Debt relief companies help consumers and small business owners resolve unsecured debt issues. We focused our review on debt settlement companies, as this type of company is most commonly associated with debt relief. The goal of debt settlement is to negotiate settlements with your creditors in amounts less than you owe.
Another common type of debt relief is debt management plans offered by credit counseling companies. With this type of debt relief, you repay everything you owe, but you'll often get a reduced interest rate. There’s generally less risk with this type of debt relief, and the process is different. Given that, we chose to evaluate credit counselors separately.
With debt settlement, there's no guarantee that your creditors will be willing to settle. Plus, your credit can be negatively impacted, making it crucial to carefully consider if debt settlement is the way to go.
We’ve done the work of evaluating debt relief companies for you by researching and reviewing over a dozen providers. Our goal is to provide you with the best evaluation of what’s available on the market. Read on to learn more about the process we used for our reviews.
Debt Relief Company Review Methodology
To develop an objective review methodology, we considered factors related to the debt relief company’s profile, the customer experience, the types of debt relief services you’ll receive, and how much it costs.
We evaluated every debt relief company on our list based on the following criteria:
- Customer experience
- Costs and fees
We used a one to five rating scale for each category, with one representing the lowest possible score and five representing the highest possible score. After assigning scores to each category, we tabulated them to get an overall one- to five-star rating for each debt relief company. The debt relief companies earning the highest scores met all (or most) of our categories’ criteria. In contrast, debt relief companies receiving the lowest scores didn’t meet some (or any) of the criteria.
We researched the stability of each debt relief company in all of our reviews. The two main aspects of stability we considered included:
- Time in business
- Professional trade association membership
Time in Business
The length of time each debt relief company has been in business is important because research suggests that older businesses have a greater chance of survival than newer businesses. It can take one to four years to finish a debt relief program, so it’s important to work with a well-established business that will still be in business in the near future.
The points for this category ranged from one to five (whole numbers), with the points awarded as follows:
- Five points: 20 or more years in business
- Four points: 15 to 19 years in business
- Three points: 11 to 14 years in business
- Two points: Six to 10 years in the business
- One point: One to five years in business or not disclosed
Professional Trade Association Membership
Another important factor we considered is whether the debt relief companies are accredited by any professional trade associations. For this category, companies belonging to at least one recognized trade association (e.g., American Fair Credit Council, International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators) received the highest ranking. Conversely, companies that didn't belong to a trade association receive the lowest ranking.
We researched the customer experience in each one of our reviews. The seven main aspects of the customer experience we evaluated included:
- Website usability
- Client portal
- Mobile app
- Online chat
- FAQ page
- Online resources
- Services offered in Spanish
One of the main places customers can get information before signing up for debt relief services is a company’s website. For this reason, we considered the website usability for each provider.
The points for this category ranged from one to five (whole numbers), with the points granted as follows:
- Five points: Intuitive design, interactive tools, easy to locate information
- Four points: Well-designed, highly informative but few tools
- Three points: Average design, includes useful information
- Two points: Design lacking, information is difficult to find
- One point: Outdated design, poor experience, missing key information
Once you’ve signed up for services, you need to be able to manage your account and track progress on your debt relief plan. A client portal offers a simple way to do this. Debt relief companies offering a client portal received the highest ranking and those without received the lowest ranking.
Mobile apps allow customers to access their account information on the go. Companies that offered a mobile app received the highest possible score for this category, and providers without a mobile app received the lowest possible score.
One of the customer experience features making certain debt relief providers stand out is the availability of online chat. As a result, providers that offered an online chat feature received the highest rating. Conversely, debt relief companies not offering this customer service feature received the lowest ranking.
We evaluated whether each provider included a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page on its website for this category. These pages can be helpful sources of information as you’re deciding whether the provider’s services are right for you. Debt relief companies with FAQ pages received the highest rankings (and vice versa).
Although some people need debt relief because they've experienced unexpected financial hardships, debt issues can sometimes be prevented through good financial management. Therefore, we considered the types of online financial education resources each provider offers.
The points for this category ranged from one to five (whole numbers), and we graded providers as follows (note: the highest point categories include the items from the lower point categories):
- Five points: Free interactive tools, educational materials
- Four points: Free eBooks, videos, or both
- Three points: Blog with stories and helpful information
- Two points: Basic information
- One point: None
The goal of this category was to evaluate a measure of inclusivity for each provider. Debt relief companies offering services or resources in Spanish received the highest ranking. Providers without any specific mention of this on their websites received the lowest rankings.
We evaluated the types of services each debt relief company offered. Our primary focus was on the types of debt each company accepts, if you need a minimum amount of debt to qualify, and whether the company frequently offers referrals for credit counseling.
The three main debt relief service aspects we evaluated included:
- Types of eligible debt
- Minimum amount of debt required
- Credit counseling referrals
Types of Eligible Debt
As a general rule, debt settlement companies will only work with unsecured debt (e.g., credit cards, medical bills, or personal loans). This is because creditors often won’t agree to settle debt secured by collateral since they may be able to recoup some of their losses by foreclosing or repossessing that collateral (e.g., your house or car).
In our evaluation, debt relief companies that didn’t disclose the types of debt they work with received the lowest rankings, followed by companies focused mostly on credit card debt. Conversely, debt relief companies that work with most types of unsecured debt, private student loans, and other types of debt (like back taxes or IRS debt) received the highest ratings.
Minimum Amount of Debt Required
Many debt relief providers require you to have a minimum amount of debt to qualify for their services. For this category, companies that require a minimum amount of debt or that don’t disclose whether this is required received the lowest ratings. Conversely, debt relief companies without any minimums received the highest ratings.
Credit Counseling Referrals
Debt relief providers stand out in this category if they refer potential clients to non-profit credit counselors before signing them up for services. Companies disclosing that they provide credit counseling referrals to their clients received the highest rankings for this category. Those that didn’t disclose this received the lowest rankings.
Costs and Fees
We evaluated the costs and fees associated with the provider’s credit repair services in our reviews. Debt relief companies can’t charge upfront fees, so you’ll always receive a free consultation before signing up for services. In addition, even after you’ve signed up for services, you won’t pay any fees until the provider has successfully negotiated a settlement on your behalf.
For this reason, our reviews considered whether the provider discloses its fees and if those fees fall within industry norms. Providers receiving the highest points charged fees better than the industry average (the industry average is 15% to 25% of the total debt enrolled in the program). In contrast, providers receiving the lowest possible points didn’t clearly disclose their fees.
Choosing the Best Debt Relief Company
We wrote more than a dozen debt relief company reviews based on the needs of the consumer. In our evaluation of companies, we considered the questions you might ask and the answers you'd need to make an informed decision. With these goals in mind, we carefully evaluated debt relief companies to help you choose the right provider.
Choosing a debt relief company is an individual decision. As you’re weighing the options, consider what it’s going to cost, the types of services you’ll receive, and whether the provider will look out for your best interests. The goal of our reviews is to help you thoroughly evaluate these elements. Keep in mind these reviews are a resource and are provided only for informational purposes; they should not be considered financial or legal advice.
Note that these reviews are written based on publically available information and that debt relief companies regularly revise their pricing, services, and strategies. For this reason, you should consult with a professional to learn what’s best for you. In the end, thoughtfully consider your options as a consumer and make a personal decision about which choice is best.