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How Non-Profit Debt Consolidation Works


Signs of a Reputable Non-Profit Debt Consolidation Firm
Companies may promise quick and easy debt relief, but consumers must be careful who they trust.
Companies may promise quick and easy debt relief, but consumers must be careful who they trust.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

With thousands of companies jockeying for your business, it can be daunting to pick one. We'll go over a few things to keep in mind when you're investigating non-profit debt consolidation services.

Many consolidators say they're non-profit, but actually make profits in the millions. Companies use the "non-profit" label to lure people into thinking they have customers' best interests in mind. Other companies use their non-profit status to violate telemarketing laws from which charitable organizations are exempt [source: Federal Trade Commission]. Ask for proof of non-profit (501(c)(3)) status before doing business with an agency.

Some companies use religious affiliations in their names or on their Web sites. Some services do have genuine relationships with a religion, but some companies are just using the name so that you will be more willing to trust them. Don't let a religious affiliation sway your choice -- choose the service that is right for you.

Fees: Not all non-profits are free, but true non-profits should have minimum set-up and monthly fees. Some agencies advertise voluntary fees, but then force you to pay the full fee, even if it's too expensive for you. If a service has high fees, is vague about their fees, or forces you to pay a so-called voluntary fee beyond your means, go to a different agency. And be aware that with many agencies, the first month's payment will likely go to the debt consolidation firm -- not your creditors.

It took time to get into debt, and it will take time to get out of debt. Don't trust an agency that promises you will be debt-free in months. Likewise, make sure the debt consolidation firm spends its time on you. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a non-profit community organization, spends an hour, in person or on the phone, on a consultation to decide if you need consolidation [source: Dunleavey]. If a firm gives you a plan in a short amount of time, they have not spent enough time reviewing your expenses. Use an agency that spends a significant amount of time examining your finances.

Better Business Bureau (BBB): The Better Business Bureau uses a Reliability Report to keep records on businesses so consumers can choose the most trustworthy companies. The BBB maintains information on products and services, along with a record of complaints and complim­ents [source: Better Business Bureau]. Companies receive a satisfactory or unsatisfactory record based on how they handle customer issues. Before you decide on a company, check the BBB and only choose a firm with a satisfactory rating.

It can seem overwhelming to pick a non-profit debt consolidation firm with so many choices out there. But with a little patience and a lot of research, you can pick one that's right for you -- making you one of those smiling, debt-free people.

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