The For-Profit Debt Settlement Industry

You’ve been hounded by collection calls at home, work and on your cell phone. Every trip to the mailbox yields another stack of Second Notice letters and “action required” notes with law firm return addresses. The stress has led to fights with your spouse which has, in turn, led to another night on the couch. You try to escape into a marathon of Dog The Bounty Hunter. Between fugitives and indecipherable dialogue you see the same commercials you’ve seen a hundred times: SETTLE YOUR DEBT FOR PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR. ELIMINATE CREDIT CARD DEBT TODAY. TURN YOUR DEBT INTO WEALTH. NO OBLIGATION.

You’ve never purchased anything off television. You know the Sham-Wow can’t possibly be as good as advertised. Why would this be any different? The short answer is that you’re out of good options. You’re scared about losing your car, your home or even going to jail.

You call. The person who answers the phone gives the impression he’s in an office somewhere. It’s possible he is, but it is more likely that he is fielding late-night calls in his boxer shorts from an apartment. He may tell you he’s the manager or the CEO and he may very well be. What he likely won’t tell you is that he is twenty years old and has no experience in settling debts.

He tells you anything he thinks might make you send a check: “We have an army of lawyers working to settle your debts,” “We offer a full money-back guarantee,” “We are insured by the federal government.”

You agree. Great. As soon as you get started, you’ll be sixty monthly payments from financial freedom. The company will send you a package with a contract, information to set up an account with a bank of its choosing and a sheet asking you to identify your debts. It may or may not include the information that the company’s fees eat up the majority of the money you send in for the foreseeable future. It may state that your credit score will suffer. It likely will not tell you that you’ll be sued by your creditors long before you come near paying them off. It definitely won’t tell you that the company is likely to change its name multiple times per year or that there is a strong chance your attempts to call the company will meet disconnected phone numbers.

The ugly truth is that the for-profit debt settlement industry is a scam. If these companies were honest and transparent with their clients, we could give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a flawed business model. Unfortunately, it is not. It preys on consumers who feel they have nowhere else to turn and leaves them worse off than when they called. So what other options do you have? Stay tuned…