.
Does debt relief or settlement hurt your credit?
Debt relief and debt settlement can hurt your credit score in the short term but can have more positive impacts in the long run. When you enter into a debt relief program, the creditors may report any delinquent debts or defaults to the credit bureaus. This will likely cause your score to drop temporarily. However, if you successfully negotiate settlements with all your creditors and keep up with payments, you should be able to rebuild your credit over time.
Can debt relief companies help with credit card debt?
Debt relief companies can typically help with credit card debt. These companies specialize in negotiating with creditors on behalf of their clients, and credit card companies are a common type of debt they negotiate. However, hiring a debt relief company does not guarantee that you’ll be able to get relief from any of your obligations, including credit cards.
Are there any government debt relief programs?
In addition to debt relief companies, several government debt relief programs are available. The U.S. Department of Education offers various income-driven repayment plans that allow borrowers to make payments based on their discretionary income and family size. Other options include loan forgiveness programs, forbearance programs, and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Additionally, state governments offer their own assistance with certain types of debt.
Do debt management plans really work?
Debt management plans can be an effective way to manage debt and get out of it faster—as long as you follow the plan closely. While these plans can help you consolidate payments and pay down debts, it can also lead to account closures or other things that may negatively impact your credit in the short term.