Eliminate Credit Card Debt?
(Read the Fine Print)
Eliminate Credit Card Debt?
(Read the Fine Print)
Of course, I dont need the services of any of these companies, but I thought I would check into the general track record of the non-profit, and for profit, debt-counseling companies. What I found was interesting.
For instance, the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission, and state regulators issued a warning in October 2003 (IRS 2003-120) warning consumers to be wary of credit counseling services, especially not-for-profit services. It seemed in 2003 that there were numerous not-for-profit organizations purporting to offer help in consolidating and paying off debt, along with debt counseling, that really were designed to make a fortune for their owners, not perform a needed service.
The good news is the IRS, FTC and state regulators were going after these phonies that gouged consumers and gave reputable companies a bad name. The bad news is shutting down disreputable companies will take a long time; time many consumers dont have. That makes it incumbent on consumers to make sure they work with reputable companies at the outset.
So how do you know if you are dealing with a good company? Lets talk.
The first thing you need to remember is just because a company says it is a not-for-profit organization does not mean it is a charitable organization. The filing requirements to receive the initial tax exemption arent that onerous and the IRS doesnt have the resources to verify everything on the application. Therefore, you have to investigate the reputation of a potential vendor to make sure the vendor is reliable.
You can check on a vendor in several ways. First, go to their website and see what they claim there services will be. If they dont offer credit counseling and education on managing your finances better, then theres a good chance the company is not really a not-for-profit organization. To obtain the not-for-profit status, the organization must be formed for an education, religious or charitable purpose.
Obtain a copy of the companys contract and read every single word. "The fine print" hasnt received its negative reputation for no reason. Many times, there will be disclaimers of liability, contract clauses dealing with late payments or other provisions that can jump up and bite you if you arent careful.
Check the fee structure and how much of your payment goes to the payment of fees. In general, you should look for a $50 set-up fee and a $25 monthly processing fee. In the case of not-for-profit companies, they will try to tell you these are "donations." Dont believe them; these are fees that are not deductible on your return later on.
Check the guarantees in the contract. Does the "counselor" represent you can get bad records (legitimate bad records) off your credit history? If there is such a representation, head for the hills. By law, this is an illegal representation.
Touch base with your creditors. Tell them what you are about to do (i.e. work with a debt counselor). Make sure the creditors will be willing to work with the counselor. Ask if they know of any reason to avoid a particular counselor. You may even find that you can negotiate with the creditor as well as the counselor can. What a savings you could achieve.
If you do decide to go with a counselor, also known as a debt consolidator, follow up. Make sure the payments are made on time to the creditor. Dont rely on the counselors representations, because there are some scams where the consolidator receives the money and never pays the creditor. Also be aware that you may find your credit report flagged showing you are with a consolidator. This is not good, as many companies will use this to deny you credit. Therefore, it may sometimes be advantageous to work things out with your creditors on your own.
Getting into debt is easy and getting out can be very difficult. Are you struggling with a heavy debt burden or just looking for some help in budgeting? Give us a call and lets talk. We may be able to help you stay away from debt consolidators. While we wont be able to erase legitimate bad news from your credit report, we can help you devise a plan to pay the debt off and to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Until October, have a tremendous September.
These articles are intended to provide general resources for the tax and accounting needs of small businesses and individuals. Service2Client LLC is the author, but is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting, financial or professional advice. Service2Client LLC makes no representation that the recommendations of Service2Client LLC will achieve any result. The NSAD has not reviewed any of the Service2Client LLC content. Readers are encouraged to contact their CPA regarding the topics in these articles.