I recently received a question from Lisa. She asked,

How can one be sure a debt consolidation company IS reputable? I have a friend
who used two that really seemed reputable in our town. They had an office, she
met face-to-face with someone, etc. But they both failed to keep their promises
and got her FURTHER into debt. They did not pay the payments on time, she
incurred more late fees,etc. It was a horrible, horrible experience. So, how
can you be sure?! It’s hard enough to actually make that move to ask for
outside help; laying bare all your finances to a stranger and putting it into
their hands. It’s traumatic when they then burn you and cause more harm that
you have to undo. Thanks.

I will admit that figuring out if a debt consolidation company is legit is a difficult task. that being said, there are steps you can take to make sure you are protected. Here’s what the M-Network had to say.

Patrick from Cash Money Life wrote,

Lisa, I don’t know how to tell if a debt consolidation company is legitimate or not, but I don’t recommend that you, or anyone else, “pay someone to do what you can do yourself for free“. Without changing your financial practices, a debt consolidation loan is nothing better than an enabler. It allows you to mentally check off your debts without fixing the core of the problem – bad spending habits. Left unchecked, these bad habits can push one deeper into debt.

The first thing you need to do is analyze your spending habits. Then create a budget and stick to it! From there you need to make a commitment to get out of debt, get current on all your bills, and refocus on repaying your debts using the snowball method made popular by “Dave Ramsey”.

If, after changing your financial habits and making the commitment to get out of debt, you decide that a consolidation loan is something you can manage and will help you get out of debt more quickly, then consider getting a personal loan through a “peer to peer lending company”. P2P lending allows individuals to make legal loans to one another. A P2P loan will allow you to pay off all your high interest loans and consolidate them under one fixed payment, usually at a better rate than what debt consolidation companies can negotiate for you, and with much less complication and overhead.

Pinyo from Moolanomy adds,

Lisa, I know what you mean. I certainly heard both good and bad stories when it comes to debt consolidation companies. A friend of mine used one successfully, but I also heard from people who had nightmarish experiences with them. The good news is that you can try to consolidate debt and get it under control on your own.

But before we start, I want to voice my agreement with Patrick. The most important thing you must do here is change your spending habits. You absolutely cannot continue doing things that got you here in the first place. Only when you get your finances under control, can you successfully attack your debt.

As far as consolidating and paying down your debt. The first step begins with self-awareness. Make a list of all your debt obligations and order the list from the highest to the lowest interest rates. Second, call your creditors and ask for a better interest rate and payment terms. The worse thing they can do is say no. Third, start looking for alternative funding sources where you can access money at lower interest rates and better payment terms. You want to use this money to pay down your highest interest rate loans and save some money on interest expenses. Last, follow the Debt Snowball methodology and put as much money as you can toward your smallest debt while paying the minimum on your other loans. Alternatively, you can use the modified version where you pay down your highest interest debt first.

For more information about the steps above, please take a look at my article: Do It Yourself Debt Consolidation.

Finally, Plonkee says,

I think the key to getting the best of out consolidation companies is understanding what your own situation really is, and reading any agreements carefully. I think it would help to have someone help by being an advocate for you – although you maybe don’t want to share your finance problems with someone you know, having a fresh pair of eyes to read through any agreement could be really helpful, particularly if they can point out any fees, interest rates, default clauses, etc., so that you can understand the what is actually being offered (rather than what they want you to hear) and then make an informed decision about whether or not it would suit you.

Here in the UK we have impartial advisors/volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureaux (amongst other places) that have no ties to finance companies but have a great understanding both of agreements, and the alternatives that might exist. Perhaps there is something similar in your area?

I really hope that helped, Lisa. Readers, do you have any thoughts on this subject? I’d love to hear them!