This is the fourth in a series of posts discussing the most common myths about do-it-yourself debt settlement. The claim that debt settlement companies have relationships with the major creditors is a major part of the sales presentation for traditional settlement programs. I call this the “volume” objection, and of course, it’s total nonsense.
The pitch goes something like this: “We are a big company and every day we settle large blocks of debt. The creditors know us and work with us and we do bulk settlements with them, so we can get you a better result than you’ll be able to negotiate on your own.” The picture created in the client’s mind is that they are enrolling in a formal program – a program that is RECOGNIZED and PERMITTED by their creditors, similar to a non-profit credit counseling program (aka “debt management plans”).
Unfortunately, this sales claim is totally bogus! The major credit card banks lobbied heavily to get the entire debt settlement industry shut down, and the draconian ruling by the FTC in October 2010 has gone a long way to accomplishing that aim. During the hearings that led to the FTC ruling, we heard directly from the banking industry that they did not view the debt settlement industry favorably, and that they do not recognize the need for such firms. At best, the relationship is an adversarial one, and the banks still view any intervention by a for-profit service as being against their own interests. In the context of the major bank creditors, the notion of “bulk settlements” is just a fairy tale made up by the settlement company’s marketing department.
What about collection agencies or collection attorney firms? Here, there is some truth to the statement that a debt settlement company may have relationships with other third-party entities like agencies or attorneys. However, that does not necessarily result in a lower overall percentage on negotiated settlements. And even if there was a better discount available through such connections, any savings would be more than gobbled up by the fees involved. For example, let’s say the best you can do with an agency yourself is 40% of a $5,000 balance, or $2,000 net payout. The settlement company negotiates it down to 30% instead, or $1,500 payment to the creditor. The fee, however, is 25% of the $3,500 savings, or $875, so the total payout is $2,375. Better deal, worse result! You would still have been better off handling the matter yourself.
Myth busted. Even the largest debt settlement firms have zero influence over the settlement parameters of the major credit card banks, and “bulk settlements” are just so much marketing hype. Even if there were deeper discounts available through professional negotiation, any savings gain would be more than offset by fees. Consumers save more overall by excluding the fees and negotiating on their own.