NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CPFB) just announced a preliminary injunction against World Law Group. World Law Group is a debt relief company specifically promoting debt settlement programs to consumers who are buried in debt. You may have heard radio advertisements or have seen billboards promising to slash your debt in half. 

On the surface, it sounds a little too good to be true. Once you're in the program, it might turn into the biggest mistake of your life.


If your creditor doesn't budge, consider speaking with a credit counselor but make sure you do your research first. Finding a reputable credit counseling agency will require research. Read user reviews, and check if an organization is registered with the National Foundation of Credit Counseling.

Be an informed consumer and rely on sound judgment. Credit counselors might suggest a Debt Management Program. These agencies have special concessions and arrangements with most major creditors and can lower your interest rate and payments. You'll have a fixed monthly payment that's designed to eliminate your debts within three to five years. 

If you're thinking about enrolling in a debt settlement program, be cautious. Not only will this impact you financially, but enrolling in these programs will have an enormous impact on your credit for years.  Here are some tips on how you can protect yourself from being scammed:

  1. Misleading Advertisement: The first big warning sign is if the debt settlement program uses misleading advertisements. For example, if a program directly advertises that it can reduce debts by 40% to 60%, stay away! That's a sign that the company probably doesn't play by the rules. Pay close attention to the marketing language. If a program guarantees results or implies as much, stay away.
  2. Charging Up-front fees: Debt settlement companies are not allowed to charge fees before a service is performed. Through the years, companies have been trying to work around this. World Law Group seemed to try to circumvent this rule by hiring attorneys. Companies that state they have attorneys working on your program should immediately sound your alarm. This is an obvious way for companies to charge up-front fees.
  3. Sugar-coating the program: Keep in mind that when you're talking to a debt settlement company, you're talking to a sales rep. Sales reps are trained to have a rebuttal for all your questions. When you ask questions such as, "How will this impact my credit score?," the common response might be, "It will have a negative impact but once all your debts are paid with a zero balance, you should see your credit score increase over time." This is sugar coating. They may not tell you that your balance will continue to accrue interest and late fees until it's charged off, or that creditors might take legal action against you. 

Debt settlement is not your only option. You're generally better off seeking your own solutions. The key is to be proactive. Remember, always contact your creditors first and speak with a credit counselor. They may be of significantly more help than you imagined.

 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.