If you’re in debt, thinking about paying it off can be exciting. It can also seem intensely stressful and even impossible.
Your credit card statements say that it’ll take 18 years to pay them off. You borrow from one credit card to pay off another.
Managing your debt through a debt consolidation company can help you feel like you’re gaining traction with what you owe. It can give you a straightforward plan to follow and allow you to move forward in paying off your debt. It can even save you money over the long term.
Heads up – People often want to know the difference between consolidation and management. In most cases there is none, which is why you hear almost everyone use them interchangeably as we do here. Let’s get down to it…
Best Debt Consolidation Companies
Every debt consolidation solution comes with benefits and disadvantages. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons when considering debt management.
The best debt management companies are reputable, affordable and work tirelessly for you. Working with a debt management company should make life easier. It shouldn’t elicit more stress.
We have researched debt management companies to help you sift through all the information that’s out there. Our top picks can help you manage debts, but each company has characteristics that make it ideal for some people and potentially impractical for others.
Here’s what you need to know about the top 3 debt consolidation companies:
- National Debt Relief
- American Debt Enders
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief is a leader in debt management
The company has the most accreditations out of those listed here. It is accredited by the American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators, the two primary industry associations. It is also in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.
Although the company doesn’t offer traditional debt management, it will consolidate your payments and allow you to save money in an FDIC trust account while it comes to a resolution with your creditors. You will only be required to make one monthly payment after signing up with the company.
What We Like:
- You only pay when you settle. The thought of paying a company up front when you’re already in debt can be daunting. When you work with National Debt Relief, you only pay fees when an agreement has been reached with each creditor. In most cases, you save money on the settlement, so you can afford the fees.
- Several customer service options. You can reach the company’s customer service team over the phone, through email, by live chat and via social media.
- Saves customers 30% on average. National Debt Relief claims to save the average customer who completes a program with them 50% before fees, which amounts to 30% after fees are deducted.
- Money-back guarantee. If National Debt Relief can’t negotiate settlements to which you agree, you can cancel and request a refund.
Where They Can Improve:
- National Debt Relief only works with clients who have at least $7,500 worth of debt.
- Even with all of the customer service options, the customer service team may respond to requests slowly at times.
- Does not offer traditional debt consolidation loans.
- Clients aren’t able to work with just one representative throughout the debt management process.
After your free consultation, National Debt Relief will calculate a fee that’s between 15 and 25 percent of your total debt. This fee will be deducted from what you put into your trust account after each settlement is agreed on.
American Debt Enders
American Debt Enders is a good place to start if you’re trying to get out of debt.
This company provides free services to customers to help them get a handle on their debt. After going through counseling, if a client decides to move forward with a program, American Debt Enders will connect the client with one of its partners for further debt resolution.
What We Like:
- Gives free credit counseling services to clients. This can be helpful if you don’t know where to start with debt management.
- Can pair you with programs for debt management, debt settlement and restructure, debt dispute, student loan consolidation, pay day loan debt and credit restoration.
- Provides free resources to help you maintain a healthy financial situation.
- Is the only company we reviewed here that can set you up with a traditional debt management loan.
- Available in 42 states.
Where They Can Improve:
- American Debt Enders is not accredited by the American Fair Credit Council or the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators.
- It’s difficult to find pricing information about the different programs on the website.
- Not a member of the Better Business Bureau.
American Debt Enders does not charge for its credit counseling services. The fees for its other programs vary depending on the program and your total balance.
CuraDebt is accredited by the American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators.
It is also a member of the Online Business Bureau and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The company can help you consolidate debt from credit cards and other unsecured loans. It also works with IRS and state tax debts.
After going through a free consultation, a CuraDebt counselor will help you decide if one of its programs is right for you. You don’t pay until the company settles your debts.
CuraDebt goes beyond simply negotiating your debts. The company prides itself on looking for creditor and collection agency violations. If a creditor or collection agency has violated standards or broken the law, CuraDebt may be able to get your balance dismissed or help you get a cash reward.
What We Like:
- CuraDebt is the only company we reviewed here that offers tax debt relief.
- Has been in business for longer than the other companies reviewed here.
- Doesn’t charge for consultations and offers full refunds if you cancel.
- Works with clients who have as little as $5,000 in debt.
- Helps you restore your credit after completing a debt management program.
Where They Can Improve:
- Customer service can only be reached via phone or email.
- Does not offer traditional debt consolidation loans.
- Does not offer debt management for student loans.
- Limits services to residents of 36 states.
CuraDebt is transparent about its fee. On average, customers will pay about 20 percent or less of their total debt. You can get an accurate quote once you go through a free consultation.
How We Ranked the Best Debt Consolidation Companies
There are many criteria that go into a good debt consolidation company. Every consumer has different debt relief needs. Although the companies we rated may not meet your needs, this is what we looked for when ranking them.
- Reasonable and Competitive Fees: We know that if you’re reading this article, you may already be struggling to afford to pay your bills. Therefore, we looked for companies that weren’t expensive to work with. To begin with, you shouldn’t have to pay any money before you come to an agreement with a creditor.
The companies we looked at don’t charge up-front fees for their services. They all offer free consultations, and some provide free credit counseling.
We did not choose any companies that charge a monthly fee for services. Your fees will only be charged after you have reached a settlement with each creditor.
- Flexibility of Programs: Certain types of debt consolidation may not be an option for you. We ranked these debt management companies based on their ability to serve people with a wide variety of debt. We chose programs that require low minimum debt amounts and won’t put you further in debt.
- Focus on Savings: If you don’t save money by completing a debt consolidation program, you might as well do it yourself. The companies we rated tend to save customers 20 to 50 percent of their total balances even after charging their fees.
- Transparency & Credibility: You don’t want to put your money into the hands of just anyone you read about online. The companies we reviewed are reputable and provide transparent accounts of what they can do for you. They don’t promise the moon, and they provide a great deal of factual information so that you can do your own research.
- Availability Across the States: Different debt management companies are licensed in different states. In order for us to make this review worth it, we wanted it to be appropriate for the most people possible. We tried to choose companies that worked with customers in as many states as possible.
Each of the companies reviewed here offers flexible programs that are designed to help debtors save money. The companies provide reliable information and are transparent about what they can and cannot achieve for their clients.
Where one company fell short in certain categories, it made up for the shortcoming in another category. We’re confident that the majority of our readers will be able to find an appropriate debt solution using one of these options.
What is Debt Consolidation & Debt Management?
Debt consolidation can mean many things and is synonymous with debt management. In general, when you consolidate your debts, you make one monthly payment that helps satisfy all of your balances.
Debt consolidation can save you stress by preventing you from having to keep up with multiple bills, due dates and minimums. In many cases, it can save you money.
When most people think of debt consolidation, they think of loans that they can take out to pay back their debt. If you can secure a loan to pay off the balances on three different credit cards, for example, you only have to make one monthly payment to pay back that loan. If the interest rate on the loan is lower than the interest rates on the credit cards, you’ll also save money.
However, loans aren’t the only option for debt consolidation, and they don’t always save you money. Traditional debt consolidation loans don’t lower your balances. You’ll end up paying off all of the money you owe, plus interest.
If you don’t owe thousands of dollars of debt, you probably expected to pay it all off in the first place. However, if you amassed tens of thousands of dollars of debt because of a divorce, death, failed business or overspending, you don’t have to suffer through decades of repayment if you’re experiencing financial hardship. You have other options that could potentially result in lowering the total amount of money that you pay back to your creditors.
We’ll go over the different types of debt consolidation loans here. Read on for alternatives to traditional debt consolidation.
Home Equity Loans
If you own a home, you can take out a home equity line of credit. This line of credit uses the ownership in your home as collateral. You can use that line of credit to pay off the balances on your credit cards or other unsecured debts.
The interest rates on home equity loans are typically low. The interest is tax deductible, so you can also save money when taking out this type of loan as opposed to an unsecured loan. This is a reasonable way to pay off credit card debt as long as you’re a homeowner with the available income to pay off the home equity loan.
If you don’t pay back the loan, the bank can foreclose on your home. If you owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth, you won’t have enough equity to take out this type of loan.
Some credit cards offer low-interest balance transfers. You can transfer the existing balance on a higher-rate credit card to a lower-rate card to save money. There is usually a fee charged for a balance transfer. Do the math and make sure that the fee doesn’t outweigh the savings.
If you are in trouble with debt, you want to make sure that you don’t just spend more on the available card once you transfer the balance. If you have accepted a 0% interest rate offer, you must pay off the balance within the allotted time frame, or you’ll usually be charged interest that dates back to the day you transferred the balance.
It’s likely that you won’t qualify for a low-rate card if you have a significant amount of debt. In addition, if you’re reading this article, you might not be able to take out any more credit.
If you’re swamped in debt, your credit score might have suffered, and you may have trouble taking out a new credit card anyway. Balance transfers are typically a more applicable solution for people with less than $5,000 in debt who have a credit score of at least 700.
Taking out another credit card can hurt your credit score. If you do transfer a balance, it can help you to leave the old credit card open and unused to show that you have higher open credit. Your credit score suffers when a majority of your available credit is maxed out.
If you can take out a personal loan from a bank, credit union or debt consolidation company, you can use it to pay off your credit card balances. Depending on the amount of the loan and your credit score, you may get an interest rate that’s lower than those on your other debt.
If you have already accrued several thousands of dollars of debt, however, you might not qualify for a loan. Getting a co-signer with a good credit score may help you obtain a loan.
Getting a personal loan to pay off credit card balances can help your credit score. The type of rotating debt carried on a credit card impacts your credit score more than the installment debt of a personal loan.
- Debt consolidation loans can improve your credit score.
- Debt consolidation is a reasonable option for people who already have good credit.
- The ability to make just one monthly payment can save you time and stress.
- You should be able to lower the amount you pay over time in interest.
- A debt consolidation loan doesn’t lower your total balance.
- You may not be able to take out a debt consolidation loan if you have significant debt.
- You may end up paying more monthly (but less in the long term) if your loan has a low interest rate but short payoff term.
- You must pay off the low interest rates on credit cards within a given time frame to avoid paying compounded interest.
The Two Types of Debt
If you aren’t able to pay your bills and can’t secure more credit or a loan, it can be a relief to know that there are other options. There’s no magical solution, and paying off your debt will take time, but you can get help.
We’ll go over alternatives to traditional debt consolidation below. If you want to be able to assess your options, it’s important to understand what type of debt you’re dealing with.
A secured debt is backed by your personal property. That property is considered collateral and can be repossessed if you can’t repay the debt.
In the eyes of the creditor, giving you a secured loan is less risky than giving you an unsecured loan. The creditor knows that it’s possible to recoup the money by taking your property if you can’t pay back the loan. A car loan is another type of secured loan.
If you don’t pay on a secured loan, the creditor doesn’t usually have to go through a court to repossess the property. However, if you are in contact with the creditor, you may be able to negotiate a settlement or payment plan that lowers your monthly payment and helps you be able to pay back the debt.
Debt consolidation from the companies that we reviewed doesn’t cover most types of secured debt.
Unsecured debt is not associated with a particular piece of property. If you applied for a credit card and received a line of credit, you didn’t have to back up your promise to repay the loan with a particular piece of property.
You probably had to prove a certain level of income on the application. The creditor assumes that you have enough income to pay back the credit.
However, this is a big risk. The creditor has no way of knowing your monthly expenses or spending habits. If you don’t pay back the credit card or loan, the creditor must take legal action to try to get the money back.
Repossessing property for an unsecured loan is a lengthy process, and most credit card companies don’t go through it. Instead, they write off unpaid balances and get a tax break or sell them to bill collectors.
Once a balance from an unsecured debt has been transferred to a bill collector, the credit card company has written it off. Bill collectors must follow certain standards to contact you for repayment. If they violate some of these standards, your debt may be dismissed.
General unsecured debts, like credit card balances and medical bills, are dismissed within 7 years if you don’t pay them. Does that mean you can simply stop paying your credit cards?
That depends. You will have to deal with calls and harassment from bill collectors for almost a decade. If a credit card company, medical organization or collection agency does decide to sue you, you will be responsible for legal fees. Plus, you’ll have to deal with the headache of a lawsuit.
Student and Tax Debt
Although some types of student loans and tax debt are considered to be unsecured, they are regulated by the government. The government can garnish your wages or take other collection measures without going through the courts first. Know about your tax deductions as well. This can alleviate your responsibilities significantly.
Alternative Options to Debt Management
You can’t get out of debt overnight. If you take out a debt consolidation loan, it can take time to pay it back. You’ll have to be financially responsible during that time to remain in good standing with credit card companies and prevent yourself from getting into more debt.
If you don’t qualify for a home equity loan, personal loan or balance transfer, don’t lose hope. There are other options for people with several thousand dollars of debt and lower credit scores to get out of debt.
You can try to create a budget and pay off your credit cards on your own. However, your interest rates may be as high as 25%, and it can take several decades to pay off this debt. In addition, you may end up paying tens of thousands of dollars more than you originally owed by doing it yourself.
You might be able to contact your creditors and tell them your situation. If your income doesn’t outweigh your living expenses and you don’t have extra money to pay your bills, you can claim financial hardship. Creditors may lower your interest rates or waive payments, even if it’s only temporary.
Paying off your credit cards yourself won’t negatively impact your credit score if you continue to pay at least the minimums on time. However, someone who’s already swimming in debt might have trouble paying more than the minimum or paying by the due date.
Debt relief companies can help you save money and shorten the payback period. However, choosing one of these options can bring down your credit score. Still, a dent on your credit score for five years may be preferable to the stress of paying off several unsecured debts over the course of a few decades.
Negotiating Better Terms
You can try to negotiate better terms with your creditors. If you explain your financial situation to your creditors, they may be able to lower your interest rate or waive penalties. If your account is in good standing, you’re not likely to be able to negotiate a reduced balance, however.
If you have gotten to the point where you’ve skipped several months of payments and your account has not been transferred to a collection agency, you may be able to offer the creditor a lump sum to dismiss any further obligation.
For example, say you have $2,000 saved in the bank and owe your credit card company $2,700. If you haven’t made a payment in several months, you can try to offer to pay the $2,000 immediately and be done with it.
The problem with this is that your account may be sent to a collection agency before you have the chance to negotiate with the creditor. You can still try to work something out with the collection agency, but your credit history will show the default.
In addition, the creditor can sue you to recover the unpaid balance. If you’re sued, you may have to appear in court, pay legal fees or have your wages garnished.
When you participate in a debt management program, you allow a company to negotiate with your creditors on your behalf. That company will try to get you lower rates, lower monthly payments or a reduced total balance.
Before going through a debt management program, you usually have to complete credit counseling with an accredited program. Credit counseling is free and involves scrutinizing your income, expenses and ability to pay back your debt.
After going through a credit counseling program, you may be able to enroll in a debt management program. The fee for enrollment is usually less than $100. It may be waived if you are unable to pay it. There may be a monthly management fee of about $25.
You’ll work with one of the best debt management companies to save up money to pay back your debt. You will usually put that money into a trust account to which the debt consolidation company has access. You’ll pay into the account every month instead of paying the money to your creditors.
The debt management company will distribute the money to each creditor. In addition, the company will try to get some kind of relief from each creditor so you can pay back your balance in less time.
Each credit account involved in a debt management program will have to be closed. That means that you won’t be able to use your credit cards until you have successfully completed the program.
This is probably a good thing for someone who has had trouble with debt. However, it may not be a solution if you don’t make enough income to cover your monthly expenses.
In general, going through a debt management program takes 5 years. That can be a long time to live without credit cards, especially if you need them for emergencies.
Enrolling in a debt management program does not significantly affect your credit score. However, your credit score will probably decrease when you close all of the accounts involved in the program. If your credit score is already low, this should not affect you as much as if you have great credit.
Debt management doesn’t usually reduce the total debt that you owe. You can pay it down more quickly than if you tried to pay it on your own, and you’ll save a lot of money in interest.
You may be able to reduce your total debt through a debt settlement program. A debt settlement company will consolidate the money that you’re able to pay your creditors into a trust account. In this respect, debt settlement is similar to debt management.
However, debt settlement requires you to default on your payments so that the settlement company can negotiate better terms or a lower balance. If you’ve been paying the minimums on all of your credit cards, the credit card companies make money from the interest that you pay every month. This leaves the company with no reason to accept a lower payment and dismiss the remainder of your balance.
When you work with a debt settlement company, you begin by coming up with a clear picture of how much money you can save every month. That money goes into an escrow account held by you and the settlement company.
You’ll be required to put money into that account for 3 to 24 months. As you continue to accrue a secret fund to pay back your creditors, the debt settlement company will begin to negotiate with your creditors for better terms. Eventually, the debt settlement company may offer the creditors a lump sum that’s much lower than what you owed.
The benefit of going through a debt settlement company is that you’ll usually save at least 20% of what you would have paid if you had continued to pay off your creditors yourself. You may not stop receiving requests from collection agencies, however, because they won’t know that you’re working with a debt settlement company right away.
Debt settlement can drastically reduce your credit score. If you had a low score with no plan to improve it, this might not be a problem for you. However, your credit history will show that you worked with a debt settlement company. This may prevent creditors from lending you money in the future.
If money is so tight that you can’t afford to save money in an escrow account for debt settlement or debt management, bankruptcy may be your only option. Bankruptcy is not as scary as it sounds.
It has become a popular option for resolving certain kinds of debt. When you file for bankruptcy, you can prevent your wages from being garnished. Many unsecured debts are dismissed when you go through bankruptcy procedures.
Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually an option if you don’t have secured assets that can be liquidated. This type of bankruptcy usually lowers your credit score by several hundred points. It also can eliminate all of your unsecured debts.
The bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. However, you should be able to start obtaining credit again within two to three years. You may not qualify for low interest rates or high levels of open credit until the bankruptcy has been expunged from your credit history.
If you have a home that you want to keep and you have enough income to pay your mortgage and living expenses but not enough to pay your creditors, you may be able to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You’ll work out a schedule with a bankruptcy trustee to pay off your debts in an affordable manner within 3 to 5 years.
You may be able to eliminate a portion of your total debt. The amount that you’ll be required to pay depends on your income, living expenses and debt type.
Your creditors won’t be able to contact you directly, so you won’t have to deal with stressful collection calls. However, Chapter 13 bankruptcy doesn’t completely wipe out your debt, and it remains on your credit history for seven years.
If you are financially responsible after bankruptcy, you can usually bring your credit score back up to the 700s within 4 to 5 years.
Debt Consolidation Scams To Watch Out For
The companies that we reviewed are trustworthy and credible. However, there are so many businesses that offer services to help you get out of debt. How do you know which ones are reputable?
Some companies prey on the financially unstable. They know that when you feel like you’re swallowed in debt, you’re likely to accept any offer to get you out of the situation. Some companies promise big results, take your money and never deliver.
Here’s what to look for to avoid being taken advantage of if you choose a debt management company that we haven’t reviewed.
- You should not feel pressure or urgency to join any debt relief program. If the company is reliable, they understand that there is no reason to rush a debt relief process. It’s true that the sooner you begin a program, the sooner you may be out of debt.
However, an honorable company offers great customer service and knows that potential clients must weigh the pros and cons and do their research. This can take time.
A company that tries to rush you into signing a contract may be trying to capitalize on your emotions to take your money. A reputable company knows that the customers will come because it provides a valuable service.
- You should not have to pay anything up front. Many companies that require application fees never intend to follow through with their promises. Some debt management and debt settlement programs do require enrollment fees or monthly fees. However, the best programs allow you to pay the fees after a settlement has been reached.
- The company should not make unrealistic-sounding promises. If you’ve read this article, you have a good idea of what the debt consolidation process is like. A company that tries to lure you in with promises that sound incredulous may be trying to scam you. Look for honest details and comprehensive information about the program instead of getting excited about persuasive marketing ploys.
- A company should not make guarantees without offering refunds. Although a reputable company has representatives with the skills and know-how to negotiate with creditors, your creditors aren’t guaranteed to accept a settlement. A trustworthy company knows this and is willing to refund your money if it can’t secure you a desired outcome.
- A reputable company usually doesn’t make cold calls: If you were solicited for a promising debt relief offer, don’t snatch it up just yet. You can reach out to debt relief companies yourself. There’s no need for a preapproval. A company that reaches out to you is simply trying to get more customers and may not be looking out for your best interests.
- Do your research: Just because a company has a great website doesn’t mean that it will be able to help you get out of debt. When you’re dealing with sensitive financial information, it’s important to work with someone who will follow the best privacy standards. You also need to know that the money you hand over will end up in the right place.
When you’re researching a company, check its accreditations. The American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators are the main associations that regulate the industry. A company can also be a member of national and online business organizations.
Read as many consumer reviews as you can about a company before signing up. This will help you get a sense of the company’s reliability.
Best Debt Management Companies – Conclusion
The best debt consolidation offers will help you get out of debt with an efficient plan. They’ll allow you to make one monthly payment and pay out less money in the long run.
American Debt Enders gives you free credit counseling and can connect you with debt consolidation programs. National Debt Relief offers debt settlement programs that let you consolidate your payments and ideally lower your total balances. CuraDebt offers debt settlement programs that extend to some tax debts.
Whatever company you choose, make sure that it’s reliable, it’s going to save you money and it’s going to get you out of debt in 5 years or fewer. The best debt management companies can achieve this for you.