Debt settlement is one of the simplest tools that can be used to reduce debt balances for a borrower. In essence, debt settlement means contacting a creditor and settling on a reduced loan balance. If a consumer owes $18,000 in credit card debt and has other obligations that make it impossible to make timely payments, debt settlement is a very attractive alternative to declaring bankruptcy.
For the borrower, debt settlement reduces that balance that is owed to the creditor. For the creditor, it increases the likelihood of receiving at least a portion of what is owed. There is something in it for both sides, but consumers need to be careful when pursuing settlement as a debt solution.
Debt settlement is most viable as an option when the debt has been passed on to collectors. Although it doesn't feel like it to the consumer, the borrower is in a position of power in negotiating a debt settlement. Ultimately the creditor has to approve the deal, but the borrower is the one who could walk away from the table, drag their feet, and finally file for bankruptcy - a very costly consequence if a creditor fails to negotiate.
Many borrowers feel that attempting to settle their debts puts them at the mercy of the creditor, but this simply is not the case. The creditor is dependent solely on the borrower to receive their payment.
There are several important factors to remember if you're considering negotiating a debt settlement. First, do your homework. There are countless companies who will make tempting promises about what they can do for you that simply won't deliver. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Find a company that can show a track record of successful settlements. Talk to several companies about your specific situation to weigh their recommendations against one another. Also, talk to people who have successfully negotiated debt settlements and learn from their experiences. You can save money by skipping hiring a negotiator and working on your own if you feel comfortable dealing with collectors. Keep a paper trail to make sure you can prove the details of the deal that is reached.
The downsides of debt settlement need to be understood as well. First, this can be an expensive option. Many negotiators charge an upfront fee as well as a percentage of the amount saved by the borrower in the settlement. Many programs charge fees monthly, even if no progress is being made. Second, the amount forgiven in a debt settlement is considered income and is taxable to the borrower. Once you factor in the taxes due and the fees, a borrower may not be saving nearly as much in a debt settlement as they thought. Finally, debt settlement can hurt your credit score, as paid off debt show up as "settled" rather than "paid in full."
Getting out of debt through debt settlement is a much better option than bankruptcy. However, there are pitfalls that consumers need to understand before pursuing this strategy.
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