There is an onslaught of American consumers acquiring more debt. It makes for the business of debt consolidation management an emerging industry. Nonetheless, as the marketplace of the indebted continues to reach proportionate heights, it does not do much for the consumer. According to IRS commissioner, Mark W. Everson, ?The new breed [of non-profit credit counseling agencies] appears to be more focused on marketing debt management plans than providing educational or charitable services.?
Over the last seven years, the United States economy has been quite turbulent. Pre-9/11, American consumers demonstrated gluttonous buying behavior. Wallets and purses tightened after the crisis at the World Trade Center. As the economy continues to boomerang, many patrons are feeling the aftershock of a previous time of financial depravity. Subsequently, credit counseling services, debt management plans and debt consolidation loans are inundated with clients to serve.
The overwhelming number of grievances regarding non-profit credit counseling agencies is an emerging concern. Tens of thousands consumers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau regarding the unethical and false representation of the debt management organizations. The government is looking into the problem via the Internal Revenue Service. It may conjure new audits and income for the country, but it may not impact predatory organizations for victimizing consumers entrenched in debt.
Services Offered by Credit Counseling Agencies
By and large, both for-profit and non-profit credit counseling agencies extend invaluable debt management support. The significance of a counseling agency offers the following services:
- Acts as a liaison between creditors and debtors
- Helps consolidate unsecured debt
- Offers educational information
- Assists people with better personal financial management
The stereotypes associated with the indebted consumer are not all true. Unlike the classification of the irresponsible consumer who has charged their way into a financial stupor, a vast percentage of people have incurred extenuating circumstances. The misfortunate scenarios can be anything from a job layoff in a dying industry, to a medical fatality to the devastation of a divorce or even death.
Credit Counseling, an Ultimate Alternative to Bankruptcy
For the American who finds themselves ensconced in unforeseen circumstances, there are alternatives. Since bankruptcy can leave a big stain on one?s credit report (up to ten years), credit counseling is the ultimate opportunity. As any industry has ethically bankrupt groups, the same is true of the debt management and credit counseling sector. With the escalation of American debt, a few illicit firms have been inspired to use consumer?s misfortune to their fortunate advantageous.
Consumer Smart Credit Counseling
Nonetheless, for the American consumer in quest of credit counseling here are some consumer smart strategies to identify an illicit credit counseling firm from an ethical one.
- Any non- profit that charges excessive fees
- Fails to offer free personal financial advice for a do-your self solution
- Neglects to discuss or disclose fair consumer?s legal rights
- Prior to providing counseling services, requires an upfront payment for credit repair
- Advises the consumer to dispute all information contained in the credit report
- Encourages the consumer to contact a credit reporting agency, directly
- Supports illegal actions the consumer can take to amend their credit (for example creating a new credit identity)
- Prescribes that the consumer to restructures a good credit rating by applying for an Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
Essentially, whenever a professional agent, business consultant or financial counselor recommends any type of fraudulent activity, the consumer is liable for prosecution, as well. If you seek help from a credit counseling agency or debt consolidation firm that recommends any of the above fast fixes for your credit rating, report the unethical recommendations to the Better Business Bureau.
Five Consumer Smart Strategies to Employ Before Opting for Debt Consolidation
Conduct a background research on debt management firms. Check with your state?s attorney generals office and the Better Business Bureau. If the credit counseling firm has a propensity for committing fraudulent business tactics, they will be listed on either the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General?s office.
- Determine whether the service extends workshops on budgeting and managing personal finances. (It is one of the more prominent signs of an ethical credit and debt counseling/consolidation program).
- Request how the financial counseling agency is paid. Generally, when debt representatives are paid on a commission basis, they are motivated to improve their financial status versus their customers. Do not forget to present the same question to any non-profit debt organization as well.
- Inquire the credit counseling services hours of operation. The credit and debt service should be open during normal business hours. Be leery of debt management firms that contact you via telemarketing.
- Request a list of fees. Before finalizing a credit counseling agreement, request a detailed overview of the fees associated with the company. Overall, steer clear of any credit or debt management firms that carry exorbitant fees or abnormally high deposits requirements.
Finding the right debt consolidation program to get one?s personal finances on track is a matter off applying the above consumer intelligent tactics.
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Short note about the author
Holly Bentz is a finance writer and a contributor to About Personal Loans.