Managing your debt
Debt management companies and credit counselors can help you reduce or manage your debt, including in creating a spending plan. Specifically, the companies can help you with:
- Budget counseling
- Correcting credit reporting agency information, or “credit repair”
- Modifying home loans or short-sale negotiations
- Determining whether and how to file for bankruptcy
- Negotiating with a consumer’s creditors to reduce monthly payments, interest rates, or late fees
- Providing “debt settlement” services, or reducing the amount of debt a consumer owes
All debt management service companies providing these services must be registered in Oregon. Before you sign an agreement, or pay any fees, check their registration.
Oregon law sets the maximum fees that debt management companies can charge:
- $50 maximum initial counseling fee
- $50 maximum initial counseling or education fee
- A monthly fee of 15 percent of the amount paid to the debt management service provider (maximum of $65)
If the company reduces your debt, it can charge 7.5 percent of the total amount of debt reduced after the debt is paid.
During your consultation, the company will determine if it is able to help you and then will create a budget and provide a written agreement. The agreement should include a copy of the budget, the services provided (e.g. consolidating your debts), a list of all your debts, and all fees. Even if you work with an online debt management company, it must send you a written agreement.
Disreputable companies and individuals use telemarketing, direct-mail, and advertising that include promises to help you with your debt. Be careful. Do not work with a company that:
- Charges excessive upfront fees (Oregon law allows for a maximum of $100 in initial fees).
- Claims to settle your debt for "pennies on the dollar."
- Instructs you to stop making payments to existing creditors, including the financial institution that holds your home mortgage.
- Performs a "forensic audit" - a review of mortgage loan documents for errors - and claims to be able to reach a favorable settlement with your lender.
- Guarantees positive results.
- Claims to be out-of-state attorneys that are exempt from Oregon-required registration.
Attorneys are able to provide debt management services if the work is a part of the total legal services they provide, and they have a license to practice law in Oregon.