Paying bills can make you feel sick to your stomach if you’re constantly trying to catch up with your payments. Even just keeping track of all of your debts can be overwhelming. Letting a debt settlement company handle your credit card payments can bring you peace of mind.
Plus, you’ll end up paying less in the long run.
Best Debt Settlement Companies
While there are many benefits to choosing settlement as a way to manage your debt, there are some drawbacks. We explain the basics about debt settlement, go over the pros and cons and tell you about alternatives below.
We have also comprehensively reviewed several debt settlement organizations based on six primary criteria. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the top three, including the pros and cons of working with each company and their pricing terms.
What are the top three best debt settlement companies out of those we reviewed?
- National Debt Relief
- American Debt Enders
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, the American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators.
It’s one of the largest debt settlement associations in the United States. The company offers settlement programs to help Americans find relief from debt without resorting to bankruptcy.
The company offers comprehensive explanations of its services and benefits on its website. It doesn’t promise results for everyone. National Debt Relief is focused on helping the consumer.
The resources online go over the pros and cons of different debt settlement services and direct you elsewhere if its services are not for you. A free consultation will also help you determine if this company is a good fit.
What We Like:
- No up-front fees. National Debt Relief charges a percentage of your total enrolled debt, and the fees are not charged until your debt is resolved.
- No monthly maintenance fees. Some debt consolidation companies charge you per month for using their services.
- Free quote and consultation, plus comprehensive customer service. The company’s customer service team provides valuable, informative information via phone, email, live chat and social media. You can check on the settlement process through their straightforward user interface.
- Guarantee and no cancellation fees. The company will give you all of your money back with no cancellation fees if you decide that the service isn’t for you.
Where They Can Improve:
- You must have at least $7,500 in debt to work with National Debt Relief.
- Although the members of the customer service team are helpful, they are slow in responding to inquiries.
- National Debt Relief is newer than the other companies in this article and may have limited experience.
- Customers get passed around to several representatives instead of creating a relationship with just one throughout the process.
National Debt Relief charges a flat fee of 15 to 25 percent of your total debt. You don’t pay this fee up front. Instead, the fee is rolled into your monthly program payment and deposited into an escrow account. You don’t have to pay any fees until the debts have been resolved.
American Debt Enders
American Debt Enders is not a debt consolidation or debt settlement company, although it can help you manage your debt.
This for-profit company has been in business since 2006 and provides free credit counseling to customers. After credit counseling is completed, American Debt Enders pairs customers with affiliated non-profit companies for different debt management services.
What We Like:
- Offers free consultations and free credit counseling services.
- Provides educational resources about finances and debt to customers.
- Affiliated with licensed lawyers who can manage cases.
Where They Can Improve:
- American Debt Enders has no accreditations, although its affiliates do.
- The company provides no information about pricing for specific services.
- Although the website is comprehensive, it can be confusing to navigate.
The credit counseling provided by American Debt Enders is free. Fees for additional services vary based on the affiliate used.
CuraDebt is accredited by the American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators.
The company offers settlement services for people who owe unsecured debts as well as tax debts.
CuraDebt begins by offering a free consultation to potential clients. If the program is appropriate for your needs, a counselor will explain all of the details to you. If you agree to sign up for one of its debt relief programs, you’ll sign an agreement with the company. You’ll pay into an account while CuraDebt works to settle with your creditors.
Many debt relief companies concentrate on negotiating better terms for your debt. CuraDebt looks for areas in which creditors may have violated the law or your rights in order to gain ground on which to negotiate. CuraDebt may be able to dismiss your debts entirely or get cash rewards for infringement of policies.
What We Like:
- Helps customers with tax debt issues in addition to unsecured debt management.
- Has been in business since 1996 and has more experience than the other companies reviewed here.
- Offers a free consultation and a money-back guarantee.
- Only requires a total unsecured debt of $5,000, making it easy for customers to qualify.
- Sets you up with a free credit restoration company once you have successfully completed the debt relief program.
Where They Can Improve:
- Limited customer service options. You can only reach the customer service team by phone or email, although the customer service team is helpful.
- Does not offer the option of having a co-signer.
- Does not work with any type of unsecured debt.
- Debt relief services are only available to residents of 36 states. You cannot use this service if you live in CO, CT, GA, ID, IL, KS, ND, NH, OR, SC, VT, WA, WI or WV.
CuraDebt charges 20 percent or less of the customer’s total debt, on average. The company charges no monthly fees, and you only pay when you accept a settlement (based on their free-of-charge consultation).
How We Ranked the Best Debt Settlement Companies
There are so many factors that go into selecting the top debt settlement companies. When choosing the top companies, we looked for reputable, knowledgable companies. We also ranked them based on the customer experience. Were the programs open to the most possible customers? Did they offer comprehensive customer service?
- Accreditation & Longevity: Companies that have been in business longer typically have more experience in the field. When you’re dealing with secure financial information, it can make you feel more comfortable to work with a company that is accredited by the industry’s trade associations. Being in good standing with the Better Business Bureau, National Foundation for Credit Counseling and/or Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies means that the company follows certain rules and standards to which all members must adhere.
- Transparency & Clarity: If you’re shopping around for a settlement solution, it will save you time if you can get all of the details about a company in its website. It also enhances the company’s trustworthiness when it provides straightforward information about pricing and terms. You don’t want to be surprised by shady practices after you’ve signed up with a company.
- Reasonable Fees: Settling your debt should save you money. A debt settlement company is a businesses; they must charge fees to cover their operational costs. Paying those fees shouldn’t put you into deeper debt. We also looked for companies that required no payment up front.
- Realistic Timeline: Anyone who claims to be able to settle your debts in record time may not be following the best standards and practices. Most settlement procedures take at least 24 to 48 months. You should expect the process to last longer the more debt you have. The companies we reviewed promised reasonable time frames for resolving debt.
- Top-Notch Customer Support: When someone is handling your money, you want to be able to have easy access to them. If you have questions or want to follow up with the settlement process, you should be able to get timely, comprehensive answers. The companies we looked at were attentive to the customer, friendly and helpful.
- Savings: Why pay a company to manage your debt if you’re not going to save money? The companies in this article save customers at least 25 percent of their total debt even with the fees figured in.
- Support for Low Minimum Debt of Several Types: Some consumers need help with low debt totals or certain types of secured debt. However, some debt settlement companies only help people with significant totals or unsecured debt. We ranked companies based on their ability to help the most people with their debt.
Every debt settlement company has benefits and disadvantages when it comes to working with them. Nobody’s perfect. However, certain companies may be perfect for you depending on what your needs are.
What is Debt Settlement?
Debt settlement is one of the best ways to relieve your debt and save money. It’s a legitimate way to reduce the total amount that you’ll pay creditors, waive penalties and fees, lower your interest rates and pay off your debt faster than if you managed it on your own.
The main benefit is that settlement is designed to lower the total amount of debt you owe. Debt settlement is not a miracle solution, and it’s not guaranteed to change your debt situation, however.
When you enter into a settlement program, whether for credit card debt or any other type, you work with a company that will negotiate directly with the creditors to reduce your total debt, interest rates and fees owed. If the negotiations go well, your creditors will accept a percentage of the original balance and won’t charge additional fees.
You could negotiate with creditors yourself. However, settlement associations have the experience, skills and confidence to effectively negotiate. They typically work out more desirable scenarios than what you could negotiate on your own.
When you begin the settlement process, you’ll open up a discussion with the debt settlement company. Once they’re aware of your total debt, income and monthly expenses, they’ll be able to come up with a plan to pay it off.
The way the process generally works is that you’ll put a predetermined amount of money into an escrow account managed by the debt settlement company. You can add the money in as a lump sum or pay into it every month. Your creditors will not have access to this account to see that you have the money to pay off some of your debt.
During this time, you must not pay any of your creditors. If you continue to pay the minimums, the creditors will happily accept your money while profiting from the high interest rates they charge you.
If that’s the case, they aren’t likely to accept a settlement when the debt management company contacts them. They may extend your payment period or lower your interest rates, but they’re not motivated to lower the total amount owed if they think that you’re capable of paying it off.
You’ll be required to become delinquent on your credit card accounts to prove to the debtors that you can’t pay the totals. Credit card companies typically wait several months before writing your debt off, taking a tax break and assuming that they won’t get any money from you.
That’s when the debt settlement company begins to work with the creditor. The company will attempt to negotiate a settlement offer that gives the creditor a portion of what you originally owed. The creditor usually realizes that receiving some money is better than getting nothing, and they will accept the offer. At that time, your funds will be released from the escrow account and go to the creditor.
- Debt settlement is an ideal option to pay off credit card debt, but it is not usually an option for mortgages or student loans.
- Settlement usually saves you money in the long run by reducing your balances and wiping your slate clean from financial obligations.
- You can typically get out of debt faster through settlement than through credit counseling, debt consolidation or paying off your debts yourself.
- You’ll make only one monthly payment. This amount should be more affordable because you have worked with the settlement company to determine what you can pay while still maintaining your living expenses.
- The debt settlement company works as a mediator between you and the creditors or collection agencies. Working with a settlement group usually stops you from being contacted by bill collectors.
- If you have multiple debts, you’ll make it harder to negotiate your remaining balances as you settle with each account. Creditors are more likely to settle when they think that you aren’t going to pay back the debt. When they see you settling with other creditors, they may be less flexible with the accounts that have yet to be settled.
- Debt settlement significantly lowers your credit score because you are forced to stop paying your credit card bills during the process.
- Settlement is not guaranteed. You have the right to apply for debt settlement. However, creditors are not required by law to agree to the settlement.
- The fact that you settled will remain on your credit report history for seven years, making it more difficult to secure credit during that time.
- The IRS may look at the money you saved by settling as income, and you may have to pay taxes on it.
Who Should Be Considering Debt Settlement?
To qualify for debt settlement, you must demonstrate financial hardship. You typically must have at least $5,000 in unsecured debt. Different companies require different minimums in order to work with you.
You must be delinquent in payments for several months before a creditor will consider settling your account. If creditors think that you can afford to continue paying your minimums, they are less likely to negotiate a settlement.
Settlement is only an option for unsecured debt. Unsecured debt is not tied to the value of an asset, like a house or a car.
If you don’t pay your unsecured debt, the creditor cannot seize any assets to pay itself back. It’s riskier for a company to offer unsecured credit than secured credit. If you don’t pay off your debt, there’s not much the creditor can do other than sue you or write it off as a tax break.
Some types of unsecured debt are:
- Credit card debt – Bank and store credit cards that allow you to build up a balance and charge you interest as you pay over time.
- Medical debt – Money owed to practices or hospitals for medical procedures.
- Personal loans – Unsecured loans you have taken out from other banks and finance companies.
- Veterinarian debt – Money owed to a veterinarian for procedures that have been completed for animal care.
- Bank and overdraft fees – Balances accrued on bank accounts. You must not have the money in your bank account to pay these fees.
- Cell phones – Closed cell phone accounts that are trying to collect on old bills.
- Back rent and time shares – Fees due for abandoned time shares or rental properties where you no longer live.
- Business loans – Unsecured credit lines like a bank line of credit or business credit card.
- Private student loans – Some debt settlement groups offer services for private student loans.
You should be willing to enter into a settlement program for all of your unsecured debt at once. If one creditor sees that you’re willing to pay back another creditor, the first creditor will be less willing to negotiate a better term.
Why is secured debt ineligible for settlement? The creditor will recover your assets if you default on a secured debt. When you sign a contract to take on that debt, like a mortgage, you agree to grant your personal property as collateral. If you default on the loan without filing for bankruptcy, the creditor can repossess your property, foreclose on a mortgage or deed of trust or file court action against you.
Some debt settlement groups will work with you if you have secured debts that have already been repossessed. For example, if you’re still making car payments but your car has been totaled, you may be able to get help to settle that debt.
Alternative Options to Debt Settlement
There is no miracle path to getting out of debt. No matter what option you choose, the process can be long and arduous. Some people don’t want to opt for debt settlement.
If you don’t have enough debt to qualify or don’t want to drag down your credit score, you could consider DIY negotiation, debt consolidation or debt management. If you have a significant amount of debt and don’t want to take the time to pay it down, bankruptcy may also be an option.
Whatever option you choose, it’s important to have a clear idea of your debts. Begin by detailing all of your outstanding debt. Then, write down your income and regular expenses. Any money left over after paying your expenses can be budgeted toward your debt.
If it’s possible to increase your income to pay your debts faster, you might be more likely to benefit from DIY negotiation or debt consolidation. If you don’t have any money left over after paying your routine expenses, you’re in a tight spot. Bankruptcy may be your best option in that case.
Most people don’t know that they can negotiate with creditors themselves. The difference between negotiating your own settlement and using a company to do it for you is that the company probably has much more experience in this area. However, negotiating with creditors yourself may be the cheapest way for you to get out of debt.
To take this route, you must be aware of how much you can pay each creditor per month. Contact each creditor and be ready to prove your financial hardship.
Your creditors may be willing to negotiate a lower interest rate or longer payment term. They may even lower your balance. If you haven’t paid your bills in several months and have a lump sum that you can give the creditor, you might be able to settle for that amount.
The disadvantage of negotiating with creditors yourself is that it’s a tedious process. It can be intimidating. Are you willing to take “no” for an answer, or do you have the knowledge to push through rejection and encourage creditors to accept your solution?
Debt settlement organizations are more likely to know how much of a discount to ask for. They have a history of working with the same creditors to whom you owe money. They may be more likely to secure an appropriate deal on the first try.
On the other hand, who is going to work harder than you to bring you the benefits that you deserve? If you have the time and desire to put in the effort to negotiate your own debts, you may have similar results as using a settlement company.
If you do negotiate settlements without going through a mediator, make sure that you contact all of your creditors. If some of your creditors find out that you have settled with other companies, they could sue you. You will also have better luck if you have defaulted on your payments for several months.
Consolidating your debts doesn’t necessarily bring down your total balance. However, you can save money by lowering your interest rates. In addition, making only one monthly payment can bring you peace of mind.
Debt consolidation involves taking out one loan that can be used to pay off multiple debts. In most cases, the interest rate on the loan will average out to less than the interest rates on the debts. You pay back the loan with one monthly payment and save on interest fees.
One of the disadvantages of relying on debt consolidation is that if your debts have caused your credit score to fall, you might not qualify for a loan. If your credit cards are maxed out, it can be difficult to secure more credit.
Because debt consolidation loans are unsecured, the interest rates may be high. The interest rate typically increases as your credit score decreases. You may not save much money on interest by taking out a debt consolidation loan.
However, if it’s easier to pay one lump sum every month, you might not be as stressed about paying your bills. Also, keeping track of fewer payments may help you make your payments on time, which can boost your credit score.
Debt management is a plan that typically follows credit counseling. Credit counseling is a free service. Credit counselors take up to an hour to discuss your financial situation with you.
Depending on your situation, the counselor may suggest following a debt management plan. Based on what you’ve already discussed with your counselor, you will agree on the amount you can pay your creditors. The counselor will negotiate with your creditors to improve the terms in some way.
Through a debt management plan, you can usually reduce your interest rates and increase the payment length. You may be able to get late fees and other penalties waived. Once a resolution has been reached with each creditor, your credit accounts will be closed. You are not supposed to take out more credit while you’re paying off your totals through debt management.
You’ll pay one sum to the debt management company every month. That money will be distributed to your creditors based on your agreements with them.
These plans can take up to five years to complete. The length of time it takes to resolve your debt with debt management is based on the total amount you owe and how much you can pay each month.
The benefit of going through this type of plan is that your monthly payment is typically reduced. Credit counseling will also address your budget and spending habits that may have put you in this situation to begin with.
If you’re patient and willing to do the work to cut down your debt, this type of program can help you maintain a healthy financial situation. Debt management programs don’t affect your credit score as much as debt settlement.
Bankruptcy sounds scary to most people. The truth is that many people don’t understand what it is or how it affects your credit. Bankruptcy may be the only way for some people to get out of a devastating financial situation.
Most financial advisors say that a debt solution should get you out of debt within five years or less. If you don’t think that’s possible even with a settlement, debt consolidation or debt management, you might want to look into bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy can give you a fresh start. Whether your debt was caused by a loss, overspending, divorce or another factor, you can get a clean slate by choosing bankruptcy.
The two most common options are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. When you choose Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you liquidate as many assets as possible to pay your creditors. The remaining debts are dismissed.
With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a large portion of your debt is eliminated. Then, you come up with a plan to pay back the remainder within 3 to 5 years.
The main downside to bankruptcy is that it remains on your credit history for 10 years. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can lower your credit score by several hundred points. This can affect your ability to take out more credit. Having bankruptcy on your record can also affect potential employers’ view of you and make it hard to rent a home.
Debt Settlement Scams To Watch Out For
The companies that we reviewed are reputable and honest. They list the pros and cons of working with them on their websites. They even provide additional resources for you to do your own research so that you can feel comfortable with whatever decision you make.
When you’re experiencing financial hardship, it’s easy to latch onto any option that sounds like a way out. There are many debt management companies that promise extraordinary results but have dishonest practices.
There are many other debt management solutions online. There have been news reports of companies taking consumers’ money and never working to improve terms with creditors or simply disappearing with the funds. If you look at other companies when researching your options, here are some factors to look for so that you don’t fall prey to a scam.
- No pressure: Honest companies will never pressure you into using their services. In fact, the most reliable companies will encourage you to research other options before choosing them.
Organizations that are trustworthy and dependable don’t have to hassle you to select their services; the benefits of using them will automatically stand out to potential customers.
If a company gives you an ultimatum or tells you that you must sign with them within a certain time period, it should raise a red flag. Companies that discourage you from researching your options may not be the most trustworthy.
- No application fees: A reliable company should offer a free consultation. A rushed consultation is usually an indicator that a business wants your money and isn’t looking out for your best interests. When the company takes time with you, it should be able to point you toward the best debt reduction solution without requiring additional application fees.
Most companies do charge fees for their services. An accredited company is generally not allowed to charge up-front fees, so be wary of one that does.
You may be charged an enrollment fee or monthly maintenance for certain plans. The enrollment fee for a debt management plan is usually fairly low, and it is often waived if you can’t afford it.
- Too-good-to-be-true promises: The fact is that you owe money to your creditors. Although many people think they know the rules when it comes to resolving debt, much of the information out there is a myth. You’re supposed to pay back the money that you’ve borrowed, and there are only certain situations that allow you to lower the total balance owed.
If a company is offering you a service that seems unbelievable, don’t believe it. Paying off your debt takes time. Every type of debt relief solution comes with pros and cons. If the company doesn’t brief you about the disadvantages of its services, don’t assume that there are none.
Dig deeper to request more information. If the company hesitates to give you more information, it may not be the reliable, transparent company that you want to work with.
- Guarantees: Your creditors are not required to accept any type of settlement. When you begin working with a settlement company, that company has no idea whether your creditors will agree to better terms. In the worst-case scenario, you will end up paying the debt relief company a fee while continuing to pay the same balance with the same interest rates.
Although that’s not likely to happen, a reputable company cannot guarantee that it won’t. Don’t be tempted by unreasonable guarantees.
Although unfounded guarantees scream dishonesty, a money-back guarantee is an indicator of a reliable company. If a company is willing to refund you if it cannot deliver results, it is more motivated to get you the best outcome.
- Never accept a company that reaches out to you: When a company calls you or mails you an offer that sounds extraordinary in a financially unstable time, it’s easy to jump at the offer. Even if you get a letter or phone call saying that you’re preapproved for a company’s services, the fact is that the company doesn’t really know about your financial situation.
Until you have met with a credit counselor and disclosed your income, expenses and debts, that company will not have a clear understanding of how it can help you. Don’t agree to work with someone who says he or she can help you before they know any details about you.
- Do your due diligence: Anyone can get a website. Persuasive marketing tactics can convince you that a particular company is reliable and trustworthy. However, the true indicators of dependability are ratings and reviews.
Research any company with which you consider working before handing them any money. Most debt relief options involve opening a trust account that can be accessed by you and the debt relief company. Make sure that you’re putting your money into the hands of people who will do what they say with it.
The Better Business Bureau offers ratings for debt relief companies. Check the company’s accreditations with industry associations. You can even look online for customer reviews of different companies.
When looking at consumer feedback, however, keep in mind that most people don’t offer reviews unless something goes wrong. Therefore, many companies have more negative reviews than positive ones.
It’s your job to look at those negative reviews and determine what’s important. A negative review that mentions a difficult-to-navigate website shouldn’t weigh as heavily as suspicious operational practices.
These companies will help you get out of debt while relieving your stress instead of adding to it. If you owe a significant amount of debt and have enough income to afford a monthly payment on top of your daily expenses, debt settlement may be an option for you.
Just remember that it’s not an overnight fix. Maintaining responsible financial practices during and after the debt relief period will ultimately keep you debt free.
If you have more than $7,500 in unsecured debt and know that settlement is the option for you, you may consider National Debt Relief. The company offers free consultations and won’t agree to work with you if it’s not the right fit.
If you’re unsure about the best option for debt relief, consider reaching out to American Debt Enders. The company offers several solutions to help you get your finances in order.
Those with more than $5,000 in unsecured debt or tax debt may want to consider CuraDebt. This company negotiates with creditors to help lower or dismiss your obligations.
When it comes to paying off debts, the longer you wait, the more debt you’ll probably accumulate. Research your options and start saving money, paying off your debts and gaining peace of mind. Let one of the best debt settlement companies help.