The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 instituted a credit counseling requirement for debtors filing for bankruptcy protection. Credit counseling agencies sprang up quickly on the heels of this law to provide a service that was suddenly in hot demand. Many of these agencies jumped on the recession bandwagon to offer debt relief and consolidation services to debtors hurt by our sluggish economy. Whereas, legitimate nonprofit credit counseling services may offer benefits to some debtors, you may find yourself worse off even as you try to do the right thing.
Unfortunately some debt relief companies cannot follow through with their promises or, worse, are intentionally designed to scam vulnerable debtors who are trying to take control of overwhelming debts. According to the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), fraudsters use various scams to target distressed debtors, including:
- Forming a sham nonprofit entity to circumvent telemarketing rules
- Piling on hidden costs — including excessive sign-up fees and service charges
- Accepting funds from you for your debt settlement and then failing to pay your creditors
- Charging exorbitant rates to perform tasks that you could easily do yourself
- Increasing your debt by charging you a percentage of your total debt or alleged savings
- Urging you to make “voluntary” contributions
So before you accept the services of a debt relief agency, do your homework. Thoroughly investigate the credentials and legitimacy of the company before signing an agreement or giving its agent personal or financial information. Also, seek the advice of a lawyer who can advise you about whether debt consolidation makes sense in your situation and recommend the best approach to successfully accomplishing your debt management goals. If bankruptcy is right for you, your lawyer can guide you toward legitimate trustee-approved debt counseling agencies.