Most people don’t know it, but a bad or shady debt reduction company can actually land you in a worse spot financially than you were in the beginning. In fact, in many cases filing bankruptcy is preferable to working with a credit counseling company. Given the amount of confusing information out there, it is critical that you arm yourself with the truth about these businesses.
WARNING: Credit Counseling Isn’t Always What It Appears
When you first start out, you go over all your debts with a counselor. They contact each of your creditors to lower your interest rates, which lower your payments. Together, you develop a strict budget. They hold you to this budget by asking for one lump payment from you each month, which they then use to pay your bills on your behalf.
Unfortunately, this sunny scenario hides the real truth. Yes, for a fee, credit counselors will ask your credit card companies to lower your interest rates–but you can do that yourself. Yes, for a fee, they will help you develop a budget–but you can do that yourself. Yes, for a fee, they will take one large payment from you each month and use it to pay some of your bills–but you can do that yourself, too. In fact, you can do it better.
When you’re in debt, the last thing you need is a credit counseling agency charging you high monthly fees for performing tasks that you can do yourself for free. Otherwise, any savings from lower interest rates is quickly lost in new fees for your credit counselor. Does that sound like good financial advice?
Driven By Client Successes, Or By Personal Profits?
Years ago, a small number of newly created credit counselors actually made a positive difference in the lives of their clients. Before the industry exploded, many credit card companies considered professional credit counselor to be a step in the right direction. Creditors were willing to lower interest rates and make other compromises to help customers in counseling to get back on track.
No longer. Sadly, today’s credit counseling companies exist to create profits for their owners–not to help customers get out of debt. In fact, some debt reduction companies are not actually dedicated to helping consumers with debt management plans at all; rather, they serve as fronts for bankruptcy attorneys or home equity mortgage brokers.
Don’t be misled into believing that a non-profit credit counselor is better than a for-profit one. In fact, recent federal investigations have revealed that many of these non-profit companies are actually owned by the same people who own their for-profit “competitors.”
The credit counseling industry is unregulated, meaning there is no set of central standards that companies must follow. Once the shady credit services opened their doors, the credit card companies closed theirs. In fact, it is now harder than ever to get credit card interest rates lowered. Credit counselors, not credit card users, are to blame for this situation.
It All Adds Up… To Even Higher Bills
Specific debt consolidation companies have specific guidelines as to what their clients are and are not allowed to do. For example, some companies do not allow you to open any new credit accounts under any circumstances. If the family car finally breaks down, you may not be allowed to get a new vehicle. The average debt reduction plan lasts at least three years — that equals at least three years of your life, where total strangers restrict your every expense.
Whether or not you can take out a new car loan may be the least of your concerns after hiring a credit-counseling agency. Consider how important it is to pay your credit card bills on time. Multiple late payments hurt your credit score, which means even higher interest rates on a future mortgage or student loan. What guarantee do you have that your counselor is paying attention to your due dates? Many of these businesses have been exposed for repeatedly paying bills months late. Their innocent clients never knew until it was too late.
Then there is the matter of simple math. Shockingly, the monthly payment you make to your credit counseling company may not even be covering your total minimum payments. After the counselors subtract their own hefty fees, they then pay your bills at their discretion. Some cards could remain unpaid for months as most of your money is put on another card.
At best, this means a lower credit rating and multiple late fees; at worst, it means legal action against you and worse credit than you had originally. It would have been faster, easier, and much cheaper to file bankruptcy instead.
Dealing with debt can be stressful, but turning such an important aspect of our lives over to people we do not know is a big risk. It’s great to get outside help, but not if it costs you hundreds or even thousands of dollars that would be better spent on paying off your current balances.
This article provided by the National Association of Responsible Lending and Investment
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