Bruce McClary
Bruce McClary

A recent study conducted by Prosperity Now reveals troubling details about debt in African American communities. Data shows that more than 27 percent of African American households are struggling with late debt payments, which is noticeably higher than white households at 15 percent. Falling behind on debt payments is a catalyst for more significant hardships like late fees, debt collection calls, inadequate savings, and lower credit scores. For some, bad debt can even make it hard to get or keep a job. All of these consequences create a situation where people desperate for debt relief are vulnerable to deceptions and rip-offs. So how can you tell if an offer to help you take control of your debt is legitimate or not?

Look Beyond the Promises

You’ve heard the ads on radio and television that promise to share “the secret to getting out of debt that the big banks don’t want you to know” or the guarantee to make up to half of your debt disappear. It might be easy for someone without debt worries to dismiss these messages, but anyone who is being pressured by a debt collector day in and day out might be tempted to believe what they see in these commercials. It always helps to take a moment to investigate an offer, especially when money is at stake. Fact-checking a debt settlement advertisement through trusted sources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) can give you the real story on what to expect.

Know Your Rights

Some debt relief companies will want you to get started right away after you agree to their terms. While the urgency of your debt problems is a good reason to do something quickly, you should never sign up for any program before taking the time to understand the terms fully. Avoid doing business with companies that tell you to stop communicating with your creditors and advise you to withhold payments while negotiations take place.  You have a right to communicate with your lenders and being told not to pay is bad advice that will lead to credit sabotage. This is why the CFPB, the government agency established to protect and educate consumers, says debt settlement companies may “leave you deeper in debt than you were when you started.” That’s not a situation you want to face.

Safe Solutions

There are safe solutions for getting out of debt and putting your life back on track.  The value of these programs is life-changing and can go way beyond what a typical debt elimination scheme could offer. For more than 68 years, nonprofit credit counseling programs provided by members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) have helped millions of people safely put debt struggles in their past. By relieving financial stress, you can focus on life’s most important priorities, like family and the freedom to live the life you want. According to research by The Ohio State University, nonprofit credit counseling by NFCC agencies leads to significant reductions in credit card debt, higher credit scores, and improved confidence in money management skills.

How to Get Help Now

Reaching out to an independently accredited nonprofit credit counseling agency is as easy as visiting or calling 1-800-388-2227. No matter your circumstances, speaking with a counselor will regain control of your debt and achieve real financial stability.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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