Debt continues to be the top cause of stress for Americans. Seven out of ten Americans stress about money, while 20 percent delay medical care because of financial concerns, according to the 2015 “Stress in America” survey of the American Psychological Association (source). Stress certainly doesn’t help when it comes to making smart financial choices. It’s easy to get confused by all the debt relief options available.
Debt settlement companies can negotiate with creditors on your behalf and potentially cut your debt in half. That was the finding of a nine-year study into debt settlement programs commissioned by the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC). The study analyzed 1.9 million accounts and found that the average settlement of an account enrolled in a debt settlement program is 48 percent of the original balance (source). That’s less than half the initial debt.
Cutting your debt in half may sound like a no-brainer, but negotiating a debt settlement is a serious decision you should not take lightly. Finding the right company is crucial. This article will provide SuperMoney’s list of Best Debt Settlement Companies of 2016. It will also explain our methodology, so you can learn how to find reliable companies by yourself.
The CFPB’s Advice on Debt Settlement Companies
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides valuable tips when choosing a debt settlement company. In a nutshell, the CFPB recommends you avoid companies that:
- Charge fees before they settle an account
- Refer to a “new government program” that can bail you out of your credit card debt. Spoiler alert: there isn’t one
- Guarantee they can make your debt disappear
- Promise they can stop debt collecting actions
- Do not provide a clear price estimate for its services
The CFPB’s tips are a good starting point, but there are more things to consider when choosing a debt settlement company.
Keep away from companies that say debt settlement won’t hurt your credit score. It will. The same applies to firms that claim they can keep debt collectors from calling you or lenders from suing you. They can’t.
Low cost is important, but so are flexible payment options. Shy away from firms that aren’t willing to provide a clear fee schedule.
Variety of Debts
Some debt settlement companies will only deal with certain types of unsecured debt, such as credit card debt. Make sure your debt settlement firm deals with the type of debt you are concerned about.
Look for companies with a clear and easy to understand website. Check user comments and customer reviews.
Check whether they are members of a major trade association, such as the American Fair Credit Council. Find out if all its debt specialists are certified by the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA).
Experience and Resources
Avoid new companies. Stick with firms that have at least five years under their belt. Keep away from firms that don’t have a physical address. A post office box doesn’t count.
SuperMoney’s Best Debt Settlement Companies
Here is our list of best debt settlement companies for 2016. For more information on these and other debt settlement firms, click here.
Debtmerica Relief is based in Santa Ana, California. It has been in business since 2006 and helped more than 20,000 clients.
Most debt settlement firms are big on promises but short on details. We love Debtmerica’s transparency when explaining the pros and cons of debt settlement programs and other debt relief strategies. Its website does a particularly good job of setting realistic expectations for its debt settlement program.
Debtmerica customers typically obtain a 45% to 60% reduction of their enrolled debt. The average fee is 21% of the debt balance. It will consider customers with as little as $7,500 in debt.
Accreditation: Debtmerica is a member of the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC), and all its consultants are certified by the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA). It has an A+ rating with the BBB.
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief is based in New York City. It was founded in 2008 and has helped more than 100,000 households resolve their debt problems.
National Debt Relief stands out for its transparency when explaining the details of its debt settlement programs.
Its average fee is 20% of the total debt balance. After fees, clients usually enjoy savings of around 30% of their original debt. The minimum balance to enroll in National Debt Relief’s debt settlement programs is $7,500.
Accreditation: National Debt Relief only employs debt specialists who are certified by the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA). It is also a member of the American Fair Credit Council.
Accredited Debt Relief
Accredited Debt Relief is based in San Diego, California, and was founded in 2008.
Fees range between 18% and 25% of the total debt balance enrolled.
Accredited Debt Relief has a flexible monthly payments program and offers a wide selection of debt relief services, such as credit counseling, debt management, and debt consolidation.
Accreditation: Accredited Debt Relief is a member of the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC), and its debt specialists are certified by the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA).
Looking for more options? Would you like to read consumer reviews on debt settlement companies before you commit to a debt settlement program? Click here for consumer and expert reviews on dozens of debt settlement firms.
Not sure if debt settlement is right for you? Get a free initial consultation with a debt specialist who can help you understand your options.