Call us now
By Kenneth Long on January 21, 2010
Debt settlement sure sounds appealing if you believe all of the advertisements from debt settlement companies. As if debt settlement already didn’t have a lot of hidden costs, debt settlement companies can substantially add to those costs.
Even if you successfully settle a debt, understand that the Internal Revenue Service views forgiven debt as a form of taxable income. They view your purchases that you never paid for as a gift from your creditor, and therefore expect you to pay taxes on it. Since this tax is paid at your marginal tax rate, it is much higher than your overall tax rate.
If you settle a $10,000 debt for $5,000, the debt collector must automatically report the other $5,000 that was written off as forgiven debt. They file a 1099-C form with the Internal Revenue Service, of which a copy also is mailed to you at tax time. This can result in an additional income tax liability of well over a thousand dollars depending on your marginal tax rate. Depending on your state of residency, you could owe additional state taxes also.
Your settled debt will continue to report negatively on your credit files for the next 7 years. The impact is even worse if you have not yet defaulted on your debts. This sends a clear statement to future creditors that you have a track record of not fully repaying your debts.
You should expect substantial difficulties in qualifying for low interest loans. In fact, the extra interest that you have to pay on future credit purchases can easily cancel most of the savings from your settlement.
Consider the prospects of trying to apply for a home mortgage within 7 years of settling a debt. You could very easily have to pay at least 1 percentage point higher on that mortgage. Over the life of your loan, this could translate to many thousands of dollars in extra interest.
If you include yourself in the group of consumers that took the debt settlement bait, you likely have experienced the monstrous fees that debt settlement companies can charge. Upfront fees are normally around 15% of the debt. Monthly fees average around $50. Many companies also charge up to 25% of the “savings.” In the end, you are lucky to spend less than 90% of the original amount due.
Debt settlement companies are increasingly subject to regulatory scrutiny from individual states’ attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission and other consumer watchdogs. Their extraordinary fees, overstated benefits and high number of complaints make these companies predatory in nature. Count your blessings if you have not contacted a debt settlement company, as this rogue industry cannot help you.
If you are one of the many unfortunate victims of debt settlement companies, then you need to be aware that there is a very real risk that one or more of your creditors may file a judgment against you. Debt settlement companies provide zero protection from judgments. They do not represent you in court and they often misrepresent this risk to you.
Some analysts go so far as to state that enrolling with a debt settlement company can actually increase your risk of judgment. It sends a clear message to your creditor that you are pooling money in an account to pay off your defaulted debts. Debt collectors frequently want to be the first in line when it is time for you to repay debt, and filing for a judgment reserves that place in line.
When you send thousands of dollars to a company with an “F” Better Business Bureau rating, you put your money at risk. You should never trust a company that has such a poor track record with your money.
Consider the many thousands of clients who enrolled in debt settlement plans with the Hess Kennedy Law Firm and The Consumer Law Center. Not only were these companies seized by regulators, the clients were only refunded 25% of their deposits that were supposedly held in trust accounts.
In the end, there are only very limited benefits to debt settlement and very substantial costs. You should evaluate your situation carefully to determine if debt settlement is right for you. In the vast majority of cases, credit counseling or bankruptcy is more appropriate. Even if debt settlement is your best option, it can only be so if you negotiate your own settlements rather than enrolling in a debt settlement plan.