An Overview of Major Debt Relief Companies in the U.S.
If you’re experiencing financial distress, debt settlement is an alternative solution to bankruptcy. Although many people hold the opinion that debt settlement is a scam, (and historically, there is truth to that), debt relief companies have changed for the better.
In fact, there are many reputable debt relief companies that have helped people settle their debt for less than what they owe. We’ll show you how to choose one and if you know what to look out for (which we’ll also share below), you won’t have to worry about falling victim to a scam.
Table of contents
Analyzing debt relief companies
Methodology: For this article, we’ve analyzed some of the largest debt relief companies to see how they fare against each one other. We analyzed the following:
Number of states in which they provide debt relief services
Minimum amount of debt to qualify for their debt relief services
Debt settlement time frame
Fees for services
How difficult it was to find pricing information
- Score of 3 – Fees are clearly listed on their site
- Score of 2 – They don’t list their fees, but multiple third party sources had correct fee details
- Score of 1 – You have to call to find out the fee
Here’s a quick breakdown (in no particular order) of some of the largest debt relief programs in the U.S. You can read more about each of these companies later on.
|Some of the largest debt relief programs in the U.S|
|Debt Relief Programs||Ease of Finding Price||Price/ Fees||Accreditation||Number of States||Time Frame||Minimum Debt|
|National Debt Relief||3||20-25%||BBB, AFCC, IAPDA||41||24-48||$7,500|
|Freedom Debt Relief||1||18-25%||BBB, AFCC, IAPDA||32||24-60||$7,500|
|Accredited Debt Relief||1||5-7%||BBB, AFCC, IAPDA||18||24-48||$7,500|
|New Era Debt Solutions||1||14-20%||BBB||43||24-36||$750 per account you wish to settle|
|Clearone Advantage||1||25%||BBB, AFCC, IAPDA||20||24-48||$10,000|
|Premier Debt Help||1||20%||None||50||12-36||$5,000|
All of the terms included in these summaries were current as of Jan. 5 but are subject to change.
Disclosure: We receive compensation from our partners when you click on the links and get approved for a debt relief program
What is a debt relief company?
A debt relief company also called a debt settlement or debt adjusting company, offers a service for a fee — it will manage your relationship with your creditors in order to negotiate your debt and reduce the amount of money you owe.
Essentially, you agree to stop paying your creditors and instead, deposit money into an escrow account each month managed by the debt relief company. As you continue to miss payments, your creditors will continue to lose money, to a point where they may be willing to settle for less than what you owe. But not all creditors will work with debt settlement companies, the FTC and the CFPB warn. As some debt relief companies will tell you, a settlement is not creditors’ top option for getting delinquent customers to pay up.
If the creditor is willing, the debt relief company will manage the relationship between you and the creditor. However, as long as your debt goes unpaid, your creditor may intensify its debt collection efforts, the CFPB warns. When it comes time to settle your debt, the debt relief company will manage the negotiations, using the money you’ve been setting aside to work out a lump-sum payment. In exchange, the debt settlement company takes a portion of the money. It’s also important to know that you may have to pay taxes on the difference between what you originally owed and what you paid your creditor, as the IRS treats some canceled debt as income.
Keep in mind, everything a debt relief company does you can do for yourself. The question is, do you want to? If handling creditor calls and financial negotiations isn’t your thing, then hiring a debt relief company may be in your best interest.
Who needs a debt relief company?
If you have debt you can no longer afford, bankruptcy is an option. If you make lower than the median income and have a lot of credit card debt, bankruptcy may allow you to just walk away from your debt and hit the reset button, at a cost to your credit score.
But walking away becomes more difficult if you make more than the median income and have more than just credit card debt. And as long as you continue to make payments on time, most banks will not negotiate with you.
That’s where debt settlement companies come in. The longer you go without making a payment, the more likely your creditor is willing to forgive. So if you don’t see bankruptcy as an option, but you want to settle some of your debts, hiring a debt relief company may make sense.
Next, let’s take a look at some of the debt relief companies you may consider, and then we’ll look at what kind of questions you should ask, and what to look out for so you don’t get taken advantage of.
Comparing debt relief companies in 2018
(In no particular order)
Freedom Debt Relief
Freedom Debt Relief is one of the largest debt settlement companies in the U.S. It was founded in 2002 and now has nearly 2,000 employees, helping over 450,000 people settle their debts. It is a founding member of the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC), a trade association representing the industry.
Fees. The FTC prohibits debt relief firms from charging upfront fees. Instead, a percentage of your monthly payment is paid to Freedom Debt Relief upon successful settlement. The percentage will vary by state.
Settlement takes about 24 to 60 months (two to five years) for clients who make all their monthly payments as laid out by the program, according to Freedom Debt Relief. Those clients pay about 70-75% of their original debts, over that time frame.
Your debt settlement process starts with a free evaluation by a certified debt consultant who will review your financial situation and determine your eligibility in the program.
Debt requirements. You must have a minimum of $12,000 of unsecured debt, including but not limited to credit cards, medical bills and department store cards. There are some exceptions to this, so if you have less, call to determine your eligibility.
Number of states. Freedom Debt Relief has offices in California and Arizona. It offers services in 32 states, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The company recommends you call to determine your eligibility.
Accreditation. Freedom Debt Relief has an A+ rating with the BBB, is a member of the American Fair Credit Council and is accredited by the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA).
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief specializes in credit counseling, debt consolidation and debt settlement as alternatives to bankruptcy. It has negotiated thousands of settlements with creditors and collection accounts. National Debt Relief also has some free financial education resources on its site, like a downloadable budget planner.
Fees. Your exact fees will depend on how much debt you have and which creditors you’re dealing with. In general, National Debt Relief takes 20% to 25% of your total monthly payment as a fee once settlement is reached.
It takes about 24 to 48 months (two to four years) for people who stick to their program and settle their debts, according to National Debt Relief. They save about 30% off their original debt (50% before National Debt Relief’s fees), over the 24- to 48-month period.
National Debt Relief offers consumer credit counseling, debt consolidation, debt settlement and bankruptcy services.
Debt requirements. You must have at least $7,500 in debt.
Number of states. National Debt Relief does not operate in all states; however, you may get information on each state’s laws on their website. In total, it offers services in 41 states. It does not offer services in Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia.
Accreditation. National Debt Relief is a member of the BBB with an A+ rating. It is also a member of the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators (IAPDA) and the American Fair Credit Council.
Accredited Debt Relief
Accredited Debt Relief does not offer debt relief services on its own. Instead, you submit your information online and Accredited Debt Relief matches you with debt relief companies in its network.
Fees. Fees are generally 5% to 7% per year based on amount of debt. Your fees will vary depending on your location and the creditors you’re working with.
Expect your settlement to take two to four years. According to Accredited Debt Relief, people who make each monthly payment as planned end up paying about half of the balance they had when enrolling in the program, before fees. After fees, they paid about 68% to 75% of their original balance, over 24 to 48 months.
Accredited Debt Relief offers credit counseling, debt consolidation, debt management, debt settlement and bankruptcy services.
Debt requirements. Minimum amount is $7,500 of unsecured debt.
Number of states. Accredited Debt Relief is licensed and bonded in Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana and Texas. It refers consumers for loans in 18 states including Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia.
CuraDebt has been helping people across the country with debt reduction since 2000. In addition to providing debt settlement services, CuraDebt has a separate tax team that helps individuals and small businesses with IRS and state tax settlements.
Fees. There are no fees for your initial free counseling session. Performance fees are paid as your debts are settled. On average, fees are 20% of the total debt amount enrolled and are calculated as part of your monthly repayment.
Typically, a settlement may take two to four years. With any debt settlement program, the more money you save from each paycheck, the faster you can reach a settlement. Lenders may be unwilling to come to a settlement if you have high amounts of debt and no money to offer for a settlement.
CuraDebt offers debt relief services, debt consolidation, debt settlement and tax relief services.
Debt requirements. You must have a minimum debt of $5,000 to qualify for CuraDebt’s debt relief programs.
Number of states. Debt Relief Services are available in 33 states. Services are not available to residents of Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming. Tax services are not available in Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and Wyoming.
Accreditation. Cura Debt is a member of the AFCC and is IAPDA accredited.
New Era Debt Solutions
New Era Debt Solutions is headquartered in California and offers services nationwide. It started settling debt in 1999 and has helped clients settle over $200,000,000 worth of debt. It offers full disclosure and publishes success rates directly on its website along with some of the common reasons people drop out of the program. It also highlights an important but often overlooked aspect of debt settlement: Between the time you enroll in a debt settlement program and when the settlement actually happens, your debt will grow from interest and fees charged by your creditor. It’s important to keep that in mind when deciding whether or not debt settlement will help you save money.
Fees. New Era on average settles the debt for 43.73% of the enrolled balance, which means the average consumer will realize a savings of 56.27%, before fees.
New Era clients historically average 27.73 months (about two years and four months) in the program.
New Era Debt Solutions offers debt settlement services with a team of professionals working to negotiate down your debt.
Debt requirements. There is no overall debt minimum, but each account you’re working to settle must have a minimum of $750. New Era works with unsecured debt. Secured debts, federal student loans and state and federal taxes are not eligible.
Number of states. New Era Debt Solutions is available in 13 states, with debt relief services available in 43 states in association with Consumer First Legal Network (CFLN), including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Accreditation. New Era Debt Solutions is A+ accredited with the BBB.
ClearOne Advantage specializes in settling credit card debt and other unsecured debts.
Fees. In general, the fee amount is 25% of total enrolled fee. Call for a free debt analysis to determine your eligibility and to receive cost details.
The program is typically 24 to 48 months (two to four years), with a minimum payment of $250 per month, which varies by creditors, amount owed and any past due amount.
ClearOne offers only debt settlement services. It advertises a 100% satisfaction guarantee, which allows you to get back your money and any fees within 30 days of signing your program agreement. There’s also a first settlement savings guarantee, which allows you to request a refund of fees within seven days of a settlement, if you don’t realize a savings with your first settlement. As always, read the fine print and ask questions about such guarantees.
Debt requirements. $10,000 or more of unsecured debt including personal loans or credit card debt.
Number of states. ClearOne offers services in 31 states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Washington D.C., Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Premier Debt Help
Premier Debt Help focuses on debt relief services and customer education. However, their customer service reps are very difficult to get on the phone, and they lack some basic accreditations that many of the other top debt relief companies hold. Because of this, we recommend you look at other companies when choosing debt settlement services.
Fees. The fee amount is 20% of your total enrolled fee.
The Premier Debt Help program is typically completed in less than 36 months.
Premier Debt Help offers debt settlement services. It is one of the few debt settlement companies to offer a 100% money-back guarantee; however, it provides no details about the guarantee on its website, so ask for and carefully review any fine print before signing on.
Debt requirements. The minimum amount of unsecured debt to qualify for the program is $5,000.
Number of states. This information is not listed on Premier Debt Help’s website, and the company did not respond to requests for information.
Accreditation. Premier Debt Help lists no accreditations on its website. It is NOT IAPDA accredited or a member of the AFCC or the BBB.
What to watch out for
Kevin Gallegos, vice president of operations with Freedom Debt Relief’s Phoenix office said, “It takes years to accumulate debt and it’s not going to be an easy fix. So if a company is providing a quick fix, it’s probably too good to be true.”
Plan for the entire process to take three to five years. While some companies may claim to do it quicker, it usually isn’t. Gallegos said, “Settlement negotiations are contingent on how much money the consumer has to put toward the debt. Most consumers don’t have reserves, so it takes time to accumulate the money so we can begin the negotiation process.”
In addition to avoiding deals that sound too good to be true, we compiled a list of things experts and government agencies recommend you watch out for when choosing a debt settlement company.
- Special deals. Beware of salespeople claiming they can get special deals negotiation.
- Upfront fees. A debt settlement company should never charge you fees before it settles your debts. It is prohibited by the FTC under the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
- Unrealistic promises. Beware of companies that promise to settle all your debt for a promised amount, make all your debt go away or pay off your debt for pennies on the dollar. Remember, your creditor might not agree to work with a debt settlement firm.
- Escrow account. Deceptive debt settlement companies may say you can’t get your money out of escrow, but you have a legal right to get your money back at any point, and the debt relief company must give it to you.
- High commissions. Beware of any company charging high commissions. Shady companies will try to take 50% commissions or higher.
- New government programs. Avoid businesses that advertise new government programs that promise to bail you out of debt.
Examples of fraudulent advertising
In a report about debt settlement fraud, the Government Accountability Office said to beware of advertisements that look like this:
New Government Programs!
New free and easy programs are available for those who are in debt right now!
Take advantage while they’re still available.
We’ll Pay You $100
IF WE CAN’T GET YOU OUT OF DEBT IN 24 HOURS
What debt relief companies can’t do
Debt relief companies cannot help with debts that are secured with collateral, such as an auto loan or home mortgage. They also cannot help with federal student loans or state and federal taxes. They also may not:
State they can get you special deals with particular creditors.
Charge upfront fees.
Make false or misleading statements.
Misrepresent debt relief services, including success rates.
Keep your money if you quit the program.
Fail to make disclosures about their service, such as:
- How long it will take to see results.
- How much it will cost.
- The negative consequences that could result from using debt relief services.
Here are some alternatives to working with a debt settlement company.
- Credit Counseling. Start with credit counseling from a nonprofit organization, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or use this list of approved credit counseling agencies. Credit counselors generally take a more holistic approach to financial problems, including budgeting and spending behaviors, rather than the singular focus that debt settlement firms have.
- Debt management plan. Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer debt management plans, which are set payment schedules determined by your credit counselor and creditors, to help you get out of debt faster and avoid bankruptcy. You make set payments to your credit counselor, who then pays your creditors. Using a DMP generally requires closing or suspending your credit accounts while you work to repay the debt.
- Debt consolidation. Consolidating your debt into one loan with a long term or a lower interest rate may make your payments more manageable. You need good credit to qualify for a consolidation loan with good terms.
- Bankruptcy. Debt settlement can be a good alternative to bankruptcy, but if you feel you may need to file, you can find an attorney through the American Bankruptcy Institute or the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.