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Having debt issues is stressful, and suffocating. We live in a system where we are encouraged to get credit cards and spend on them. This benefits credit card issuers.
In just the year 2014, American Express earned interest income from credit card holders of approximately $5,800,000,000 dollars.
The good news is that there are legal debt relief solutions to help escape the minimum payment trap (and going nowhere) as well as to solve the need to resolve your debts for an agreed on amount based on what you can afford monthly.
When you decide which debt relief company to work with, to get the best results for yourself, it is important to review 24 critical items.
Akin to getting surgery, you want to evaluate as many important options and choose the company with the highest OVERALL rating in order to ensure the greatest possibility of success. And much like surgery, debt relief should be done right and done correctly the first time.
Criteria that are VERY IMPORTANT are marked as VERY IMPORTANT.
Criteria that are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT are also highlighted in yellow.
See the points that follow:
1 . 95 or more 5-star ratings with ShopperApproved.com
Customer Lobby is a 3rd party rating organization where clients post reviews of companies. The company is based out of Utah and Florida and enjoys an excellent online, unbiased reputation.
Ask the company you are considering if they are listed with Shopper Approved with over 95 five star reviews.
2. Program is focused on saving you as much as possible (e.g. reduction off balances on cards).
There are various “options” available, such as reducing interest rates, “hardship programs” with temporary interest rate reductions, or consumer credit counseling programs which adjust interest rates and often add a monthly fee. While these are options, in most cases if paying back the full amount is challenging now, these solutions do not work. Programs where there are negotiations on the balances owed are much more beneficial to you. In these, an agreed-to amount is paid back (i.e. the creditor agrees to the payback of less than the original amount owed), and the debt is resolved.
3. Experience of more than 16 years nationwide. VERY IMPORTANT
Much like if you were choosing a surgeon for a life-saving operation, you would want to select one who had the most experience (as opposed to selecting one who just completed his residency).
With this said, the caveat is that the company has nationwide experience because the laws are different in each state. There are also different credit unions and other lending institutions that operate in each locality.
The more years of experience a company has nationwide, the better.
4. Fees of 20% or less for in-house program with an optional network of attorneys.
When purchasing a product or service, price is definitely an important factor, and with that said it is one of many. You ultimately want to pay a fair price for an OUTSTANDING service. Fees of around 20% (or less) on a flat fee basis are fair. Fees exceeding 25% are higher than you should have to pay. Since you are entering a program to resolve your financial situation, keep these fee guidelines in mind.
5. Paid months of credit restoration for successful completion of program with a top rated credit restoration law firm. VERY IMPORTANT
At the start of the program, the main issue to solve is getting your unsecured debts taken care of. Likely you are not looking to take on new debt (or even if you are considering it, it is best to wait until you can more easily make a new payment). Once your accounts are all settled, it is important to have the inaccuracies that have accumulated during the program challenged and disputed. The goal is to help do everything possible to get your credit score accurate upon completion of the program.
A debt relief company that includes credit restoration payment to a company that specializes in this work would be highly recommended when you choose a company.
6. No monthly fees for in-house program.
The company you work with should have an in-house program with no monthly fees.
7. No fees charged in advance of delivering results for in-house program.
The company should have an in-house program where no fees are charged in advance of delivering results.
8. The company you are speaking with has offered both programs (or offers) to ensure that they have counselors who have previous experience with debt consolidation.
The two main options available for resolving one’s unsecured debts are a consumer credit counseling program or a debt settlement program. In some unique cases, a credit counseling program does make sense. Make sure that who you are speaking with can properly advise you on what is truly the best solution for you.
9. Member of the Online Business Bureau (OBB) in ‘Good Standing.’ VERY IMPORTANT
Here is some information about the OBB: http://www.onlinebusinessbureau.com/index.cfm
For a company that provides nationwide services, we feel that the Online Business Bureau serves as the most reputable rating system because:
a. The membership dues are a flat rate per company and not based on the number of employees. That means that each company receives a rating and a larger company has the same (balanced) influence as a company with fewer employees. This is very important because in some rating organizations that charge membership fees based on employee count, where letter grades are provided, large credit card companies have thousands of complaints yet retain an excellent letter grade while small companies with a handful of complaints have their grade affected.
b. Positive press online. One of the main competitors to the OBB has numerous negative news articles, complaint blog sites, and TV news shows that cite issues in their grading systems. The OBB has generally only positive feedback online.
c. The ratings are universal regardless of where the company is located. This is, in comparison, to another rating organization that has different policies based on where the business is located. E.g. you want to know the company is a recommended company or not.
d. When you are evaluating any review or rating site, make sure to evaluate the age of the site and also evaluate the review site by going to Google and typing in [name of site/organization] + “20/20 Investigation” (to see what has been reported on 20/20 and other TV News Channels), [name of site/organization] + “pay to play” and a third search typing in [name of site/organization] + ”Time.com” (to report what appeared on Time magazine.) Then, after watching the videos or reading the news articles that are returned, you can decide what seriousness to give to their evaluation of a company. The Online Business Bureau enjoys an excellent reputation.
Make sure you ask any company you are considering working with if they are members of the Online Business Bureau (OBB) AND are listed in “Good Standing.”
10. Keeping In the top 2 in Top Consumer Reviews as Best Debt Relief Companies for over 7 years. VERY IMPORTANT
When you are evaluating any review or rating site, make sure to evaluate the age of the site and also evaluate the review site by going to Google and typing in [name of site/organization] + “20/20 Investigation” (to see what has been reported on 20/20 and other TV News Channels), [name of site/organization] + “pay to play” and a third search typing in [name of site/organization] + ”Time.com” (to report what appeared on Time magazine.) Then, after watching the videos or reading the news articles that are returned, you can decide what seriousness to give to their evaluation of a company.
Top Consumer Reviews has been reviewing companies since 2006 and has an excellent reputation online. Checking their site for company ratings is highly recommended.
11. Has a total of over 700 online reviews that are verifiable from independent reviewers on at least 2 separate sites that average 4.5 or higher. VERY IMPORTANT
What prior clients say about a company are very important. With that said, you need to take into consideration the number of reviews and ensure they are on at least two different reputable review sites.
Higher reviews from prior clients on at least 2 different sites AND the fewest number of complaints or low reviews from the last with the concept of choosing a surgeon, you want to select a company that has the highest number of 4.5 or higher testimonials..
If reviewing Yelp, make sure to click on the “Not Recommended Reviews.” Yelp has numerous complaints for not showing valid reviews, yet you can still see them in this section in case their “automated system” incorrectly places reviews.
12. Has over 700 Five Star reviews on CustomerLobby.com VERY IMPORTANT
Customer Lobby is a 3rd party rating organization where clients post reviews of companies. The company is based out of California and enjoys an excellent online, unbiased reputation.
Ask the company you are considering if they are listed with Customer Lobby with over 700 five star reviews.
13. American Fair Credit Council Member in Good Standing (the leading debt relief industry association). VERY IMPORTANT
Ensure that the company you are considering working with is a member in good standing of the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC). This ensures the company upholds the high code of conduct and ethics required by this organization.
14. Member of NetCheck with No complaints VERY IMPORTANT
NetCheck was founded in 1995 and offers real-time services to determine whether merchants are trustworthy or not online. When a company offers debt relief services nationwide, make sure the company is a member as listed with, “Our file history shows that no unresolved consumer complaints have been reported to Netcheck on this company. The company you have requested information on is a registered Member of The Netcheck Commerce Bureau.”
NetCheck is also a fair rating organization in that membership fees are flat rate per company and not based on the number of employees. This ensures that there is no greater monetary influence in terms of ratings from a company with 1000’s of employees versus one that has fewer employees. Additionally when looking at reviews of this rating site, there is positive reviews and lack of negative TV programs or News shows on their company.
15. Member of HonestE Online with No complaints.
16. Offers tax debt relief and counseling if applicable.
In many cases, a client has unsecured debt and tax debt issues needing help. Sometimes, the tax issues should take priority over the unsecured debt issues and in other cases it is OK to address the unsecured debt issues first. Ideally, the company has experience with both.
17. #1 rated with Top Consumer Reviews for Tax Relief Counseling.
Relating to #16 above, the company also should be highly rated for tax work.
18. Over 150 viewable settlement letters online, showing settlements dating back to 1998 (and more available upon client request) VERY IMPORTANT
This is extremely important. Some very important points to review:
a. Make sure the settlement letters have dates going as many years back as possible. Relate the importance of this to the importance of working with a surgeon, who will be performing life-saving surgery on you, who has the greatest amount of experience.
b. Make sure there are settlement letters showing 100% debt reductions. For various reasons, debt dismissals are obtained as resolutions for the debts. These are agreed to resolutions where the creditor has agreed to reduce the debt by 100%. The reason could be negotiations, a violation by the creditor and use of this violation in negotiations, or another reason. This is VERY important to see that the company you choose to work with has experience getting these types of resolution in the past.
c. Ask to see example FDCPA violation lawsuits. Collectors periodically violate consumer protection laws and the debt relief company or a law firm the company works with should have experience pursuing the creditors for damages (and your financial benefit). As a hypothetical illustration of how this works, if a creditor violates certain collection laws and this can be pursued in court, and is won, the debt could be dismissed and financial damages collected on behalf of the client.
19. US Chamber of Commerce Member 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
For a debt relief company that services more than one state, the US Chamber of Commerce membership is very important to demonstrate the commitment to the principles of the Chamber and to support employment and small business creation in the USA.
20. Top 2 rated in Top Ten Reviews of Best Debt Settlement Companies 2016. VERY IMPORTANT
When you are evaluating any review or rating site, make sure to evaluate the age of the site and also evaluate the review site by going to Google and typing in [name of site/organization] + “20/20 Investigation” (to see what has been reported on 20/20 and other TV News Channels), [name of site/organization] + “pay to play” and a third search typing in [name of site/organization] + ”Time.com” (to report what appeared on Time magazine.) Then after watching the videos or reading the news articles that are returned, you can decide what seriousness to give to their evaluation of a company.
Top Ten Reviews has an excellent reputation. Checking their site for company ratings is highly recommended.
21. Does all performance debt relief clients in house.
It is important that the company do all performance debt relief work in-house.
22. Has access to a network of local attorneys to aid in account resolutions as needed at no additional cost to client.
Some creditors and collectors will only work with a law firm licensed in their state or, to get the best resolutions a law firm is needed. Make sure the company you choose to work with has relationships with law firms nationwide in the case needed.
23. FDCPA violation protection.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you as a consumer from unlawful collection tactics. Make sure the debt relief company is reviewing communications and practices by the creditors and/or collection agencies for violations and has the steps to pursue the creditors in case of a violation.
24. Money back guarantee. (See program agreement for details and guidelines.)
Ask about and review the terms of the money back guarantee in writing.
To help you save time and ensure you choose the best company, please see the spreadsheet with evaluations based on the above decision criteria. You can also insert an additional column to evaluate the company you are considering.