Editor's choice: Freedom Debt Relief
- Flexible payments
- Leader in debt negotiation
- No upfront fees
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Debt relief companies are designed to act as a last resort before filing for bankruptcy. If they sound too good to be true, that’s because they sometimes are. But there are also some trustworthy companies out there.
Before you sign up, look into free options or even working as your own advocate. That could save you hundreds or even thousands, depending on how much debt you have.
When choosing the best debt relief companies, we first confirmed each provider’s legitimacy, business practices and website security. We also looked at customer reviews from the Better Business Bureau and Trustpilot.
We then analyzed and compared each company based on factors like how long they take, what types of debt they settle, minimum debt requirements, fees, credit disclosure documentation, transparency, accreditation and customer satisfaction. We also considered state restrictions and legal actions taken against the companies.
|Company||Best for||Minimum debt||Typical costs||Typical turnaround||State availability|
|National Debt Relief||Private student loans||$7,500||18–25% of total enrolled debt||24–48 months.||Not available in CT, KS, ME, SC, OR, VT WV or NH||Go to site|
|American Credit Card Solutions||Low-commitment debt relief||$10,000||15% – 25% of enrolled debt.||2 – 4 years||Doesn’t disclose — licensed in 25 states.||Go to site|
|New Era Debt Solutions||Low-cost debt settlement||None||16% to 20% of enrolled debt||Around 2 years||Doesn’t disclose — but some states are ineligible.|
|CuraDebt||Tax relief||$10,000||20% of enrolled debt||3 years|
|Consolidated Credit||Debt management||None||Fees regulated by client's state of residence, can range from$0 to $69 with an average monthly fee of $35. No upfront or contingency fees.||Varies||All 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and US Virgin Islands||Go to site|
Debt relief covers a wide range of services that are designed to help reduce your debt or come up with a strategy to pay down your balances. The following types of programs typically fall under debt relief:
Debt settlement is often the most common type of debt relief out there — but also the most risky. You can read our guide to debt relief for more information on how each type works.
Debt relief has earned itself a somewhat shady reputation, thanks to the rise of scam companies in the early 2000s. Although a 2010 federal crackdown cleaned up the industry in part, scammers are always creating new ways to take your money.
It’s possible to avoid a scam by doing some research first. When considering a debt relief company, ask yourself the following questions.
Some state regulations limit or outright prevent debt relief services from operating in that state. Be sure to know whether or not you can sign up.
Fees are usually a percentage of the debt you enrolled, often from 15% to 25% of that amount. For credit counseling or debt management, you might pay a monthly fee of around $35.
It’s illegal for debt relief services to charge you a fee before they’ve provided results. Most legit companies also won’t ask for fees all at once, preferring steady payments toward settlement accounts and services.
Many legit debt relief company are accredited with the American Fair Credit Council or the IAPDA, which set and maintain industry standards.
While not always the case, older more-established businesses feel less pressure to engage in unsavory business practices to stay afloat.
Can you find answers to most of your questions with a few clicks online? Is it clear what services it provides, and is that information consistent? What happens if you call in?
If you can’t get a straight answer before handing over sensitive information, it’s time to consider other options.
Debt settlement companies work by having you pay into an account from which the company then pays your debt settlement fee. By law, you control these funds and can even withdraw from them without a penalty.
Debt management companies shouldn’t enforce a minimum enrolled debt amount. Better debt settlement companies are willing to work with debt on the lower end — from $7,500 to $10,000.
Established debt relief companies can settle private student loans and even some secured debt, but most only handle basic unsecured debts like medical bills, personal loans and credit cards. It’s illegal for debt settlement companies to settle federal student loans.
Typically, debt settlement programs take two to four years. Try to avoid longer terms — it increases your risk of facing a lawsuit or not completing the program.
It’s impossible to know how your negotiations will go, but some companies will disclose how much past clients have saved to get a ballpark idea of what you’re in for. If it promises 100% savings — or really any amount of savings — it could be a scam.
If the company solicited you for its services, make sure advertised promises are true. Otherwise, it’s not following government regulations.
Look for reviews and complaints on sites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Trustpilot to get an idea of what you can expect as a customer.
While reviews tend to represent extreme situations, they can give you an idea of red flags to look out for. And you can find out if there have been any government actions against the company on the BBB website.
The IAPDA is a professional organization that trains and certifies individuals in debt settlement and accredits trusted debt settlement companies. Accreditation by the IAPDA means that a significant number of individuals in the company are certified debt consultants, but it’s always a good idea to make sure your personal consultant is certified, even when working with a trusted and accredited company.
Debt settlement can be useful in certain situations when you’ve exhausted all other ways to get your debt under control, like applying for a balance transfer credit card or debt consolidation loan. However, there are a few drawbacks to debt relief you should consider before signing up.
First and foremost, debt settlement will damage your credit score and isn’t guaranteed to work. In fact, only around 10% of people who enroll in debt relief programs actually complete them. And with many programs, it’s difficult to continue paying your creditors while also putting money toward your debt settlement escrow account. This puts you at risk of being sued by your creditors.
If you do complete the program, any settled debt will be considered taxable income. Add fees and interest that accumulated while you’re in the program, and you might not save as much as you thought you would.
Before you sign up with a debt relief company
Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And they aren’t always transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. You might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.
Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:
Yes, you don’t have to pay for the results you’d get from a debt relief company.
Some credit counseling companies are free, since the Department of Justice (DOJ) requires you to enroll in credit counseling as a part of some bankruptcy proceedings. Look for a nonprofit agency or visit the DOJ’s website to find a low-cost or free agency near you.
The federal government offers some debt relief programs for federal loans and mortgages that can help slash or reduce your debts.
Be your own advocate and negotiate down your balances or ask for a better term from your creditors. While you won’t have as much experience as a professional, you’ll avoid potential scams and know that you have your own best interests in mind.
Read our step-by-step guide to settling debt without an expert to learn what to expect.
Debt relief can be a legitimate path to get out of unmanageable debt situations — but only when approached carefully and using the most reputable services.
If you have the creditworthiness to qualify for a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card, that might be a better option for you. But if you’re dealing with a debilitating amount of debt and trying to improve a low credit score, be sure to compare all of your debt relief options before choosing the company that’s right for you.
Must-know regulations and fees in the Lone Star state.
What VA’s new debt relief regulations mean for you and how to protect yourself in the meantime.
Nonprofits can offer inexpensive paths to debt freedom with fewer risks than debt settlement companies.
State law may benefit you when you’re in debt.
Debt relief for VA loans, student loans and other types of debt service members face.
There are no government debt relief programs — but there are other ways Uncle Sam can help.
Save up to 25% after fees with this accredited debt relief company.
Enroll as little as $8,000 with this debt settlement company.
This debt settlement company doesn’t have many details online, but it’s highly rated.
This debt relief connection service helps you sort through your options — but has had questionable partners.
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