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Debt consolidation programs end creditor harassment
Once you enroll in the debt reduction program; your creditors going forward are forbidden to contact you. They can only contact your debt manager and not you. You send the bill paying company one monthly payment, and they in turn payoff all your creditors a little bit at a time. Usually when the smallest creditor is paid off, more cash is available to be applied to the remaining creditors, paying off those balances even more rapidly. All the companies require your payment in money order form only to guarantee that you'll never bounce a check, because they just forward the funds to your creditors. If they allowed you to mail in a check and it bounced, you might anger some of the creditors into kicking you out of the program, then you're in trouble, because your interest shoots back up to 23% or whatever it was before.
People who only send in the minimum payment to their credit cards would take 10 years to pay them off. By having a debt consolidation service step in for you and get the interest rate removed, you can pay it off a lot quicker. As the debt consolidation service pays off the balances of your accounts, they then focus on the remaining accounts and rapidly pay those off.
Notice that no one is lending you money; they are just restructuring your debt, which is safer than consolidation loans. Don't confuse these companies with lending institutions, they are not lenders. Usually car loans, home loans, and other secured personal loans cannot be brought into this type of plan because the bill paying service cannot get banks to relax the interest. This type of plan usually works best on credit cards, gas cards, department stores, etc., at the discretion of the creditor.
Some of the "for profit" companies charge between 1 - 5% of your monthly payment as a service fee. The "for profit" companies usually have up front fees of $300 or more before they'll even take you on as a client. Sometimes the fee is refundable after 30 days if you decide not to enroll, sometimes you'll lose the fee, and sometimes it's refunded at the end of the program, usually 48 months. Some salespeople will say your fee is refundable, but you later discover it's only refundable at the end of the program 48 months later, so ask. If you quit the program before it's over, all fees are non refundable. A typical profit company might charge you over $600 in annual fees that are added onto your monthly payment. The non-profit organizations might only charge a tiny monthly fee to cover administrative costs. Many fees are optional with non-profit organizations, because many costs are paid by pools from all the creditors and other resources. Sometimes you only have to pay them if you can afford to. Usually it will cost you less to deal with the non-profit organizations than with the "for profit" companies.
Naturally, the "for profit" companies will try to talk you out of dealing with the non-profit organizations, scaring you with tactics like pointing out the fact that most of your fees with non-profit companies are paid by the creditors. Because of this, the "for profit" companies claim that the non-profit organizations are not acting your best interest. But that's hogwash, you still end up with the same goal of reducing your interest on your credit cards. How can that not be in your best interest? Your up front fees with non-profit organizations are either cheaper or non-existent, and your monthly payments may be lower also because they have lower per month fees.
Most creditors will drop the APR and late fees if it means they'll recover their investment in you instead of writing off a loss, or wasting money on collection agencies. Usually one requirement of relaxing the interest is that you must close all the accounts that you are consolidating. You send your payments to the debt management company in cashier's check or money order. Some organizations can also do electronic funds transfer. Never send cash, it's not traceable. With all the accounts the debt management companies maintain, it's hard to verify that all our checks are good, so they all want money orders.
It may appear on your credit report that you are working with a credit counselor or debt management company. No company can tell you this won't happen. It's up to the individual creditors to decide whether the information should appear in your credit report. No matter what your debt manager tells you, they have no control over this.