In theory debt settlement is simple: the debtor negotiates with the creditor to reduce a debt to an amount that is regarded as payment in full. It sounds honest enough: the debtor cannot afford to repay a debt, so the creditor agrees to accept a reduction. The creditor is paid something and the debtor avoids bankruptcy.
In practice debt settlement is a nasty game of chicken. The debt settlement company advises the debtor to stop making monthly payments to the creditor. In response, the creditor pressures the debtor to pay through harassing telephone calls, damage to the debtor’s credit report, mounting interest and fees, and perhaps legal action. The resolution comes when one side blinks: either the creditor is convinced that it better take a settlement or risk discharge in bankruptcy; or the debtor realizes that his or her credit is ruined and actually files bankruptcy.
Debt settlement is big business, but many debt settlement companies have caused big trouble for their clients. Take for example Debt Relief USA. This company, like many debt settlement companies, advised its customers to stop paying its creditors and instead deposit money into a Debt Relief USA settlement account. This money, held by Debt Relief USA, was to be used as settle funds for the individual’s debts. Customers were assessed fees for services including burdensome “administration fees” and monthly “maintenance fees” that further damaged its customers’ financial situations. When a debt was settled, the Debt Relief USA charged a 13 percent “negotiation fee.”
In 2009 Debt Relief USA filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and claimed that it owed its clients $5 million from these settlement accounts. In December 2010, the bankruptcy court approved a $3.7 million disbursement to Debt Relief USA’s clients. The case was also converted to Chapter 7 and Debt Relief USA is no longer conducting business.
Bankruptcy attorneys regularly see the damage caused by debt settlement companies. In some cases money is not returned to debt settlement customers, or the company itself files bankruptcy, or the individual’s credit is destroyed. Before agreeing to any debt relief program, discuss your financial situation an experienced bankruptcy attorney. There are powerful federal laws that can protect you from overwhelming debt, and a bankruptcy attorney can review your legal options without risking your cash. Call Haines & Krieger at 702-880-5554 to set up a free Las Vegas bankruptcy consultation.