Last week, Democrat Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced the “Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act.” This debt relief bill would limit the fees that a debt settlement company would be able to charge a consumer for debt settlement services. If passed, the new law would mandate written disclosures before debt reduction services were performed and include a provision for the right to cancel for a full refund. These new laws are intended to impact debt service like subprime loans have been impacted by the Dodd-Frank Bill.

According to a press release from the Council of Better Business Bureaus, BBBs across the nation have received more than 3,500 complaints about debt settlement companies since the beginning of the recession in 2007.  Many consumers complained that the debt settlement programs did not work.  Some people even accused the debt settlement companies of increasing their debt.  Credit card debt settlement can leave consumers liable for a lawsuit from a credit card company, in addition to having wages garnished.

A number of consumers who quit the program say they were not refunded for payments they had made.  The debt settlement bill comes after a hearing last week during which the U.S. Government Accountability Office testified about the results of a covert investigation into the debt settlement industry’s practices. It found that most companies it mystery shopped charged an upfront fee before any services were performed, and nearly all of them told the undercover callers to stop paying their creditors. In some cases, a consumer’s payments into the program would go entirely toward fees for up to four months.  Certainly debt settlement can be a successful financial tool for consumers to get out of debt, but it should be a last resort. The FTC explains the pros and cons of various debt relief options in this fact sheet, “Knee Deep in Debt.”

The Better Business Bureau warns of the following red flags for unscrupulous debt settlement companies:  High upfront fees.

  • Guarantees of debt reduction by specific amounts.
  • Claims that the process will be swift or easy.

The original article was written by Leslie McFadden for Bankrate.com