As in all walks of life, there is good and evil in the debt settlement agreement arena. There are reputable debt settlement agreements and there are those created for the sole purpose of ripping you off. You’ll need to know what to look for and be able to identify a scam when you see one. You don’t want to be counted in their carnage.
What constitutes a good debt settlement agreement? For starters, the agreement must be tailored to fit your own personal debt settlement needs. In other words, it must reflect exactly what you discussed with your creditor when you and your creditor agreed on the terms. Nothing more, nothing less.
Video: Begging & Borrowing in America - America's Cheapest Family
There are many suspicious items to look for in a debt settlement agreement. You may find that the terms have changed, the amount due is changed or there is verbiage missing that should be there to reflect what you agreed to. If you find anything amiss or anything added that should not be there, take out a pen and start making amendments.
Scratch out any verbiage that contradicts what you agreed to.
Scratch out any added requirements that you did not agree to.
Add the verbiage that should be there.
Create a new document with all the correct language.
Always make copies of any written exchanges with your creditor. Make a copy of the creditor’s original document you modified and the new one you created. Send the originals to the creditor with a cover letter explaining all of the changes. Mail it Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested.
Do not sign or pay anything until you receive a correct copy of the debt settlement agreement with the creditor’s signature already on it.
Another item to note is that your creditor may send you a complicated agreement. There is nothing wrong with your creating your own agreement to ensure its accuracy. Use your creditor’s original format, but modify the confusing language to reflect common terms that you understand. Again, copy everything for your records and mail the originals to the creditor for signature.
There are certain standard items that should be included in every debt settlement agreement. Make sure all these are present on your debt settlement agreement before you sign:
Name of creditor.
Specific amount you agreed to pay.
Date by which you agreed to pay the debt.
If you agreed to make payments – include specific amount of payments, frequency of payments and lifetime (duration – e.g., number of months, years) of payments.
The creditor agrees that the settled amount constitutes the debt as paid in full.
Specific language stating that the creditor agrees to remove all negative information, and agrees to never place negative information on your credit report in the future.
Signature of creditor. Don’t sign unless the creditor has already signed. Send it back for creditor’s signature.
Payment – Legal Loopholes
Depending on the state, you may run into some unavoidable legal loopholes when it comes to your payment. Of course, you will always want to write paid in full in the memo line of your check/money order when you submit payment to the creditor for payment. For extra measure you should also write on the back of the check, “The cashing of this check warrants that this account is paid in full.”
Note that if you DO NOT, collection agencies can hire out the forgiven part of your debt to be collected by another agency.
There are 19 states that enforce this; however, 13 states have modified this rule. For these states, all the creditor has to do is write in the specific language under protest or without prejudice near his signature. This retains the creditor’s right to collect from or sue you for the remainder of the balance due, but the creditor has to use that exact language.
In California, creditors have the right to cross out the "paid in full" language and pursue you to collect the difference. Coincidentally, this state also provides a process for the debtor to get around that.
Video: Maxed Out (Documentary Trailer)
Debt Settlement Companies
Have you come to the point where trying to work out a debt settlement with your creditors is just not working? If so, you may want to consider enlisting the assistance of a debt settlement company. There are a few things you’ll want to check for when considering a debt settlement company.
When visiting a debt settlement company’s site, make sure you can find their physical street address somewhere on the site. If it’s not found on the homepage, you can typically find it when you click on the Contact Us tab/button. If you do not find it anywhere on the site, move on to another company. The only exception would be if you find the Better Business Bureau seal on the site.
Better Business Bureau
Did you see the seal of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) placed on the debt settlement company’s website? If so, this is a good “sign.” In order for a business to be BBB certified, they must meet fairly stringent qualifications and adhere firmly to established BBB rules. If you see the BBB seal, this means that the company meets rigorous BBB’s requirements.
The Internet is littered with debt settlement companies. Several found by a quick search are as follows:
Heritage Debt Relief
105 S. Canyonwood Dr.
Dripping Springs, TX 78620
Internext Technologies Debt Consolidation Care
711 S. Carson St.
Carson City, NV 89701
Trident Debt Solutions, Inc.
1444 Stuart St.
Denver, CO 80204
Debt Relief America
3100 S. Harbor Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
American Debt Foundation, Inc.
4491 S. State Rd. 7
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
(866) 626-4718 or
Option One Financial Group, Inc.
4631 NW. 31st Ave.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309
Turning Point Debt Settlement
3450 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Christian Debt Counselors
201 SE. 15th Terr.
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441
US Financial Management, Inc.
3131 Camino Del Rio N.
San Diego, CA 92108
American Financial Service
9530 Hageman Rd.
Bakersfield, CA 93312
Nationwide Debt Settlement
3819 N. 3rd St.
Phoenix, AZ 85012