A reader thinks getting out of debt is too good to be true.

Question: So I have $21,600 on 12 credit cards, which I ran up because I got killed in my divorce and needed to fix things around the house, from little to big — like a new HVAC. 

I just got back on my feet to where I don’t need to ring up more credit card balances, but I don’t make near enough to pay them off, either. I keep hearing radio commercials on the sports shows about debt settlement, and I see you guys offer that and debt management. 

Here’s the thing: They sound a lot alike, and they both seem shady. No one will help me get out of debt for nothing. What’s the catch with both of these things? And what’s the damn difference? And what’s it mean when you guys keep talking about “certified” this and “accredited” that?

— Simon in Pennsylvania

Howard Dvorkin answers…

This question is a version of one I’ve heard for two decades. It boils down to this: Are there people who really want to help me get out of debt? Or are they just looking to take my money and put me deeper in debt?

Here’s the short version of my answer…

How Does Accredited Debt Relief Work?

How does accredited debt relief work? Sometimes when I tell people about accredited debt relief I get a funny look.
When I explain they can get a free debt analysis from a certified professional I hear this “come on that’s too good to be true”.

When I tell them a credit counselor can refer them to a debt management program that can cut their total debt by 30 to 50 percent by reducing the interest and getting them on a strict payment plan they say “no way what’s the catch”.
And, when I tell them how debt settlement works they’re equally as stunned.
They are shocked to find out that some creditors will take just 40 or maybe 50 cents on the dollar of the full amount they owe.

When I tell them they’ll pay a fee that’s a fraction of what they’ll save they can’t even believe it. I tell them what I’m telling you right now, believe it, but do your homework because the key word here is accredited.

I don’t have to tell you there are shady people in every line of work but if you actually seek out an accredited debt relief agency that has an A rating or better with the Better Business Bureau and great client reviews you’re probably in good hands.

How do you find the right agency well that’s what debt.com is for. We’ll introduce you to the best experts out there and then you’ll believe.

Now here’s the long version. Let’s start at the very beginning of Simon’s letter.

Divorce and HVACs

Before we revisit Simon’s question about the validity of debt solutions, let’s take a moment to consider how he got into debt. Divorce is one of the major factors that put people in debt. (The others are accident, illness, and natural disaster.)

I meet clients all the time who are barely making ends meet, but when they come into some money, spend it on a vacation or a new car. When I suggest an emergency fund, I often hear, “But nothing bad has ever happened to me!” As Simon learned, it can happen to anyone.

Also, if you don’t know what an HVAC is, it’s a huge household expense I’ve written about before (How Can I Stop Sweating About My HVAC Loan?). The moral of the story: Everyone can and should have an emergency fund.

Debt settlement and debt management

While the two terms are similar, they’re actually quite different. For more on the topic, check out this reader question I answered last year: Is Debt Management Or Debt Settlement Better For Me?

Based on the limited information Simon provided, I can’t advise him which is better. In fact, that’s what a credit counselor is for — and that strikes at the heart of Simon’s doubts.

If you consult a certified credit counselor at an accredited credit counseling agency, you’ll learn which is best for you. Of course, as I said in the video, there are charlatans out there. You can spend an hour searching online and find reputable experts to deal with, or you can call Debt.com — because all the experts we work with must sign our Code of Ethics.

That code obligates our partners to do right by you, and if they don’t, it obligates Debt.com to fix it. Thankfully, we’ve never needed to invoke our Code of Ethics, because in five years, we’ve never had a serious complaint from a client.

So the bottom line, Simon: Do your own research or call us. Either way, there are good folks out there who will help you.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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Meet the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

CPA and Chairman

Dvorkin is the author of Credit Hell and Power Up, founder of Consolidated Credit, and Chairman of Debt.com.

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Article last modified on August 29, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How Does Accredited Debt Relief Work? Is It For Real? - AMP.