Question: When is Debt Settlement The Best Option?

"We've been considering debt settlement as a way to reduce our debt and get back on our feet, but have heard we might be better off working with a credit counseling service or even declaring bankruptcy. Under what circumstances is settlement the best option for us?"

Debt settlement is an attractive option for many people in debt because it's a relatively quick way to get the process started, and there's some obvious appeal to paying less. The way it works is that a family, individual or business that is carrying large amounts of unsecured debt will work with their creditors (or have someone do it on their behalf) in order to come to an agreement that the debtor will pay back a percentage of the debt to satisfy it rather than the whole amount.

Creditors will often accept settlement offers for a variety of reasons. These include:

  • It's better than nothing. If the debtor is likely to default on the loan entirely, say by going bankrupt - then no money may be collected, ever.
  • They will often get a lump sum payment from the debtor, which is preferable to smaller monthly payments.
  • If recovery is necessary, money is saved by not hiring a collection agency or having to pay other legal fees.

While all this may sound good, don't forget there are negative consequences to debt settlement.

  • Though settled, debts will still go on your credit report so your credit score will lower.
  • Through many services available, it can take years to complete.
  • In most cases debts that were "forgiven" are taxable as income for that given tax year.

Another potential risk is that during the negotiation process that creditors can turn around and sue the debtors for all debts owed. This is why it's important to make sure you have proper contracts and communications with the creditors and or good representation.

The ideal situation for debt settlement is someone that has high amounts of unsecured debt, a steady income and debt that has been lingering for an extended period of time. If debtors qualify they still might be better off filing chapter 7 bankruptcy, but due to recent changes in the law this option is no longer possible for many people and they are forced to file for chapter 13 bankruptcy. This is a whole new ball game, as chapter 13 bankruptcies can be complicated and can take years to complete.

People who can make the minimum payments by simply budgeting better will be rejected for settlement most of the time, so they would be better off looking at a credit counseling service.

Those will relatively small debts probably don't want to bother with a settlement option, as the negative effects outweigh the benefits in this situation. They too would be better off working out a payment plan with the creditor and maybe some credit counseling.

Everybody's situation is different, so the best thing you can do is research your options as much as possible and then sit down and speak to some experts. Most bankruptcy and settlement companies do offer free consultations where they will go over your entire situation and explain what your options are.