There’s a bounty of debt settlement companies in the U.S. and at first glance, it can be hard to differentiate between them all. The most important question for debtors considering entering a debt settlement program is: How do you know if a debt settlement company is trustworthy? The last thing you want is to hire a debt settlement company to settle your debts, only to realize that in the end, your financial situation has worsened.
As you look for a debt settlement company to hire, keep in mind the following five qualities. These will give you a sense of the trustworthiness of the debt settlement company you are considering engaging.
#1: It’s Transparent about its Fees and Fee Structure
The number one quality to seek in a debt settlement company is transparency. This has to do with its fees above everything else. Make sure that your company is very clear as to exactly what it plans to charge. It’s ok if the fees are contingent on certain outcomes, but you should know what the possibilities are.
Additionally, most debt settlement companies do not charge any up-front fees for a consultation. If one does, this is a red flag that it is not trustworthy.
Another fee to avoid is a high maintenance fee for the company’s services. While certain fees are reasonable (the company does need to make money from its work, after all!), avoid any companies where the fees end up being so large that any financial gain you might have made with your settlement is wiped away.
#2: It has a Long History
Dig around a little into the history of the debt settlement company. Has it been in existence for a number of years? While the age of a business does not necessarily indicate its trustworthiness, it is more likely that a business has survived for many years if it is trustworthy and provides quality services to its customers.
A newer company might be just as trustworthy as an older one, but it hasn’t had the time to prove this yet. A more surefire move would be to stick with one with a more established track record.
#3: It’s Garnered Numerous Positive Reviews
A satisfied customer is probably the best evidence that a debt settlement company is trustworthy and gets results for its customers. If a company has been in business for a long time, it should have many reviews on its website. Often, these reviews include specific information on cases for which they have achieved successful outcomes for customers. While every case is different, if you find commonalities between the company’s cases and your own debt situation, it could mean the company is already experienced in working with customers just like you – another good sign.
In addition to customer reviews on a debt settlement company’s own website, you can review the company’s rating on the website of the Better Business Bureau. Customer complaints, which a company wouldn’t likely post on its own website, can be found there.
#4: It’s Affiliated with Professional Organizations
Another indicator of trustworthiness is whether the debt settlement company is affiliated with any professional organizations. For instance, some debt settlement companies are accredited by the American Fair Credit Council and/or the International Association of Debt Arbitrators, among a few others.
If the company you are looking to engage is not accredited or affiliated with any of these organizations, it could be a sign that it is not trustworthy. As with customer reviews, having a third-party (in this case, a professional organization) vouch for a company is an indicator of its trustworthiness.
#5: It’s Forthcoming with Information about your Case
A trustworthy debt settlement company will never try to force you to sign a contract or enter into a form of debt relief such as debt settlement or debt consolidation if it is not the right fit for your particular financial situation or goals.
An honest company will communicate openly with you about not only its fees but also about what types of debt can be settled, what the entire process will entail, how long it might take, and whether you’re ultimately a good candidate for debt settlement in the first place.
What If You Still Can’t Decide If a Debt Settlement Company Is Trustworthy?
Don’t underestimate your own instincts. After walking through the five criteria above, if you are still uncertain whether a debt settlement company is trustworthy, you should probably keep looking until you find one that feels right.
Debt is deeply personal and you want to find a company that you can trust – one that will be responsive to you. Don’t stop until you find one that fits your needs and makes you feel like you are on the same team.