“Attorney Debt Settlement” – Separating Fact from Fiction

In March 12, 2010

Regular readers of The ZipDebt Blog already know that I strongly advise consumers to steer clear of third-party debt settlement firms. These companies charge an outrageous 15% or more of the total enrolled debt, even before any meaningful work is performed. They deliberately mislead people on how the process really works, and they do not provide the services advertised.

Such companies also frequently get people sued by using obsolete and dangerous tactics like “cease communication” notices to creditors. Given the poor reputation of the industry, many consumers have already figured out that traditional debt settlement companies should be avoided like the plague. However, more and more people have recently been asking about the legitimacy of an alternative called “attorney debt settlement.” For the benefit of consumers doing their homework on debt solutions, let’s take a closer look at this so-called “attorney model.”

Over the past several years, many of the big players in the debt industry shifted to the attorney model for debt settlement in the hope they could avoid state laws pertaining to the debt industry, and also with an eye toward surviving pending major regulatory changes at the Federal level. The shift was based on legal loopholes that — generally speaking – make attorneys exempt from laws on debt adjusting, negotiating settlements, handling credit disputes, and so on. The idea is to have an attorney head your debt settlement company, thus providing a “fig leaf” of protection against regulations that restrict fees or business practices. The idea was to completely sidestep any concern over regulatory problems. (Of course, the problem with this approach is that the FTC is already wise to this tactic. The proposed Federal rule change will include attorney firms in its definition of “debt relief services.” If third-party debt settlement is what you do, then attorney or not, you’re a debt relief service under the pending rule change, and that means all the new restrictions will still apply to you.)

Although the attorney model for debt settlement has been around for quite some time, lately it seems to be coming up more and more frequently during consultations with consumers looking into this strategy. In addition to the tactical reasons discussed above, what’s happening is that numerous new companies have popped up across the country over the past 1-2 years trying to exploit the current financial environment (which is very good for selling settlement services). They are using boiler room call centers to “close” people on enrolling in settlement programs, and the pitch is now being framed around the attorney-led debt settlement firm to a much greater degree than a few years back. Many of these “debt consultants” are the same high-pressure salespeople who were peddling subprime mortgages before the real estate meltdown.

From the viewpoint of someone trying to *sell* debt settlement services, the attorney model is a great boon because it instantly calms the consumer’s worst fears. When a person first hears about the debt settlement strategy, the next thing they learn is that the accounts must be behind and headed toward charge-off before the creditor will discuss reasonable settlement figures. So the logical next question would be, “If I just stop making payments, won’t the banks just take me to court to recover what I owe? What about lawsuits?”

“You’ll have an attorney on your side,” the sales rep will respond. “It’s far less likely that a creditor will sue you when they know you have an attorney helping you. That’s why you should sign up with us instead of that other debt company that doesn’t have attorneys on staff.”

Sounds logical, right? The problem is that it’s a fairy tale from start to finish.

Let’s separate fact from fiction on this subject. First of all, just because someone happens to have a law degree, it doesn’t mean that person is ethical, or even competent at what they do. Some of the *worst* offenders among companies shut down by various state Attorneys General are companies headed by lawyers. Case in point: Allegro Law Center. Here is a link to an article about the Alabama Attorney General’s recent shut-down of this toxic bunch of scam artists.

The victims who were duped into retaining the help of this so-called attorney were left holding the bag. The Alabama AG has seized $12 million in the company’s assets for distribution back to victims, but that will probably be a drop in the bucket compared to the actual fees collected by these crooks. All of these victims thought they would be protected by having a “lawyer” on their side. Wrong. The shut-down happened precisely because the attorney heading this company did not perform the services advertised. Clients got sued. Allegro Law Center didn’t help. People complained. The AG responded to the mountain of complaints and closed the operation. Thousands of distressed consumers were left in worse shape than when they hired the supposed “law firm.”

This is by no means the only such case. Hess Kennedy (yet another bogus law firm) in FL was shut down last year and the lead attorney was disbarred from practicing law. And this same game has been going on for a very long time, with similar firms getting shut down as far back as the 1990s for scamming consumers in the exact same fashion. (There really is “nothing new under the sun” when it comes to the debt industry!)

Next, let’s apply a little logic here. If you live in North Carolina, for example, how is a Florida or Alabama attorney going to help if you get sued? They don’t even have a license to practice law in your state! To counter this natural objection, some sales reps will claim their company has “lawyers in all 50 states.” Not true. Just try asking to speak with that attorney! Heck, just try asking for the *name* of the attorney who will be assigned to your file – you won’t get a straight answer. That’s because they do not actually have an attorney in your state.

Now, what if you’re talking to an attorney-based debt settlement firm that *does* happen to be located in your home state, or they really *do* have an attorney on staff in your neck of the woods. What then? Well, it doesn’t matter one tiny little bit! The creditor will do whatever they are going to do, even if you have an attorney involved. It won’t stop the collection process from rolling forward, and it will *still* cause the creditors to escalate in retaliation. (That remains the fatal flaw of ALL third-party debt settlement programs. The mere fact that you have hired a negotiator causes the other side to escalate in retaliation. The result is a fast-track to multiple lawsuits, which come much sooner than they would otherwise. By taking a do-it-yourself-with-coaching approach, you can avoid that fatal flaw and get *better* settlements than the poor client who hired the settlement firm!)

Think about this for a minute. If you owe the money fair and square, what good would it be to have an attorney represent you anyway? If you get sued, the creditor can easily prove you owe the money (a freshly printed stack of copies of all your monthly statements should do the trick), and the attorney will then just advise you to set up payment arrangements on the full balance in order to avoid having a judgment recorded against you. Or maybe he can get you an 80% settlement. Big deal! You can negotiate 80% settlements or 100% payment arrangements by yourself, before or after a lawsuit gets filed. You don’t need an attorney’s help and an extra $5,000 or $10,000 in fees just to wind up paying back 80-100% anyway!

If you think I am biased because I offer DIY debt settlement coaching services, or that I have an axe to grind here, there is no reason to simply take my word for any of this. If you are doing research on a debt settlement company representing itself as a law firm, ASK FOR A COPY OF THEIR CONTRACT. If they refuse to show you a copy in advance without hooking a payment from you, doesn’t that tell you right there you don’t want to do business with them? If they do forward a blank copy of their contract, read it very carefully. Aside from the fact that 100% of the contract language is designed to protect the settlement company from YOU (should you decide to go after them for various misrepresentations), and not the other way around, please pay close attention to the paragraph on *what happens if you get sued*. You’ll see language in most of these contracts that clearly states that the firm *does not and will not represent you in court*.

Huh? What’s the point of hiring a supposed “law firm” then? Well – there is no point! There is *no* extra advantage to be gained by using a settlement firm operating on the attorney model, only extra problems! It’s just another *marketing gimmick* designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash, right when you can least afford to part with that cash! That fee money would be far better spent on funding your settlement account.

The bottom line is that “attorney debt settlement” is no better than traditional settlement programs offered by non-attorney firms, and in some cases, it’s actually worse. So it’s nothing more than “lipstick on a pig.” Don’t fall for this version of the tired old debt settlement sales pitch. You CAN settle your debts on your own. You just need some training and coaching from ZipDebt to tackle the project properly. We’ll teach you how to successfully implement the debt settlement strategy without the huge fees!



  1. My story is similar to John L’s in the preceding comment. I am a real estate investor, and I happen to also be an attorney. I had used my credit cards as a tool to help me acquire real estate over more than 25 years and to help subsidize the real estate business expenses once the real estate had been acquired.

    I would buy as much real estate as I could with the help of my credit cards through cash advances, convenience checks, balance transfers, etc., and then cash out refinance the properties and pay down the unsecured debts with the proceeds. There were many times that my credit card debt exceeded $600,000, and then, I would pull money out of the appreciating real estate by way of refinancing to pay the unsecured debt down often to zero.

    Things seemed to be working well until about 18 months ago when there was a huge unexpected expense related to my real estate business in excess of $350,000 at almost exactly the same time that real estate bubble popped. I got caught with very high unsecured debt but the real estate values were way down! There was no way to pull out equity to pay down the debt. I could no longer use the real estate as an ATM.

    Further, rents were way down, vacancies were way up, and expenses were way up. My monthly payments were killing me. The minimum payments on my unsecured debt were killing me fast! It wasn’t even close.

    I was under extreme stress, not sleeping at night. I discovered debt settlement, spoke to many representatives in the industry, was thinking about using a debt settlement company, and I almost did. I searched the internet for some answers in the middle of the night and I discovered Charles, thank God! I was trying to find a seminar or book in the form of audio cd’s that I could listen to that would help solve my problem. I often do this kind of search, but I am never as fortunate to find this perfect an answer.

    I travel a lot in my car over long distances, often on a nine hour trips and sometimes more, and I go on long hikes in the mountains for hours at a time, and I am constantly listening to cd’s of seminars and books, both when traveling and when hiking. Therefore, Charles’ product was perfect for my purposes and my situation. I also feel that as an attorney and someone obviously very familiar with credit cards and credit card products, such as cash advances, convenience checks, balance transfers, etc., I am uniquely qualified in every respect to fully appreciate the accuracy, authenticity and simplicity of his materials. His genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple. His genius is only exceeded by his compassion for the listener, without being judgmental. His cd’s are among the absolute best of anything that I’ve ever listened to, and I‘ve listened to a lot.

    But, not only are his materials excellent as far as the content, they are also soothing, and pacify one’s extreme anxiety during one of the most difficult times in one’s life. I am a “tough” 50 year old, hardened, New Jersey attorney, but I was a stressed out, anxious person, basically a “basket case” when I discovered Charles.

    However, what I thought was going to be the absolute worst time of my life, has actually become kind of fun in a strange way. This is because, every communication from a creditor or collection agency that used to be feared, dreaded and avoided, now represents an opportunity to settle debt at a great discount, decrease my great debt by the amount of the discount, and to work as an apprentice to an absolute master, Charles. It’s like having Michael Jordan on your team, but nobody knows he’s your teammate. As an added benefit to me, I think he’s made me a much better attorney, and I’ve gained a much, much better understanding of the psychology of debts and debt collection as well as negotiation in general.

    Further, not only are the materials (the cd’s and the workbook) spot on accurate and soothing, the coaching is even better, if that‘s possible. In his coaching, through e-mails, he is equally as accurate and as soothing to one’s frazzled nerves. I get excited when I see that he has written back and responded to my e-mail, which he always promptly does.

    Most of the problems in my life have always been about financial issues. Charles’ coaching has given me great comfort. Believe it or not, I am thankful that I encountered these great financial hard times, because they have led me to the path to meeting Charles, who I can now ask questions to help solve most of my financial problems.

    I have read only some (there are so many!) of the other praising comments from the Zip Debt Client Comment Forum, and all of the praising comments are 100% accurate, and not overstatements as they would appear in this world of hyperbolic marketing. He is the real deal. When many others say that Charles has changed their lives, this is, in no way, an overstatement. He has certainly changed mine.

    I have a number of accounts at very low percentages, and I have received numerous offers of low settlements on other accounts that I have not yet settled. Therefore, I am in no way through with my journey of debt settlement, and I’m probably not even halfway through, (and I certainly don’t want to jinx anything by “counting my chickens before they’re hatched”), but I am extremely grateful that Charles is there as my mentor to help me through this process, on my side in my corner. The cd’s were spot on accurate and encouraging, the e-mail coaching is equally as accurate and encouraging. I feel I have a world class master by my side to give me advice as I encounter my financial problems as they arise.

    Thank you, Charles. You are one in a billion!

  2. OVERVIEW: $112,473 balance over 6 cards settled for $31,180, an average of 28%.

    Balance Settlement
    $7,269 29%
    $4,535 26%
    $52,450 25%
    $33,865 25%
    $7,535 45%
    $6,819 35%

    MY SITUATION: I owned a small real estate development firm. My business model accounted for several market factors that included a 25% yearly decline in property values and an increase in mortgage rates by portfolio lenders. What I never anticipated were events that had no precedent like a total collapse of the mortgage market.

    I never kept balances on my credit cards, always paid them off at the end of the month, and in the rare event that I did carry a balance it was strategic. I had a well defined plan of where the money was coming from to pay off the balance. That plan turned upside down when the mortgage market collapsed and I was left with two income properties.

    The market tightened, lending stopped, credit dried up and my business experienced drastic and immediate change precipitated by something that had never happened before.

    In a weekend, the value of one house dropped 40%. That sale was going to pay off the balance on the credit cards. Without that money, the balances on the cards grew and grew.

    I stumbled by accident onto the ZipDebt website and decided to purchase the program. I had been talking with my creditors but didn’t really know what to say. After I finished the program, I had the information I needed to take my money problems into my own hands.
    The program gave me:
    1. Current information about how the industry works
    2. Specific questions to ask that determined my next action
    3. A road map of how to navigate the collection maze and understand the journey
    4. Confidence that my actions were correct and would yield the best possible result

    I was thoroughly impressed with the non-general information that was put out in the program. Many of the subjects Charles brought up and warned against I ran into while talking to creditors. At times it was almost as if they were working off of a ZipDebt script. Many of the scare tactics that were employed were pretty intimidating and if I had not listened to the CDs and read the information I would have fallen for it and settled for much less.

    Charles didn’t just give me confidence to handle creditors, he gave me precise phrases, exact wording and specific ploys that I found myself exposed to right away.

    Understanding the process and the general time line that most creditors follow was invaluable. It changed my entire posture and helped me to be aggressive at times and patient at others. It got me better settlements without a doubt.

    My numbers I listed above don’t lie. It worked.

    I think I could have done this without Charles, but it would have been with an incredible amount of stress. And I’m certain that I would have settled at a higher balance with every creditor. I just didn’t have the skills or knowledge to do better than 50% or 60%. As a direct result of taking the ZipDebt course I settled a $112,473 balance for 28%. I estimate the program saved me between $25,000 and $33,000.

    o I’ve taken other professional courses and they are rarely everything they claim to be.
    ZipDebt is everything it claims and much more.
    o Charles is the owner of the company, the creator of the program and the person you talk to
    when you have questions. You don’t get a telemarketing person with a script of FAQs and
    answers. You get the owner and all his experience and knowledge.
    o The program comes with a live phone session with Charles and all the e-mail correspondence
    your little fingers can drum up. He responds promptly with specific advice.

    FINAL WORD – If the settlement option is right for you, YOU NEED TO HAVE THIS COURSE. You’re absolutely crazy if you don’t. I saved tens of thousands of dollars. Charles is a true professional, his advice is rock solid, his program is brilliant, his research is thorough and his characterization of the industry is spot on. Get the program, you won’t be disappointed.

    Thank You Charles for turning my life around.

  3. Kate, we simply disagree, that’s all. Nothing personal intended here, but I do believe that you’re biased, simply because you sell settlement services for a living. Your income is at stake, so you’re looking at this through filtered glasses. I used to be the same way, until I took those glasses off and saw clearly for the first time. (That happened many years ago, when clients started getting their own settlements, and then asking why they had to pay me a fee for something they did on their own.) You think 15% is reasonable. It’s not. It’s an absurd fee to charge a person who is in financial distress. And that standard fee structure was determined in an arbitrary fashion as discussed on my blog post on the history of debt settlement fees (https://www.zipdebt.com/blog/the-history-of-debt-settlement-fees).

    Regarding people handling their own negotiations, again, we simply disagree. The people who you *think* are too afraid or unable to handle their own negotiations can be *taught* to do so. I’ve done it thousands of times. I’ve taught people who were terrified of getting on the phone with their banks. They always come back later with good settlements, and they are *empowered* by taking on the project and getting a successful result.

    The problem of perception partly lies with the phrase “do it yourself,” which I suppose is my fault (since I use that phrase a lot myself). “DIY” can sometimes create a vision in the client’s mind that they will be totally on their own without guidance. That’s not what we do here at ZipDebt. The training course is just step #1. After that, my clients receive live one-on-one coaching. Let’s call it “guided debt settlement” or “assisted debt settlement” rather than DIY, and maybe the light bulb will come on. 🙂

  4. Hey Charles, I haven’t been back for a while. Please re-read, my post. I was not attacking you or being harsh. My point is that professional debt settlement companies have their place and that some people don’t have the emotional stamina to negotiate on their own. Certainly in your ten plus years of doing this you have come across people who won’t listen, are too afraid or simply won’t follow directions. Lack of time would be another situation where a hiring a professional makes sense.

    As for the 15%, it is what it is. When I look at what clients pay for credit counseling it’s very reasonable. It is certainly more reasonable than what a consumer would pay to creditors if they just made minimum payments and a lot more reasonable than credit counseling.

    I’m an affiliate who refers people to you, If people want to do it themselves I send to them to your website. When appropriate I even offer it as an option and have had clients turn down the do it yourself method because they don’t want to deal with it themselves. To those clients the 15% makes sense. Sometimes logic doesn’t play a role.

  5. Kate, thanks for your comment, but I think it’s pretty harsh of you to take the position that I am “discrediting reputable companies” in the settlement industry when I have *never* cited any company by name in my blog posts. The only time I ever mention specific companies is *after* the AG or FTC have taken some type of action against them. We simply disagree on the merits of third-party debt settlement, that’s all. Look, there are *countless* websites out there shouting at people with offers for debt settlement services. Here I am, like the Lone Ranger, the “voice in the wilderness” telling people they don’t have to pay 15% (up front) and can do this successfully on their own. It’s a mismatch of epic size — me against about 4 million websites. So please spare me your angst about the position I take against the third-party debt settlement industry in general. I’m sure you still have plenty of prospects to make your pitch to. 🙂 But if you think 15% is reasonable, you are sadly mistaken. It’s not reasonable by any normal definition of how financial services fees should be structured. This is especially true when the results from my approach are *better* than the results achieved via traditional settlement firms. I coach people to negotiate their own settlements simply because it is the *most effective strategy*, period. I have been doing debt settlement since 1997, longer than 99.9% of the people in the industry. I’ve seen all versions of the strategy at work, good, bad, and ugly. Show me your best settlements per creditor and I will beat those results *every single time* with a settlement negotiated by a ZipDebt client *on their own*. The only reason people pay someone else to do it is fear, and that fear can be overcome with training and coaching.

  6. Charles, as usual very insightful. I believe that the credit card industry has forced the movement to attorney models by discrediting the debt settlement industry as a whole. It benefits the financial sector to spread misinformation and pad the pockets of elected AG’s with political donations. My personal opinion is that this has more to do with the legal action being taken than bad companies (not that all companies are good). While I understand your point of view, there are reputable companies who have served the consumer effectively for many years. Frankly, there are people in this world who have no business even attempting to settle their debt on their own. For those people, 15% is money well spent. There are others who have the discipline and the ability to work with you, learn your system and negotiate on their own. I feel that it is harmful to discredit reputable companies in this manner. Certainly we need to weed out the Johnny Come Lately’s who are in this for a quick buck. That said, there is a market demand and need for for fee debt settlement companies.

  7. Richard, thanks for a very insightful and helpful comment. As seems pretty clear from his post, Richard still had to remain fully involved and engaged in the process from start to finish. This is one of my chief arguments in favor of my approach (DIY with a coach to guide you), because the amount of work is roughly the same either way (if you’re doing it properly). I sometimes have the impression that consumers believe they can simply “hand off” the problem to a debt company by paying those stiff 15% fees, and everything will be hunky-dory without any work or effort on their own part. Debt settlement is simply not effective under those conditions. If it’s *your* debt, then *you* should be involved in the process, period. I honestly believe that it’s far *less* stressful for consumers to handle their own program once they get the proper background information and supplemental coaching. You’re in charge the whole way, so you won’t have to lay awake wondering what that debt company you hired (at great expense) is doing for you. 🙂

  8. When I first started debt settlement, I researched many firms and talked with Charles. I agree with Charles. However, I did find an attorney who was honest. I was very lucky. I settled 75,000 worth of debt for 33,000. However, I did most of them within the first 6 months. The last Credit Card I got a letter from an attorney which scared me, but I was able to settle. I was very lucky. Having an attorney represent me did not stop the thread of lawsuits at all. I was close to getting sued, so I thought. I even had one company make an offer, then withdraw it.

    The attorney I used charged me a total of $1300. Thats right, thats all he charged. He had a legal aide do most of the negotiating and it was a small firm. Let me just say, I searched forever. I was going to use Charles’s program, but, I made the leap to use the attorney. I doubt there is another one like this person.

    I was able to talk with the negotiator, and I was on top of it the whole time. let me just say that if I did not constantly talk with the negotiator at the attorney firm, It may have turned out a lot different.

    Sometimes, I wish I would have used Charles’s plan just to have the experience.

    He was very thoughtful, and he is absolutely right that having an attorney will NOT stop lawsuits.

    I just thought I would share this, because there is at least one attorney firm that does not charge 15%. Mine only charged 1.7 % of the total debt amount.

    Mind you, I still had many sleepless nights. It did NOT stop the collection calls, although, it stopped a lot of them.

    I hope this helps someone out there. do your research, or use Charles. I found this attorney on the internet, believe it or not. I spent a whole month looking before it I found him. I was also able to save my own money without using a so called escrow account. That really turned me off with all the debt settlement companies.

    I am still an avid fan of Charles’s blogs, and take it from someone who has done a lot of research, if you cannot find someone to do it for less than 5%, forget them and use ZIPDEBT.

  9. In reply to CalBK (and to every other attorney out there who may take exception to something I wrote above :-)) — my blog post pertains to third-party debt settlement firms operating on the so-called “attorney model.” I’m not talking about the ethical bankruptcy attorney who occasionally recommends debt settlement to a client and then handles the negotiations on their behalf. Nor am I saying that consumers should never retain the services of an attorney for debt assistance. Of course there are situations where it would totally make sense to do so. See my remarks above regarding NACA, etc.

    For the benefit of consumers reading this discussion, it’s very simple to distinguish between a legitimate attorney and the type of debt settlement company I was criticizing in my post above. Just read the contract for services. If you get *sued* by a creditor, will the attorney *represent* you as per usual in an attorney-client relationship, including court appearances as needed? That is what the average consumer hears when they are told that the settlement company “has an attorney on staff” or the company is “headed by an attorney.” But that is not what most of these contracts actually state. Hence all the complaints against outfits like Hess Kennedy or Allegro Law Center. Just when these clients most needed legal assistance, they were left holding the bag.

  10. Good post. I agree that an unethical attorney model for debt settlement is not beneficial in any way to a consumer. However, I would like to comment that you seem to treat all attorneys that practice in the area of debt settlement the same whether they are ethical and working for the good of the consumer or not. I am an attorney who practices primarily in the area of bankruptcy, but also provide debt settlement services. I submit that there are benefits to having a QUALIFIED attorney serve your debt settlement needs rather than a non-attorney. Please remember, I am only suggesting that an ethical, qualified attorney is a benefit. An unethical hands off “law firm” doing debt settlement is no good to anyone.

    Benefits are as follows: 1) attorneys are in a position to assist the client with FDCPA issues that many times arise, 2) if the firm offers more than one debt management option, such as bankruptcy and debt settlement, which I do, then they can tailor the needs of the client to the area of law that best suits the client’s personal needs instead of steering the client towards whatever area the company practices in, 3) attorneys are skilled/educated in the art of negotiation, 4) Attorneys are bound by ethical guidelines and their bar card depends on acting ethically and for the good of the client (for most attorneys these days law school can cost upwards of $200,000 so that bar card is very valuable in a number of ways and many attorneys would never do anything to jeopardize that card). These are just a few of the benefits.

    Like I said before, I agree completely with your discussion regarding the “debt settlement law firms” like Hess Kennedy…they should be ashamed of themselves. However, I didn’t want people reading this to think that all attorneys doing debt settlement are useless 🙂

  11. Jerry, sounds like a good blog post topic, thanks. Regarding fees, I’m not buying the 8%, sorry. Virtually every consumer who gets in touch with ZipDebt after shopping such programs is still being quoted 15% fee structure, or worse. That’s what most of the boiler room call-center folks are apparently still pitching. Perhaps there are some companies out there at lower fees now, but even 8% is way too much — and if they are collecting that over the initial three months, that’s still front-loading of fees, by definition. Such a fee structure will not survive the pending FTC TSR action.

  12. Charles, perhaps you can outline the variations of debt settlement in your next blog post.

    Settlement services without Attorney
    Settlement services with a legal firm partnership
    Settlement using consumer collection
    Settlement claimin Total Debt elimination???
    Do it Yourself settlement.
    What is an A-Z service?
    What is a sales, legal, and backend partnership solution?
    How does a consumer check to see if a company is legally licensed to do business in their state?

    I would also note that fees for settlement have dropped significantly in the last 8 months. Most competitive companies are charging 8% paid over 3 months with a small(er) upfront fee of $500.

  13. In reply to James Woodruff’s comment above, I totally agree that consumer collections defense lawyers are *not* the same as third-party debt settlement attorneys as described in my post. Mr. Woodruff is a member of NACA (National Association of Consumer Advocates), a nationwide network of attorneys who practice in the general field of consumer law, and many of whom specialize in credit and collection law. Here at ZipDebt, we often receive inquiries from consumers who are simply too far down the road into legal collections for us to assist. Once a lawsuit has been initiated, it’s time for some professional legal help, and in many instances, we refer people straight to the NACA website (www.naca.net) to locate an attorney.

    Let’s clarify the paragraph above that Mr. Woodruff commented on, so readers are not confused. I wrote that comment about litigation coming from the *original creditor*, as opposed to lawsuits filed by debt purchasers. Here’s the problem: Most people who enroll in a settlement company program are just starting to fall behind 1-2 months on their payments. Most of these firms immediately send a Power-of-Attorney when take a client on board. As I noted in the original post, this tactic causes the creditors to escalate by moving the files sooner than expected to outside agencies. With some major creditors, the minute they receive such a Power-of-Attorney, they immediately place the file with an attorney in the client’s home state. The result is often a fast-track lawsuit that the client is basically powerless to defend against.

    When a consumer *who is enrolled in a debt settlement program* is quickly sued by their original creditor, the only “settlements” available are at very high percentages. Hence my comment about 80% settlements. Of course, since the consumer facing this situation has very little money to work with while they are paying those stiff fees up front, they cannot settle for this type of figure. The result is commonly a “stipulation for judgment,” where the debtor agrees to repay 100% of the balance over a period of time. This is just “the way it is” in the context of third-party debt settlement.

    The point about fees of $5,000-$10,000 is based on the industry standard of 15% of total debt enrolled. Take your “average” consumer debt load of $50,000, multiply by 15%, and you wind up with $7,500 in fees. This is what the vast majority of third-party settlement firms are charging. Some of the attorney-model firms charge even more than this.

    So I want my readers to understand that Mr. Woodruff is referring to is a different side of the industry. He is quite correct that it’s much easier to defend against lawsuits filed by debt purchasers, for exactly the reason he states – the purchasers seldom have adequate documentation to verify their claims. The reality, however, is that most debt accounts do not get sold until the second year of default. Unfortunately, the majority of traditional settlement clients don’t make it through the first 12 months of the process without seeing multiple lawsuits. When you examine the pattern of complaints associated with some of the companies shut down by state AGs or the FTC, the theme is clear. Consumers get sued *faster* when they hire these firms, and this is true whether or not the firm is operating on the attorney model.

    But – NACA and its attorney members are on the side of the consumer, and we have seen a number of successful case outcomes when we have had to refer clients for legal assistance to a NACA attorney.

  14. “Think about this for a minute. If you owe the money fair and square, what good would it be to have an attorney represent you anyway? If you get sued, the creditor can easily prove you owe the money (a freshly printed stack of copies of all your monthly statements should do the trick), and the attorney will then just advise you to set up payment arrangements on the full balance in order to avoid having a judgment recorded against you. Or maybe he can get you an 80% settlement. Big deal! You can negotiate 80% settlements or 100% payment arrangements by yourself, before or after a lawsuit gets filed. You don’t need an attorney’s help and an extra $5,000 or $10,000 in fees just to wind up paying back 80-100% anyway!”

    Having defended consumers in credit card litigation I do not agree with the above statement. A rather large number of these cases are brought by debt purchasers with severe evidentiary issues. Amazingly, a lot of the claims brought by original creditors are also defensible. “$5,000-$10,000”? “80% settlement”? Where are you getting these numbers? Please do not include the consumer collections defense lawyers with the third-party settlement folks. We are not the same.

  15. Very well done!

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