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5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm

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5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm

If you’re deep in debt, you may have looked into getting some outside help to find relief. Frequently, your search for aid will bring you to debt settlement firms.

Debt settlement firms negotiate directly with your creditor to reduce your debt. If they succeed in settling your debt for a lesser amount, you will then be required to make one lump-sum payment, effectively wiping out your obligation.

Using these firms may sound like a lifesaver to someone struggling to pay off many debts at once. But debt settlement firms can actually cause more harm than good to your finances if you aren’t careful.

“Based on all the evidence we’ve seen, it is extremely rare that anyone benefits from using a debt settlement firm,” says Andrew Pizor, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Before you agree to work with a debt settlement firm, it’s important to know the risks:

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement Firm

1. You will have to stop paying your debts. When you begin working with a debt settlement firm, many firms will encourage you to stop paying your debts and start paying into a third-party bank account. The idea is that you will eventually build up enough money in that account to be ready to make a lump-sum payment when the firm succeeds in convincing your lender or collections agency to settle.

This, of course, means that your accounts are going to become increasingly delinquent. It can take up to 36 months to fully fund a debt settlement firm account, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

While you are not paying your debt, your creditor can send your account to collections or even file a lawsuit against you before the settlement firm gets a chance to negotiate. You could also be responsible for any interest, late fees, and legal fees that have accrued over that time as well.

2. They may not succeed in settling your debt. Once you have saved up enough money to make a lump-sum offer to the creditor, the debt settlement firm will attempt to enter negotiations. What they may not tell you is that some creditors will not work with these firms as a rule. That means it’s possible that after you’ve saved enough money for the payment — meanwhile, allowing your accounts to become severely delinquent and your credit score to tank — you could be left without a resolution at all. To avoid this, call your lender or collections agency directly to ask if they work with debt settlement agencies before you sign up for their services.

3. They’ll take a portion of your debt savings. If the firm is able to successfully negotiate, they will often take a cut of your savings in return. For example, if you owe $10,000 and they are able to negotiate a lump-sum payment of $8,000 with $2,000 of your original debt forgiven, the firm would take a percentage cut of that $2,000.

4. Your credit will tank. It is important to note that debt settlement shows up on your credit report when it is reported to the credit bureaus. It will serve as a red flag to future lenders that in the past, you have not paid your debts in full. This could result in higher interest rates, smaller lines of credit, or even failure to get approved for credit at all.

5. You could face a hefty tax bill. If the amount forgiven is $600 or more, you will most likely have to report it as taxable income. Let’s look back at our earlier example. When that person settled their $10,000 debt for $8,000, the lender effectively forgave $2,000. To the IRS, that forgiven debt could be treated as additional income and you could owe taxes on it.

What to Look for in a Debt Settlement Firm

There are six things you should consider red flags when it comes to debt relief services, according to the FTC:

  • The company charges any fees before it settles your debts
  • The company advertises that they are part of a “new government program” to bail out personal credit card debt. There are no such programs.
  • The company guarantees it can make your unsecured (credit card) debt go away
  • The company tells you to stop communicating with your creditors, but doesn’t explain the serious consequences
  • The company tells you it can stop all debt collection calls and lawsuits
  • The company guarantees that your unsecured debts can be paid off for pennies on the dollar

Almost all states have some form of regulation for debt relief services. Some states ban them altogether.

A debt settlement firm may be licensed to operate in your state, but that does not mean they are necessarily the best for your needs. Because state licensing agencies are not federally regulated, quality standards can vary widely from state to state.

What should you look for, then?

A best-case scenario, according to Pizor, is finding a company that only takes a percentage of your debt reduction in exchange for their services. “This setup helps better align their interests with your own,” Pizor says. If you do well, they do well.

How to Avoid Debt Settlement Scams

Most debt settlement firms focus on unsecured consumer debt, like credit card debt. The most common scams in these situations involve telemarketing. You’ll receive a call from a company posing as a debt settlement firm that promises to reduce the amount of debt you owe as long as you pay an upfront free. They may even tell you that you don’t have to pay a fee until later as long as you’re saving money in a third-party account.

The latter sounds legitimate, but in both these situations, the supposed debt settlement firm can easily run with your money. There was a flurry of these telemarketing scams following the 2008 financial crisis, prompting the FTC to add further federal regulations under their Telemarketing Sales Rules.

If you can’t sit down with someone in person, it’s difficult to judge their legitimacy. In these situations, it’s best to just hang up.

Another tactic scammers perpetrate is using a lawyer as a front. This lawyer may be licensed to practice in your state, but will outsource your debt woes to companies across the country, or even the world, that have no legal background.

In order to avoid this scam, make sure you can sit down with the lawyer face to face in their office. Pizor recommends asking probing questions to get a feel for their legitimacy, including, “Who will be working on my case?”

If the lawyer or a paralegal in their office will be doing the work, that is much more acceptable than someone they cannot immediately supervise in person, or someone without a background in law.

Scams also frequently happen in the student loan sector. You’ll often see settlement firms advertising that there is a “new government program” that could help you settle your student loan debt. This is tricky because there are legitimate government programs that can help those with federal student loans defer payments or even forgive their remaining debt, but you should never have to pay anyone a fee in order to access these programs.

In late 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau prosecuted two companies that were preying on those with student loans.

Try Negotiating Your Own Debt Settlement

As long as you’re aware of the effect it may have on your credit, you can negotiate a settlement on your own. Many creditors have a floor for how much they’ll reduce your debt in favor of a lump-sum payment. This floor applies to debt settlement firms and consumers alike. By entering negotiations without a third party, you can save yourself the fees and potential victimization that you would risk by working with a debt settlement firm.

There are two important things to remember before you settle your debt:

  1. You will likely need to provide a lump sump payment right away. It’s unlikely a debt collector or lender will accept installments. Also, having the ability to make a lump sum payment could give you additional bargaining power.
  2. As we mentioned before: If the debt is settled for a lesser amount, you may be taxed on the portion of the original debt that was forgiven.

Consider Paying Your Debt in Full

Debt settlement leaves a scar on your credit report that will take years to fade. If possible, attempt to negotiate a lower interest rate and/or longer terms that may decrease your monthly payment. Just be aware that a longer term may lower your monthly payments but increase the amount of interest you pay over the course of your loan, even if your interest rate goes down or stays the same. However, you’ll more likely be able to afford your payments and possibly save your credit report.

That being said, some debts may have passed their statute of limitations in the state in which they originated. Once that statute of limitations has been passed, it is no longer possible for the lender or collections agency to sue you for those unpaid debts. Furthermore, they may have already fallen off your credit report. However, if you make any further payments, the clock will restart and the debt will be revitalized. Consult a consumer law attorney or a credit counselor before deciding whether to make a payment on an old debt.

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Marcus by Goldman Sachs Review: GS Bank Takes on Online Savings, CDs, and Personal Loans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs savings account

A very high interest rate and no fees make this one of the best savings accounts out there.

APY

Minimum Balance Amount

1.70%

None

  • Minimum opening deposit: None. However, you’ll need to deposit at least $1.00 if you want to earn any interest
  • Monthly account maintenance fee: None
  • ATM fee: N/A
  • ATM fee refund: N/A
  • Overdraft fee: None

This is a great account for almost anyone. However, before you click that “Learn More” button below, there are a couple of things to know.

No ATMs. First, Marcus by Goldman Sachs doesn’t offer ATM access to your savings account. You’ll either need to deposit or withdraw money by sending in a physical check, setting up direct deposits, or by moving the money to and from your other bank accounts via ACH or wire transfer.

No checking account. Second, Marcus does’t offer a corresponding checking account. That means you can only use this account as an external place to park your cash from your everyday money flow.

Keeping a separate savings account does have its benefits. For example, it’s harder to tempt yourself to withdraw the cash if you’re a chronic over-spender. But, it also means that there might be a delay of a few days if you need to transfer the money out of your Goldman Sachs online savings account and into your other checking account.

How to open a Goldman Sachs online savings account

It’s really easy to open an online savings account with Marcus by Goldman Sachs. You can do it online or over the phone as long as you’re 18 years or older, have a physical street address, and a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You’ll be required to sign a form which you can do online, or by mail if you’re opening the account over the phone.

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How their online savings account compares

Marcus’ online savings account can easily be described with one word: outstanding.

You’ll get a relatively high interest rate with this account, which is among the best online savings account rates you’ll find today. In fact, these rates are currently over seven times higher than the average savings account interest rate.

Even better, this account won’t charge you any fees for the privilege of keeping your money stashed there. It’s a tall order to find another bank that offers these high interest rates with terms this good.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs CD rates

Sky-high CD rates, but watch out for early withdrawal limitations.

Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

6 months

0.60%

$500

9 months

0.70%

$500

12 months

1.85%

$500

18 months

1.85%

$500

24 months

1.85%

$500

3 years

1.85%

$500

4 years

1.85%

$500

5 years

1.90%

$500

6 years

1.90%

$500

  • Minimum opening deposit: $500
  • Minimum balance amount to earn APY: $500
  • Early withdrawal penalty:
    • For CDs under 12 months, 90 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 12 months to 5 years, 270 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 5 years or over, 365 days’ worth of interest

Marcus’ CDs work a little differently from other CDs. Rather than having to set up and fund your account all at once, Goldman Sachs will give you 30 days to fully fund your account.

Once open, your interest will be tallied up and credited to your CD account each month. You can withdraw the interest earned at any time without paying an early withdrawal penalty, but heads up: If you withdraw the interest, your returns will be lower than the stated APY when you opened your account.

If you need to withdraw the money from your CD, you can only do so by pulling out the entire CD balance and paying the required early withdrawal penalty. There is no option for partial withdrawals of your cash.

Finally, once your CD has fully matured, you’ll have a 10-day grace period to withdraw the money, add more funds, and/or switch to a different CD term. If you don’t do anything, Marcus will automatically roll over your CD into another one of the same type, but with the current interest rate of the day.

How to open a Goldman Sachs CD

Marcus has made it super simple to open up a CD. First, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, and have either a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You can open an account easily online, or call them up by phone. You’ll need to sign an account opening form, which you can do online or via a hard-copy mailed form. Then, simply fund your CD account within 30 days, and you’re all set.

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How their CDs compare

The interest rates that Marcus offers on their CDs are top-notch. In fact, a few of their CD terms are among the current contenders for the best CD rates.

If you’re interested in pursuing a CD ladder approach, Marcus is one of our top picks because each of their CD terms offer above-average rates. This means you can rest easy that you’ll get the best rates for your CD ladder without having to complicate things by spreading out all of your CDs among a handful of different banks.

The only downside to these CDs compared with many other banks is that you can’t withdraw a portion of your cash if you need it. It’s either all-in, or all-out. However, once out, you’re still free to open a new CD with the surplus cash, as long as it’s at least the $500 minimum deposit size.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs personal loan

Personal loans offered by Marcus have low APRs, flexible terms, and no fees.

Terms

APR

Credit Required

Fees

Max Loan Amount

36 to 72 months

6.99%-28.99%

Not specified

None

$40,000

Marcus by Goldman Sachs® personal loans can be used for just about anything, from consolidating debt to financing a large home improvement project. They offer some of the best rates available, with APRs as low as 6.99%, and you’ll not only be able to choose between a range of loan terms, but you can also choose the specific day of the month when you want to make your loan payments.

While there are no specific credit requirements to get a loan through Marcus, the company does try to target those that have “prime” credit, which is usually those with a FICO score higher than 660. Even with a less than excellent credit score, you may be able to qualify for a personal loan from Marcus, though, those that have recent, negative marks on their credit report, such as missed payments, will likely be rejected.

Applicants must be over 18 (19 in Alabama and Nebraska, 21 in Mississippi and Puerto Rico) and have a valid U.S. bank account. You are also required to have a Social Security or Individual Tax I.D. Number.

No fees. Marcus charges no extra fees for their personal loans. There is No origination fee associated with getting a loan, but there are also no late fees associated with missing payments. Those missed payments simply accrue more interest and your loan will be extended.

Defer payments. Once you have made on-time payments for a full year, you will have the ability to defer a payment. This means that if an unexpected expense or lost job hurts your budget one month, you can push that payment back by a month without negatively impacting your credit report.

How to apply for a Marcus personal loan

Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers a process that is completely online, allowing you to apply, choose the loan you want, submit all of your documents, and get approved without having to leave home. Here are the steps that you will complete to get a personal loan from Marcus:

  1. Fill out the information that is required in the online application, including your basic personal and financial information, as well as how much you would like to borrow and what you will use the money for.
  2. After a soft pull on your credit, and if you qualify, you will be presented a list of different loan options that may include different rates and terms.
  3. Once you have chosen the loan you want, you will need to provide additional information to verify your identity. You may also be asked for information that can be used to verify your income and you will need to provide your bank account information so that the money can be distributed.
  4. You will receive your funds 1 – 4 business days after your loan has been approved.

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How their personal loans compare

Marcus offers low APRs and flexible terms with their personal loans, but their main feature is that they have no fees. If you are looking for a straightforward lending experience with no hidden fees or costs, Marcus will be perfect for you since you won’t even have to worry about late fees if you happen to miss a payment.

While Marcus offers some great perks, you may be able to get a lower rate if you choose to go with another lender, such as LightStream or SoFi. Both of these lenders offer lower APR ranges and they don’t charge origination fees, though, LightStream will do a hard pull on your credit to preapprove you.

LendingClub and Peerform both have lower credit requirements than Marcus, but they also charge origination fees and, being P2P lending platforms, you will need to wait for your loan to be funded and you run the risk that other users might not fund your loan.

Overall review of Marcus by Goldman Sachs‘ products

Marcus has really hit it out of the park with their personal loans, online savings, and CD accounts. Each of these accounts offers some of the best features available on the market, while shrinking the fees down to a minuscule, or even nonexistent, amount. Their website is also slick and easy to use for online-savvy people.

The only thing we can find to complain about with Marcus is that they don’t offer an equally-awesome checking account to accompany their other deposit products. Indeed, it seems like Marcus has turned their former hoity-toity image around: Today, they’re a bank that we’d recommend to anyone, even blue-collar folks.

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Featured

How to Buy a Home Through an Estate Sale

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When a person dies, someone has to distribute or sell their assets. If the deceased has a property that hasn’t been willed to someone, or that their heirs don’t want, it will often be sold at an estate sale. In some cases, owners will hold estate sales themselves if they need to downsize or move.

A person’s estate includes their house and everything in it, meaning furniture, antiques and the property itself are up for grabs in an estate sale. If you’re looking for a house, you might be able to score a decent deal on one through an estate sale.

What is an estate sale?

Estate sales are typically initiated by the owner’s heirs or relatives. They may have inherited the home but have chosen not to live in it, or they’re selling the property to pay off their loved one’s debts. An estate sale may include the home the person lived in or owned and/or their valuables.

Buying an estate sale home vs. a probate sale home

An estate sale is held by an owner’s heirs or loved ones, or a company or real estate agency they’ve hired to handle the process. A probate sale happens when the decedent, or person who has died, passes away without a will. A probate court administrator will handle the estate and sale of the property, and the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay off creditors and any other outstanding accounts.

Probate courts publicize a person’s death so that anyone who has a claim to the proceeds of the estate can file that with the court. It’s worth looking out for probate home sales because the selling prices can be lower than market value.

If you’re in a hot real estate market and the house is being sold in a bidding process, be prepared to pay market value (at a minimum), as bidding can be competitive. You’re also less likely to negotiate for a lower price at a probate sale.

5 tips for purchasing a home from an estate sale

Follow these tips before getting a mortgage for an estate sale home:

  1. Keep an eye out for estate sale listings and treat them as open houses. Check local classified ads and online real estate sites. You can also contact local estate sale companies or probate courts to ask about recent listings. Estate sales are held over a few days (often a weekend), so go back a couple of times if needed. Test the water pressure, take measurements (but be subtle) and spend plenty of time in each room absorbing all the details. Look for foundation cracking or settling so you can ask questions after touring the home.
  2. Don’t judge a house by its listing photos. Remember that the seller may be a grieving relative or a court administrator, neither of whom are going to be super motivated to stage the home the way a traditional seller would. Even if the online photos are lackluster, reserve judgment until you see the property in person — the house might have more charm than you think. Be realistic about your budget and timetable, though, if you think the home needs more repairs or improvements than you can handle.
  3. Get preapproved. Get preapproved for a mortgage before you start looking at houses. Preapproval will help you move faster when you’re ready to buy, and it may give you some leverage in price negotiations.
  4. Move quickly on inspections and use due diligence. Schedule a home appraisal and inspections as soon as possible because these will affect your loan application and your offer. If a home inspector finds serious problems with the home, you’ll likely want to reduce your offer accordingly. Your mortgage lender will require you to take out lender’s title insurance, which protects the lender from financial loss if any ownership claims arise after closing. The lender will also order a title search for any liens, ownership disputes or judgments against the property. In addition, consider buying an owner’s title insurance policy to protect your investment if ownership is disputed later on.
  5. Budget for renovations. Be realistic about what you need to change to make the home livable. If the dated wallpaper, crown molding and kitchen backsplash make you feel like you’re in a time warp, build those renovations into your budget. Look beyond the low selling price to account for all of the costs you’ll need to cover with your mortgage.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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