We evaluated 12 major debt relief companies to find the five best options. We considered the variety of debt settlement plans offered, fees, possible savings, company reputation and expert opinions and ratings in our evaluations. The debt relief companies we ranked highest are Freedom Debt Relief, National Debt Relief, Accredited Debt Relief, Pacific Debt Inc. and CountryWide Debt Relief. This guide explains why you might benefit from a debt settlement or debt consolidation plan, how these services work and debt relief scams to avoid. We’ll also discuss costs and share detailed evaluations of our top debt relief companies. You will also find helpful frequently asked questions about debt consolidation later in this guide.
Top Debt Relief Tips:
- Reputable debt relief companies do not charge fees before you accept a payment plan.
- Debt settlement companies have a high success rate for negotiating to lower bills but may not be able to get an agreement from each company you owe.
- You may have to pay taxes on the written-off debt, so include that cost when deciding if a debt relief plan is right for you.
- Debt settlement companies are best for those who don’t have the income to pay bills.
Tips for a Wise Buyer
Debt settlement companies offer debt relief and consolidation programs that use experienced professionals to negotiate with one or more creditors to lower the amount you owe. The process results in a lower monthly and total payment, even after the company adds service fees. Like all financial decisions, the best debt reduction alternative varies from person to person, and not everyone should take advantage of these services. However, when filing bankruptcy is not an option, consider working with our best debt settlement companies to help get back on your feet financially.
When to Use a Debt Relief Company
While you can negotiate with creditors to reduce your debt, they may be unlikely to accept your proposed terms. If you are making minimum payments on credit cards and loans but not making a dent in the total owed, the lender benefits from collecting the interest. The interest compounds and grows each month, so it can take years to pay off the debt. Credit collectors will start contacting you for missing payments even if you don’t have enough money to cover your current bills and necessities.
Debt settlement companies save time, frustration, stress and money.
Many people don’t know how to negotiate with companies they owe money to and feel too intimidated to try. A reputable debt settlement company uses representatives who know how to work with creditors to reduce your debt and come up with an affordable payment plan, which saves you time and money. Debt settlement companies typically charge a percentage of the amount you owe, and you don’t pay unless you accept the settlement.
What is Debt Settlement?
Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors to reduce the amount you owe when you have no way to pay. You save a lump sum in a dedicated savings account that is used to pay your entire balance at once, or you make payments each month to pay off the reduced debt. A debt settlement agreement does not work for loans for which you have provided collateral, such as mortgages, some auto loans or home equity lines of credit. These companies also don’t help pay off most, but not all, student loans. Debt settlement is an option for unsecured debt, most frequently credit card debt. Some argue having a debt settlement agreement lowers your credit score, but your credit score is likely severely damaged if you’ve been unable to make payments.
Consider a debt settlement plan if you’ve stopped making payments on your bills.
Not all creditors work with debt relief companies, so you may only be able to enroll part of your debt if you owe multiple creditors. If you only need to lower payments to one company and that company won’t work out a debt settlement, you pay nothing for the attempted negotiation.
Debt Consolidation Options
Debt consolidation involves paying off all your debts with a payment plan or one lower interest rate loan. Not everyone qualifies for a debt consolidation loan, and the monthly payments may still be unmanageable for some people. Many debt settlement companies offer consolidation programs but negotiate down the total you owe each creditor.
Debt consolidation is ideal for paying less in interest
and reducing the total amount owed.
You make payments to the debt settlement company, which in turn pays your creditors. Other debt consolidation plans from these companies reduce debt after you make affordable monthly payments to a savings account used to pay the settled bills.
How Much Can You Save with a Debt Settlement?
You remain in control of the savings account and are responsible for making payments during the debt settlement process, and you can withdraw from the program at any time. However, the amount you save increases if you stick with the plan to the end. We gathered data from the latest annual Regan Report for the American Fair Credit Council to create a hypothetical comparison of how much money you can save by using a debt settlement company compared to other options in the chart below.
|Comparing Debt Relief Options
for Credit Card Debt
|Debt Settlement||Credit Counseling||Regular Payments|
|Months Until Debt Free||48||48||65|
|A – Total Program Interest||none||$5,092||$12,985|
|B – Settlement or Repayment||$13,800||$25,000||$25,000|
|C- Program and Bank Fees||$5,980||$1,995||none|
|Total Cost (A+B+C)||$19,780||$32,087||$37,985|
*Monthly payment = total costs / months to pay off
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling cites the Regan Report to explain that consumers typically would only get a 22% discount on debt negotiated by a settlement company. Income taxes would lower that percentage somewhat.
Used carefully, debt relief services can save you money when you can’t pay bills.
Although the NFCC uses this data to criticize debt relief programs, this percentage is a substantial saving for most people who are in over their heads with bills. The Regan Report also found that debt settlement services save consumers an average of $2.64 for each dollar paid in fees.
Debt Relief Company Costs
All of the best debt settlement companies have policies for the minimum amount of debt you must have before they can work with you, typically $7,500. Bills negotiated to a lower total on your behalf are called your enrolled debt. The typical charge for working with these companies ranges from 15% to 25% of your debt, so shop around if a company wants to charge you more. If you owe $10,000 on a credit card and a settlement company offers you an 18% fee, the cost is $1,800 even if the company reduces your debt by half. This expense is significant, but debt relief companies are for-profit businesses, and there is value in the services for the right individuals.
Other costs are interest and perhaps penalties, which accrue during negotiations and possibly beyond. Be sure future interest and fees figure into your payment plan. You’ll also need to pay income tax on the difference between your original debt and the settled amount. You will receive an IRS Form 1099-C in the mail if you save more than $600 (the IRS occasionally adjusts this amount), and the amount gets taxed as passive income. Factor this cost into your savings calculation before you agree to a payment plan to be sure you’re coming out ahead with the agreement.
6 Debt Settlement Scams to Avoid
Debt settlement scams prey on frightened and stressed consumers, but we’ve chosen reputable, trusted companies that can help you reduce and eliminate debt. Although the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on debt relief scams years ago, they still happen. To avoid getting caught in a debt relief scam, avoid companies that use these practices:
Charge upfront fees before starting negotiations with debtors, a practice forbidden by the FTC.
Make promises before negotiating with the companies you owe. No debt settlement company can know if or how much your debt can be reduced before talking to creditors.
Government programs and exclusive deals are not a part of what a reputable debt settlement company offers.
A company that calls or emails you to offer debt reduction services may be trying to commit identity theft. You should initiate contact with debt relief companies, not the other way around.
Unclear fees are a red flag. Debt relief companies charge a percentage for the work they do for the client and for administering the payment plan. Trustworthy companies have nothing to hide and explain the cost before you agree to a debt settlement.
Promises to eliminate consumer or tax debt are unlikely to be legitimate. Debt relief companies specialize in reducing debt and creating affordable payment plans, not getting rid of debt altogether. Tax relief companies may eliminate tax debt, but debt settlement companies don’t work in this arena.
Avoid debt relief offers that won’t give full cost information or sound
too good to be true.
Check the FTC’s list of banned debt relief companies and individuals if you question any company’s debt settlement practices.
Our Search For The Best Debt Settlement Companies
1. We searched through an extensive list of 12 top debt relief companies to help you consolidate your payments.
2. We evaluated the debt settlement companies based on our expert-guided criteria: debt relief plans offered, fees, savings level, company reputation and expert rankings and opinions.
3. We provided you the best debt relief companies for consideration.
Debt Settlement Company Reviews
There are dozens of debt settlement companies and lawyers in each state, and choosing one to help reduce your debt can be complicated. We did the hard work for you. Our in-depth debt relief company analysis focuses on each company’s industry reputation, payment plans, consumer sentiment and other criteria.
After our evaluation, we chose the best debt relief companies. Each of these companies stands out above and beyond the competition, provides a free consultation and charges nothing until you approve a debt settlement offer.
Freedom Debt Relief Review
Source: Freedom Debt Relief
Great Client Dashboard |
In 2019, Freedom Debt Relief reached $10 billion in debt settled just more than a year after reaching an $8 billion milestone. As the most prominent debt negotiator in the U.S., the company resolves an average of nearly 44,000 accounts each month.
Freedom Debt Relief’s secure online dashboard lets clients log in to see account activities. The panel shows how debt settlement negotiations are proceeding, allows clients to authorize settlements and view monthly statements, get in touch with customer service and more.
National Debt Relief Review
Source: National Debt Relief
Great Guarantee |
Most debt settlements handled by National Debt Relief are entirely paid off in 24 to 48 months. The company publishes a money-back guarantee on the website — if you are not satisfied with the service at any point before the debt is settled, you can cancel with no fees or penalties.
Along with debt relief services, the company conducts financial consultations and provides educational resources to consumers.
Accredited Debt Relief Review
Source: Accredited Debt Relief
Great Range of Services |
Accredited Debt Relief says its representatives understand unforeseen expenses come up. If you miss a program payment, a customer service agent helps you work out arrangements to reach your goals. This policy sets Accredited Debt Relief apart from other businesses in the industry.
The company offers multiple types of debt relief through a vast network of providers and matches clients to the best solutions for their financial issues.
Pacific Debt Inc. Review
Pacific Debt Coverage Map | Source: Pacific Debt Inc.
Great Personal Service |
In business since 2002, Pacific Debt assigns a dedicated specialist that works one-on-one with each client throughout the debt settlement process. A program advisor is immediately assigned to your case to determine if you qualify for Pacific Debt’s services.
The company creates a budget to show how your plan would work. A client care team helps enrollees deal with collections agents and other issues. Finally, clients work with one account manager who negotiates all debts and provides monthly updates.
CountryWide Debt Relief Review
Source: CountryWide Debt
Great Flat Fee Option |
CountryWide Debt Relief boasts 30 years in the business and offers debt consolidation, credit card consolidation programs and debt relief services.
If you have $10,000 in credit card debt and can make $250 monthly payments, CountryWide will approve your application in seconds. CountryWide charges a flat 18% fee, so you don’t have to guess how much you’ll owe for its services.
Frequently Asked Questions about Debt Consolidation
Will a debt settlement show up on my credit report?
Your credit report will show settled accounts for seven years. These accounts can affect your credit report negatively because the original balance goes unpaid. You need to determine if getting relief from the difficulties caused by unpaid bills outweighs a mark on your credit report. If you are skipping payments, your credit report has already been affected, so receiving a debt settlement may make little to no difference.
How long will it take to pay off my bills with a debt relief company?
It typically takes from two to five years to pay off your bills when you work with a debt relief company. This range depends on how low the company negotiates your debt, how much you can afford to pay each month and the length of your agreement.
Do I take out a loan from a debt relief company to enroll in a debt consolidation plan?
Debt consolidation handled through a debt settlement company does not require you to take out any loans. Instead, your payments go to a monthly deposit in a dedicated account to build up savings to pay the lowered bills.
Can debt relief companies guarantee a settlement from each company I owe?
The amount of debt relief provided through a debt settlement company’s negotiations is not guaranteed. However, you don’t pay for the company’s efforts unless it gets results that meet your approval. You may receive a settlement to pay a lower amount to all debtors or just some of them.
Are there any bills a debt settlement company can’t negotiate?
Debt relief companies can’t negotiate settlements for federal student loans, state and federal income taxes, home mortgages and most auto loans. Also, some businesses do not work with debt settlement companies.
Debt settlements sound complicated. How do I know my program will work?
Programs related to settling debts are complicated in most cases, which is why a debt relief company is often worth the cost. You don’t give a debt settlement company approval to work for you until you receive information like how long it will take to pay off bills, total cost and potential consequences, such as a lower credit rating. Do not go forward with a plan offered by a debt relief company unless you understand all facets of the agreement.
Concluding Thoughts on Debt Consolidation
Debt Consolidation is a great tool for individuals with large amounts of debt, but its not for everyone.
Debt relief companies can help those buried in debt make manageable payments so they can move forward without the stress of unpaid bills. The best debt settlement companies offer money management information so clients can learn to plan their finances better and avoid too much debt in the future. Debt relief services aren’t for everyone and are relatively expensive, but they save consumers money by reducing the amount owed on bills and monthly payments.
The Best Debt Consolidation Companies
|Debt Consolidation Company||Best For|
|1||National Debt Relief||Great Guarantee|
|2||Freedom Debt Relief||Great Client Dashboard|
|3||Credit Associates||Great Software|
|4||J.G. Wentworth Debt Consolidation||Most Flexibility|
|5||Debt RX||Great Customer Service|
|6||Accredited Debt Relief||Great Range of Services|
|7||Pacific Debt Inc.||Great Personalized Service|
|8||CountryWide Debt Relief||Great Flat Fee Option|