Don't be scammed by 'debt relief' companies

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A growing network of upstart debt-relief companies are promising to help student borrowers secure lower payments, interest rates and loan forgiveness.

While some provide legitimate assistance, others have come under scrutiny for charging exorbitant fees for services the Education Department offers free of charge. Last month, Illinois became the first state to file suit against two debt-settlement companies for allegedly misleading borrowers.


For the estimated 37 million borrowers who have outstanding student loan balances, the real question becomes whether a debt relief company is even necessary. And if it is, how can debtors pick the right one?

Those questions are best answered on a case-by-case basis, but a new interactive graphic from the Chronicle of Higher Education aims to help.

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Mousing over the company names reveals that some have been subpoenaed or ordered to return money to customers because they were operating without licenses. Others have “A” ratings from the Better Business Bureau.


While the chart looks only at a selection of debt relief companies, it provides a snapshot of both the red flags and legitimate services the companies offer. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also offers a few words of caution when considering whether to do business with a debt relief company as well as frequently asked questions and a complaint form to report unscrupulous companies.

Talk to your creditors on your own, first, the CFPB advises, and the Education Department, if you have federal loans. Debt-settlement companies often charge hefty fees, so debtors should proceed with caution.


Some red flags include companies that charge fees before they settle the debt, make unrealistic promises like guaranteeing total elimination of debt or exhort debtors not to communicate with creditors.

An Education Department blog post from Joyce DeMoss, the Student Loan Ombudsman, offers advice for debtors who think they have been scammed.


Ultimately, if a debt relief company is offering something that sounds too good to be true, that’s probably the case.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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