According to a 2020 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 69 percent of Americans struggle to minimize their debt. Struggling borrowers are turning to a variety of services that provide credit- and debt-related services but face potential risks of harm. These services include:
- Effective credit counseling can promote money management skills based on individual needs. Generally, nonprofit credit counselors are less conflicted. However, the Federal Trade Commission warns that even nonprofit credit counselors can charge hidden fees or urge their clients to make “voluntary” contributions that increase debt.
- Debt management companies help consumers manage high debt levels or consolidate their debt into one monthly payment. They can also arrange for more affordable payment plans with credit card companies and other creditors.
- Debt settlement, debt termination, and debt elimination purportedly help consumers settle debts for less than the full amount of the outstanding debt. But they also expose people to risk. They often require consumers to stop paying their debts. This can result in penalty interest rates and fees.
- Credit repair seeks to remove negative reports from a credit score. Companies that offer this service may falsely represent that it will repair or improve a consumer’s credit score.
- Other businesses—such as subprime creditors and mortgage rescue scammers—market debt solutions through taking on even more high-cost credit. Their primary customers are consumers with unaffordable debt and low credit scores.
Federal law prohibits unfair, deceptive, or abusive trade practices. It also prohibits charging advance fees and failing to make required disclosures. Several states have enacted legislation targeting abuses. This includes legislation to regulate fees, prohibit advance or excessive fees, establish licensing and bonding requirements, require specific disclosures, and require that products be suitable for a client’s personal situation. Nevertheless, federal and state regulation has generally been inadequate to curb abusive practices.
Federal law requires consumers seeking bankruptcy to get credit counseling with a government-approved organization. Counseling must be received within six months of filing. Participants receive counseling over the telephone, or via the internet, or through in-person counseling.