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It’s no secret that many consumers have debt. Even if they’re up-to-date on payments, it may feel like it’s hard to get ahead of larger balances. That’s why some consumers consider debt relief services.
Debt takes on a variety of forms, including credit cards, car loans, bank loans, mortgages or medical bills. Debt relief services parse through what you owe and find viable solutions for reducing your overall debt — and eventually — getting out of debt.
Many debt relief services focus on debt consolidation. Others aid in negotiating lower balances or better repayment plans with creditors. A few companies set you up with a personal credit counselor to help you create budgets and make better personal finance decisions.
Explore your options for debt relief services in California with this buying guide, which includes an overview of what to expect from these types of companies. We’re sharing a few debt relief services in your area at the end of the article.
Researching debt relief services in California
What do I need to do before calling a debt relief service?
Determine account balances
Before you call a debt relief service, go through all accounts and balances. Take notes regarding minimum payments, outstanding balances, interest rates and credit limits. If possible, make sure you have a year’s worth of information to provide to the debt relief service.
Rule out all other options to pay down debt
A debt relief service is often considered as a last resort by consumers. Prior to working with one of these companies, rule out all other options to pay down debt.
Some consumers benefit from establishing a new budget with monthly or annual payoff goals. Others pick up a side hustle or part-time job to dedicate more money toward monthly payments. Another option is calling creditors directly to negotiate lower interest rates or repayment plans to make balances more serviceable.
If you’ve already exhausted these options, or they simply aren’t viable, a debt relief service is worth considering.
What types of debt relief are there?
The most common type of debt relief is a debt consolidation loan. Debt relief services may also offer a home equity line of credit, balance transfer or credit counseling to eligible consumers. Here’s how each one works:
Debt consolidation loan
Consumers with debt often make monthly payments to several accounts, each of which has a different interest rate.
With debt consolidation loans, however, a lender combines the balances of all outstanding accounts. Consumers then pay a single payment each month toward the overall debt. In addition, these loans may offer significantly lower interest rates than those on the original accounts.
Debt consolidation is considered a viable option to eligible consumers— but the key word is eligible. If their credit score is too low, consumers may not qualify for the loan.
Original accounts remain open while consumers make payments toward their debt consolidation loans. Unfortunately, if consumers aren’t disciplined in their spending habits, they could be tempted to add charges to these accounts.
Home equity line of credit
Consumers that are homeowners may be eligible to take out a home equity line of credit, also referred to as a HELOC.
With a HELOC, consumers use their home as collateral and borrow against it. The lender extends a maximum line of credit to the consumer, and the consumer only borrows what they need. As expected, the line of credit is based on the equity in the home.
Before considering a HELOC, it’s important to understand how repayment works with them. First there is a draw period for up to 10 years, in which consumers may borrow from their line of credit up to the maximum amount.
After that, the repayment period kicks in. This is when consumers are responsible to repay the outstanding amount — including principal and interest. Generally speaking, repayment periods last up to 20 years.
HELOCs offer flexibility to consumers, especially during the draw period, but they have their pitfalls. For one, they often have variable interest rates that may contribute to higher repayments. Because HELOCs initially have low payments, it’s easy to overspend during the draw period, resulting in ballooning monthly payments during repayment.
Consumers carrying balances across multiple credit cards may be eligible for a balance transfer. This is when a credit card company lets consumers transfer balances from other credit accounts to theirs.
One of the perks of balance transfers is a new low APR, which may be a fraction of the rate of the original account. To make balance transfers even more attractive, it’s common for credit companies to waive balance transfer fees, which according to Investopedia, may be up to five percent of the transfer amount.
Like other types of debt relief, consumers need to meet eligibility requirements, which typically includes a minimum credit score. The low APR is temporary, and if consumers haven’t paid off the debt by the time it expires, it will impact monthly payments.
When a consumer enrolls in a credit counseling plan, they connect with a personal credit counselor that helps establish realistic goals or strategies to pay down debt.
Credit counselors may function as intermediaries that help you enter lower payment plans or get better interest rates with creditors. Depending on how the service bills customers, they may need to pay a monthly fee, or a percentage of the overall negotiated debt.
Other types of credit counselors work with consumers to improve financial literacy so they exercise better control on spending. This is often done one-on-one with a counselor in person or via phone, though there are also personal credit counseling apps available.
Because credit counseling methods vary the most among debt relief services, some consumers experience difficulty comparing companies. There are also occasional reports of surprise fees after enrolling in credit counseling plans.
Special note for California residents
Dealing with debt collectors if you reside in California
Consumers in California should know they have a right not to be harassed or called after specific times by debt collectors. To learn more about your rights when you are contacted, visit this page by the Office of Attorney General.
Free credit management resources in Los Angeles
The Center for Financial Empowerment in Los Angeles County has a free PDF guide detailing various community resources and programs to help residents become financially empowered.
What is the California Debt Collection Licensing Act?
The Debt Collector Licensing Act requires debt collectors to be licensed if they engage in debt collection with California residents. It requires debt collection entities to comply with state reporting and institutes oversight by a state commissioner.
How long does a creditor have to collect my debt in California?
According to the Office of the Attorney General in California, there is a four-year limit on filing a case to collect debt provided there was an original written agreement. If you believe you have old debts outside this period, often called time-barred debts, and debt collectors continue to contact you, it’s recommended to consult an attorney.
Common mistakes to avoid
Mistake #1: Not researching a debt relief service’s information security
Because consumers share private financial information with a debt relief service, it’s important to make sure they have robust information security. Otherwise, consumers may be at risk for identity theft.
Mistake #2: Signing up for a debt relief service under pressure
Some less reputable debt relief services pressure consumers to sign up for their plans. At no time should a consumer feel obligated to do so. Instead, consumers should feel in full control of their decision, rather than manipulated by sales tactics. If representatives come across as pushy or intimidating, it’s a sure sign to disengage and consider a different company.
Mistake #3: Not researching a debt relief service’s customer service
Ideally, a debt relief service’s customer experience should have a reputation for being positive. If consumers come across reviews that indicate otherwise, such as prolonged hold times or feeling misled by representatives, it’s a sure sign to steer clear of the company.
Best debt relief services in California
National Debt Relief is considered one of the most reputable debt relief companies in the country and has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
National Debt Relief pros
There are no upfront costs for services, plus there are free tools available like budget planners. Many consumers report they’ve become debt-free or paid down significant debt in less than 48 months. The company also aids consumers on the brink of bankruptcy.
National Debt Relief cons
The company only works with consumers with $10,000 or more in debt. A few consumers report there are high service fees due once debts are settled.
CreditAssociates Debt Relief is a free counseling service that has helped many consumers become debt free in approximately three years.
CreditAssociates Debt Relief pros
There is a free, no-obligation debt evaluation and the sign-up process is user-friendly. Consumers appreciate the 24/7 availability of representatives. The company offers a variety of relief options, including debt consolidation, settlement, management and counseling.
Credit Associates Debt relief cons
The company isn’t accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and it only works with consumers $10,000 or more in debt.
Accredited Debt Relief, which has accreditations from both IAPDA and AFCC, tailors debt relief services to customers’ unique financial situations to find viable, sustainable solutions and payment plans.
Accredited Debt Relief pros
The Better Business Bureau-accredited company offers free consultations that provide an in-depth overview of debt relief approaches. They deliver expedited debt settlements and streamlined payment plans, and some customers may become debt-free in as little as one year.
Accredited Debt Relief cons
The minimum debt requirement to work with the Accredited Debt Relief is $10,000. The company collects fees for debt negotiations, which range from 15 to 25 percent.
- Not only do debt consolidation loans streamline payments, many consumers admit that paying a single bill and interest rate each month reduces financial stress.
- A HELOC is different from a home equity loan — which is when a consumer borrows against their home and receives a lump sum. The consumer then pays fixed monthly payments toward the home equity loan.
- Debt relief services aim to set you up for success, and keep in mind that much of that boils down to personal accountability with budgeting and making payments on time.
Q. Do I have to use debt relief services if my credit is rated as Good?
A. Some consumers say yes, citing that it’s important to preserve good credit while paying down debt. A debt relief service may also be instrumental in improving your credit score to Very Good or Excellent.
Q. Can debt relief services help me with credit repair?
A. Generally speaking, these two services are carried out by separate companies because they’re much different. Debt relief service helps you pay down debt, while credit repair services help fix inconsistencies in credit reports.
Q. Is my credit score too low to qualify for debt relief services?
A. Each debt relief service has different eligibility requirements. Your credit score is only one part of it, which is why it’s best to speak to the company directly to see whether you qualify.
is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.