Avoid Debt Management Scams

Written by admin on March 17th, 2011

Anyone who has paid attention to the mounting credit card crisis afflicting modern Americans should not be surprised by the sudden explosion of debt management firms in the last decade. The debt management industry has grown exponentially over the past few years, assisting any number of borrowers with their financial burdens, but, as with any new business that concerns itself with debt and credit cards, a breed of predatory debt service ‘professionals’ seek only to exploit the economically desperate households by promising savings they could never deliver and sometimes even defrauding them altogether. Scam artists are an unfortunate consequence of any profession, and the debt relief industry is no better or worse. However, since word of mouth and a reputation for honesty and competence can make or break a company – especially a finance company – these nefarious loan workers don’t last long. However, just in case you’re unlucky enough to meet one of the less reputable debt management workers, here are a few tips to identify the worst sort.

Since debt consolidation loan programs are the most popular form of debt management, let’s start with loan officers and how they can trick unwary homeowners into borrowing more than would be advisable upon their property. Essentially, this sort of debt consolidation depends upon home equity. Credit ratings (above 700 FICO scores, ideally), debt to income ratios (less than forty percent of gross months income should go to home mortgage payments and revolving debt payments), and employment histories (clients most likely to be approved should have worked the same job for two years as provable by W-2 tax returns) are, of course, important. However, the most important element for mortgage debt consolidation will be the amount of home equity the homeowner currently enjoys.

Now, not only is home equity a tricky subject at present with property values falling all over America, but this drop in values is largely the fault of mortgage companies themselves. With an absence of regulation somewhat absurd in retrospect, criminally negligent loan officers and mortgage brokers (together with processors that looked the other way and appraisers that exponentially bumped up home values) gave loans to borrowers that should never have deserved them. The resulting mortgages proved more than the homeowners could possibly afford, and the glut of foreclosures (which should have been expected) drove down home prices which only worsened the potential refinance and debt management solutions homeowners would ordinarily presume to be available. Furthermore, these same foreclosures cost the original mortgage lenders (within a debt industry dependant upon constant cash flow for their bottom line) tens of millions of dollars and a previously inexplicable number of mortgage companies simply faded away. Though many of these businesses deserved to go under, the sudden failure of so many mortgage companies had a dire effect upon the American economy and our newly skyrocketing unemployment is but one consequence.

This is not to say that all of the mortgage refinance options are to be avoided. While it is much harder to take out a mortgage loan under current conditions, some homeowners – facing adjustable rates or balloon payments – simply have no choice. On the other hand, it is NOT necessary for them to include their credit card debts within their refinance no matter what the more aggressive loan officers would try to convince them of. Home mortgage refinancing is a form of debt management, of course, and making sure that what will be the average American consumer’s largest lifetime debt falls under acceptable (and formally fixed) interest rates should be of the utmost priority. However, what trustworthy mortgage professionals will explain is that the longer the term the more money you pay with even a locked prime interest rate. That’s just the way compound interest works. For that reason, mortgage professionals attempting to explain debt management should do whatever it takes to make borrowers have the lowest terms that would be comfortable for their household budget.

Not, you understand, that they should try to find the lowest payments for borrowers (obviously, it would be rather the opposite), but rather the fewest payments that they would have to pay over the course of the loan. A fifteen year term, if applicable, should be advised before the thirty, and biweekly payment programs that add up to essentially thirteen months of payments every year with accompanying years off the loan pay-off should also be strenuously encouraged. Perhaps most importantly, the loan officers should always ensure that the lender did not include some provisions against early pay-offs. Prepayment penalties, though technically legal, are the most underhanded strategies of less than trustworthy mortgage brokers. Anyone who tries to force through a prepayment penalty on unsuspecting homeowners or tries to convince them of the merits – often they’ll knock a few hundred dollars off the loan fees – should be avoided no matter their (evidently overstated reputation).

While all of this should be fully recognized by homeowners before they start talks with any mortgage lender or broker, your authors are aware that debt management this day and age primarily concerns itself with credit card debts. There are many other sorts of financial burdens for consumers to worry about, but the average American’s greatest worry tends to be the overload of credit card bills. Student loans, for example, generally boast the lowest interest rates of all types of debts. Hospitals and insurance companies, whatever their public perception, regularly work with their debtor clients to make sure that their medical bills are not an undue burden, even offering stays of payment. Auto loans, it is true, sometimes have higher interest rates, but they’re still rarely above those offered from mortgage loans or home equity loans. Nevertheless, even if there is a significant different between the interest rates (and, for credit card debts, there is almost always a steep drop once consolidated), the smart borrower has to remember the effects of compound interest. It is easy to see why loan officers would try to sugar coat the debt consolidation program, their pay is based around the overall size of the loans that are refinanced or taken out, but that is no reason to willfully ignore the borrowers’ true needs.

Not to belabor the point, but the worst suggestion that an unscrupulous loan officers can inflict upon their homeowner clients would be advising them to throw their credit cards debts onto a mortgage consolidation lasting decades. This is not debt management, this is debt avoidance. Borrowers will find that they are still paying their debts, but, after the interest continues to multiply, they will be paying their debts many times over. Worse still – especially in these trying times – homeowners are surrendering their ever more precious equity for only a temporary fix. Credit scores will fall from the sudden amount of credit card accounts now open, and, more to the point, how many consumers, once they have moved their debts over to a different loan source, would be able to resist the temptation to revisit their former spending habits and once again rack up bills through thoughtless purchasing. The key to any true and lasting debt management must be the debt professional working with the consumer to actually pay off their debts! Simply moving them to an equity loan that, for the moment, lowers their payments (however much longer and how much more they will inevitably pay) does nothing to assist the borrowers’ long term financial stability. Any viable program for debt relief must concentrate not only upon education to prevent such debt from occurring in the future but on actually eliminating the borrowers’ debts!

There are many other varieties of debt management, of course – not all debtors, after all, own their own homes. Consumer Credit Counseling companies have been exploding in popularity of late, but they contain their own string of suspicious activities each consumer must keep an eye out for. Since the industry does not tend to care so highly for certification, they attract more than their share of con artists and shady ‘corporations’. For this reason, borrowers must be incredibly diligent when investigating the bonafides of any business that they consider dealing with. Do not be fooled by flashy web sites or nice offices in well regarded areas. Debt management is about the people that you work with and many of the best debt professionals and debt management films, working in such a new industry, will not spend the time or money on advertisements while trying to make their way through a career or business with the best of motives.

Once again, though, even for those Consumer Credit Counseling companies that actually are legitimate, so much of the industry still depends upon credit card conglomerates (the very creditors that your debt management representatives are ostensibly fighting against) for half of their payments. Have you ever wondered why there are so very many Consumer Credit Counseling commercials on the television urging unsuspecting debtors to take a change at easing their financial burdens? As it turns out, above and beyond the sky high fees initially charged to the debtor clients themselves, the CCC firms get even more money from the various lenders. It is all part of a ploy by the credit card companies to prevent borrowers from attempting to declare bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection has been greatly lessened over the last few years of an unfettered congressional deregulation, but the option does still attract a number of desperate debtors, and, though the chances are slim to none under the newest changes to the bankruptcy code statutes, some may

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