Already struggling with home foreclosures, harsh bank and credit card fees, and now, other financial challenges such as the damage from Hurricane Sandy, Americans have also been falling victim to the threat of debt settlement schemes that promise to make clients “debt free” over a relatively short period of time. Unfortunately, in my legal practice, I have too often seen clients who have pursued private debt settlement services before seeking my help, and have found themselves facing not relief, but even steeper financial losses.
I am stating this loudly and clearly: the vast majority of uninformed consumers end up with more red ink, not the promised debt-free outcome.
There is widespread documentation that despite the fact that the debt settlement industry is regulated by state Attorneys General and the FTC, entering into an agreement with debt settlement companies is very risky, very expensive, and often times, very unsuccessful.
Here is one trap: The debt settlement company tells you to default on your debts. The reason they are telling you this is because many creditors will not negotiate reduced balances if you are still current on your bills. But if your debt is not settled out, you will face fines, penalties, higher interest rates, and even more aggressive debt-collection efforts including litigation and wage garnishment. In most cases, the consumer is left worse off than when they started.
Another risk that these companies don’t tell you about is that if you are successful in debt settlement, you may find yourself with a new bill: tax liability. If reported to the IRS, and unless you are legally insolvent, the amount of forgiven debt is considered income and is taxable!
Real help for debt relief is available. If you have a single debt and some cash on hand, try to negotiate the settlement by yourself. Creditors typically require 25 to 70 percent on the dollar to settle a debt. If you have multiple creditors and either cash on hand or extra cash at the end of the month, you may want to consult a non-profit credit counseling agency. But make sure to check it out first.
Better yet, consult an attorney – attorneys are debt collectors and we are regulated by our state bar associations. We can negotiate debt. We can also discuss other options, such as bankruptcy,which is a legal proceeding that offers a fresh start for consumers who can’t repay their debts.
The Law Office of Debra G. Simms, P.A. offers consultations for debt negotiation and bankruptcy. Call us now for your consult in one of our central Florida offices. We can meet with you in Orlando, and Daytona Beach.