Debt-settlement firms make an appealing pitch: Contract with us and we’ll chop your debts for you. Just funnel monthly payments to them instead of your creditors and they’ll battle the banks on your behalf, they promise.
“This is the big lie of debt settlement. They tell clients who can afford to make at least some payments on their debts to stop,” says Natalie Lohrenz, director of counseling at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County in California. Lohrenz says that while debt settlement is a good option for people who are delinquent and who have access to a lump sum of money to offer for a settlement, very few people fit this criteria. Those who do don’t need a company to negotiate for them; they can simply call up the creditors and do it themselves, without the use of a middleman.
Debt-settlement companies also collect and hold on to payments for a period that can be as long as several months before they start the actual settlement process, which means borrowers have to endure months’ worth of phone calls from bill collectors and run the risk of being sued for nonpayment in the interim.