Dave was $23,000 in the debt hole. He had a wife, a 6-month old daughter, a Masters in Advertising, and a dead-end waitering job. Then he heard an ad on the radio for a “debt relief law firm” that promised to solve all his problems. “Looking back, it was so stupid to agree to any of this,” writes Dave. “I still beat myself up about it and we were lucky to find out everything was falling apart when we did.” Here’s what went wrong:
Dave writes, “The deal was supposedly simple. We listed their office as the contact information for the credit card so we would stop receiving past due calls. The firm would automatically withdraw $450/month to be paid to the credit card under the agreement that was arranged between them and the bank. We would receive monthly confirmations of payments being made.
After signing up for the program, we moved to Atlanta for better job opportunities. We were staying with friends while we found a place to live. We needed an apartment and we needed to get health insurance. I had managed to put aside $800 for the first month’s premium and a deposit for a Blue Cross policy. I was waiting tables and was also putting aside money for first and last month’s rent at the apartment complex where we wanted to live. The apartment folks told us that they had to pull a credit report as part of the application process. No problem. I called the law firm to let them know that the apartment people were going to pull a report and not to be alarmed as one of our rules was not to apply for any new credit while we were in the program.
Instead, I got a pre-recorded message from them when I called that said they had been forced into involuntary bankruptcy due to fraudulent business practices. I immediately called the bank through which we had the credit card and they confirmed my worst nightmare: they hadn’t actually received a single payment from the law firm in 5 1/2 months. The account was set to charge off that Friday, and it was Tuesday that I called. I had to send them the money I set aside for health insurance and rent to keep the charge off from happening.
Our friends were very gracious and understanding. We stayed with them for another month and eventually got everything straight. But the law firm is still entangled in a civil cases and asset sell offs. We lost a few thousand. Others lost way more, so we’re pretty far down the list and don’t expect to ever see a dime of it back.”
There’s nothing these debt relief/consolidation/settlement places can legally do for you that you can’t do on your own. If you really feel you need the help of a professional, find a non-profit credit counselor through nfcc.org