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Q. I was charged $1,200 by Debt Solutions of America with the promise that they would lower my house payment. Well they did -- It was $823 a month. Now it's $817. And I'm out $1,200. Is there anything I can to do to recoup my money?
Pamela StaheliA. Pamela, I really hate to hear about cases like yours. With all of the trouble in the housing market, companies like this are popping up more and more. They often call themselves foreclosure rescue or foreclosure relief services, and they promise big things: Lower your mortgage payments, cut them in half, save you thousands of dollars a year.
What they actually do is exactly what you could do on your own, or with the help of a good not-for-profit housing counselor: They help you gather and submit the paperwork needed to complete a loan modification as part of the Making Home Affordable program.
When we received your email, I did a search for the company so I could get in touch and see if we could recoup any of what you lost. What I found, unfortunately, is that this company is already out of business. I did manage to track down Chris Stover, the owner, and he was less than helpful. He said that in order to work with his company, you had to sign a contract that said, essentially, that there are no guarantees.
I know you've acknowledged that you did, in fact, sign this contract. Because the company is out of business -- Stover tells me it "just wasn't a profitable business to be in," although I'm sure you'd disagree -- going after a refund would probably be throwing good money after bad, according to Gerri Detweiler, a credit adviser for Credit.com.
Instead, she thinks you should file a complaint with your state attorney general's office and the Federal Trade Commission (you can do that here). I'd also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which already has a file started on this company, with 10 complaints registered. You can add yours to the list here.
Now, if you're still struggling with your mortgage payments, and it sounds like you are, you should get in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor. It's completely free, and they'll be able to outline what options are available to you at this point.
Finally, for others out there who are considering one of these services: It's not worth it. There are no quick fixes, and if someone asks you to pay for this kind of counseling service or help with a home modification or a delinquent mortgage, it's more than likely a scam. (As a side note, there are legitimate credit counseling services, which charge a small fee to help you pay down credit card and other debt. If that's what you're looking for, keep your search limited to members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.) Whenever you're considering paying for a service of any kind -- debt settlement, credit counseling, even a new cell phone or cable plan -- you should thoroughly research the company, including verifying its rating and accreditation with the BBB.
Consumer Ally problem-solver Jean Chatzky is the "Today Show" financial adviser, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.
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