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Thinking of Signing Up With Meridian Law Group for Debt Settlement But Have Questions. – Tom

“Dear Steve,

Thinking of signing up with a debt reduction program. I live in Arizona, work for the Federal government, am 66 years old, and have too much debt to be able to retire before I’m 75.

I got a letter in the mail and called the number to talk to a representative. The debt reduction group is named Meridian Law Group. They offer to settle some $25,000 total debt – not MY total debt, just the debt I wanted to have settled – for about 40% of the actual amount, plus their fees.

The schedule of payments is 39 months, and the total cost will save me about $8,000, as I figure it, and help me to think about retirement and letting a younger person have a damn job job – though it doesn’t pay as much as the current claims being stated for federal workers, sooner rather then later.

But the bottom line is, is it legit or a ripoff? What do you know of the group? They claim that the reductions will be negotiated by lawyers with the credit card companies, and that although I will be essential “in default” with the credit card companies during the process, everything washes out in the end. Can you help me on this? Good move or bad idea?

Tom”

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The Answer

Dear Tom,

The Meridian Law Group you are mentioning, I believe, is the one located in Tampa, Florida.

Thinking of Signing Up With Meridian Law Group for Debt Settlement But Have Questions.   Tom

The attorneys the firm lists are:
James Spielberger – Attorney/Partner
Eric Mader – Attorney/Partner
Jason McGrath – Attorney/Partner
Michelle Grasso – Attorney/ FL, IL
Brad Latta – Attorney/AL
William Cowley – Attorney/KY
John Andrews – Attorney/TX
Fred Nix – Attorney/MD
Jessica Rauff – Attorney/CA
Julie-Ann Duhe-Keating – Attorney/LA
Natasha Davis – Attorney/WA
Dipawal Shah – Attorney/NJ, PA
Stephen Coffin – Attorney/MO
Edmund Gorman – Attorney/NV
Karen Mayer – Attorney/Associate

I’m always concerned by blanket solicitation mailers that are sent out. It seems to be generated out of a sales process rather than you taking the steps to seek assistance. In situations like this I feel it is prudent for consumers to get a second opinion before leaping for any solution. A good attorney will not mind of you get a second opinion.

And if you are considering a second opinion you may want to find a local bankruptcy attorney in your state and contact them for a consultation. Not only will that let you speak to a second attorney but it will allow you to evaluate a different solution in order to become more educated about which solution will be best for you in your situation.

I’m a little concerned that you were given a fixed amount of savings. Nobody has a crystal ball to predict what creditors may do in the future. It is well within your best interest to ask for specific numbers in writing regarding the performance of the debt settlement company. What is their success rate? What percentage of debt have they settled when accounting for all enrolled debt, fees, and failures?

Here is what the FTC says about what consumers should know when a company states a specific percentage.

State the savings based on the customer’s debt when he or she signs up for the program. You may not inflate savings figures or percentages by including interest and fees the credit card company adds after a customer signs up for your program.

Example 8: Andy signs up with a debt relief service offered by Company H, owing $10,000 on his credit card. One year later, following negotiations with the credit card company, Company H negotiates a settlement allowing Andy to pay $6,000 to resolve the debt. However, since Andy enrolled, the credit card company has charged him interest and late fees totaling $2,000, so that Andy now owes $12,000. By getting a settlement for $6,000, Company H has saved Andy $4,000 ($10,000 minus $6,000) or 40% of the debt at the time of enrollment. It would be deceptive for Company H to claim to have saved Andy $6,000 ($12,000 minus $6,000) or 50% of his debt.

Include the impact of your fees on the claimed savings. You may not inflate your savings claims by excluding the fees your customers paid you.

Example 9: Betty owes $10,000 on her credit card, and signs up with Company J’s debt relief service. Company J gets a settlement allowing Betty to pay $5,000 to resolve the debt. However, at the time of settlement, Company J charges Betty a $1,000 fee for its work. It would be deceptive for Company J to claim to have saved Betty $5,000 – or 50% of her debt – because Betty also had to pay $1,000 in fees. Instead, Company J may truthfully state Betty’s savings as $4,000 ($5,000 minus $1,000) or 40% of Betty’s debt.

In calculating the results you’ve achieved over time, you must include customers who dropped out or otherwise failed to complete the program. Don’t base your savings claims only on customers who successfully completed your program.

Example 10: Company K had 10 customers signed up for its service. Each one had $10,000 in unpaid credit card debt for a total of $100,000. Five of the customers completed the program, and each saved $5,000 – for a total savings of $25,000. The remaining five customers dropped out of the program, each one still owing the $10,000 they owed when they signed up with the program. Taken together, Company K has saved its customers $25,000 – or 25% – of the total $100,000 debt they had when they signed up with the program. It would be deceptive for Company K to exclude the drop-outs and claim that it saved its customers 50% of their debt.

Include all debts enrolled by your customers, not only those that have been settled successfully. In calculating your savings claim, you may not exclude accounts you failed to settle, even if the failure was due to customers dropping out of your service.

Example 11: Company L has 10 customers, and each of them enrolls two $1,000 debts in the program – totaling 20 debts or $20,000. Company L is able to settle 10 of the 20 debts, each for $500. However, it was unable to settle the remaining 10 debts before those customers either completed or dropped out of the program. Thus, Company L has saved its 10 customers $5,000 or 25% of their debts in the program. It would be deceptive for Company L to exclude the 10 accounts that weren’t settled and claim a savings rate of 50%.

You also need to clearly understand that going the settlement route is not without risks. It will hurt your credit, you may have a large tax bill afterwards, you can be sued and you can have your wages garnished.

Debt settlement is not a magic wand, but it can be the right tool in the right situation. The question here is if yours is the right situation.

And by the way, if you’d like a second opinion by an outside party about your situation or a personal consultation by another debt coach, please feel free to contact Damon Day.

Big Hug!

Thinking of Signing Up With Meridian Law Group for Debt Settlement But Have Questions.   Tom
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If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask just use the online form. I’m happy to help you totally for free.

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About Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
  • LegalBeast

    Take the opportunity to call your state bar, the state bar of the domocile of Meridian as well as your attorney generals and the FTC and the BBB. In the meantime, let Meridian know you’ve done this & that you will continue to push the complaints until your mom receives ALL her money back! Steve has a link on the 1st page of the site called How to get a big refund…. Complain against these rip-off lawyers-

  • Leeduvall65

    My mother just found out that Merridan law group, has not paid any  of her credit card debts off or had any type of communication with any of her creditors .  She had been paying ths company 727.00 each month.  She is now being sued by one of her creditors. 

    My mother has gotten away from this company, but the damage is done to her credit..

    This company is a scam, they took her money and put it in their pockets .  This company is not there to help people, they are there to make a profit.

    This company preys upon the elderly and people on fixed incomes. 

    SHAME ON  MERRIDAN LAW GROUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Leeduvall65

    My mother just found out that Merridan law group, has not paid any  of her credit card debts off or had any type of communication with any of her creditors .  She had been paying ths company 727.00 each month.  She is now being sued by one of her creditors. 

    My mother has gotten away from this company, but the damage is done to her credit..

    This company is a scam, they took her money and put it in their pockets .  This company is not there to help people, they are there to make a profit.

    This company preys upon the elderly and people on fixed incomes. 

    SHAME ON  MERRIDAN LAW GROUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ComplianceSlave

    Jason- I thank you as well. Please understand, the majority of companies listed here are not decent companies. They have proven that. So it is with skepticism that I view posts like that one above. My best guess is that most are added by salespeople or at least someone at the company and NOT by an actual client. When results posted are “too good to be true” it seems fair to request documentation from the “client”.

  • Steve Rhode

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Jason McGrath

    Greetings, everyone. Since I am one of the partners of Meridian Law Group, I read this post and the comments with interest. I definitely agree with Mr. Rhode’s statement that debt resolution services are not a magic wand, but can be the right tool in the right situation. We do not make any promises to clients with regard to what we can settle their debt for; in fact, our attorney – client agreement specifically and clearly explains that. However, within the bounds of ethics and client confidentiality, we don’t mind sharing past results and industry standards with (potential) clients.

    I can only speak to what I personally know, which is that I dedicate many hours a week to ensuring that Meridian Law Group provides ethical and efficient services. I have practiced law since 1996, am licensed in Florida, North Carolina, and federal court, and have never had a complaint against any of my licenses. I spent 5 years as an “assistant D.A.”, and am always mindful of the importance of legal and ethical guidelines. I hope that Tom did in fact become a client of Meridian Law Group (I won’t comment on whether he did due to client confidentiality) and that we are able to resolve his debt in a manner he is pleased with; I know that we’ll do our best.

    I realize that authenticity of posts, etc. are sometimes debated on the internet. I sign this as myself, and thank any reader for their fair consideration.

    – Jason McGrath, Partner, Meridian Law Group

    • http://GetOutOfDebt.org Steve Rhode

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • http://www.ftc.gov ComplianceSlave

      Jason- I thank you as well. Please understand, the majority of companies listed here are not decent companies. They have proven that. So it is with skepticism that I view posts like that one above. My best guess is that most are added by salespeople or at least someone at the company and NOT by an actual client. When results posted are “too good to be true” it seems fair to request documentation from the “client”.

  • Jason McGrath

    Greetings, everyone. Since I am one of the partners of Meridian Law Group, I read this post and the comments with interest. I definitely agree with Mr. Rhode’s statement that debt resolution services are not a magic wand, but can be the right tool in the right situation. We do not make any promises to clients with regard to what we can settle their debt for; in fact, our attorney – client agreement specifically and clearly explains that. However, within the bounds of ethics and client confidentiality, we don’t mind sharing past results and industry standards with (potential) clients.

    I can only speak to what I personally know, which is that I dedicate many hours a week to ensuring that Meridian Law Group provides ethical and efficient services. I have practiced law since 1996, am licensed in Florida, North Carolina, and federal court, and have never had a complaint against any of my licenses. I spent 5 years as an “assistant D.A.”, and am always mindful of the importance of legal and ethical guidelines. I hope that Tom did in fact become a client of Meridian Law Group (I won’t comment on whether he did due to client confidentiality) and that we are able to resolve his debt in a manner he is pleased with; I know that we’ll do our best.

    I realize that authenticity of posts, etc. are sometimes debated on the internet. I sign this as myself, and thank any reader for their fair consideration.

    – Jason McGrath, Partner, Meridian Law Group

  • ComplianceSlave

    Memos4me- Thats interesting that a 3 month old corporation could do all that for you.
    http://www.scsos.com/index.asp

    Please send Steve a copy of your original contract-retainer with Meridian & your settlement letters to demonstrate that you are not using this site to lie and market deceptively. If you find their wonderful work so impressive and and truly want to share it with the world, do us all a favor and prove it.

    https://www.themlglaw.com/abou
    of course….
    http://www.aflgusa.com/aboutus
    The neat thing is the statement on this site which states “Recent changes in the FTC’s Telesales Rule have created a unique opportunity for lawyers to directly benefit by offering Non-Bankruptcy Consumer Debt Resolution Services to their clients.”
    Which is in direct conflict with Allison Brown of The FTC’s statements. http://getoutofdebt.org/23686/

    You guys are attorneys. Start acting like it. The days of the quick buck are over.

  • Memos4me

    I have worked with Meridian Law Group and I would highly reccommend them! They were honest and up front and reduced my debt by 50%. They even gave me a little black box that I attached to my phone to redirect harassing creditor calls. Best choice I have ever made.

  • Memos4me

    I have worked with Meridian Law Group and I would highly reccommend them! They were honest and up front and reduced my debt by 50%. They even gave me a little black box that I attached to my phone to redirect harassing creditor calls. Best choice I have ever made.

  • ComplianceSlave

    You wrote ” People need a reduction in what they owe, not a reduction in their interest rates. That’s why the completion rates for most credit counseling programs are SO low. “

    He needs a way to pay off his debt quickly so he has the opportunity to retire sooner. I didn’t get that he needed a reduction in what he owed. He did not seem to express a concern with making his current payments either. Simply, he said he was solicited to get him out of debt quickly (through settlement) & was settlement a good idea with Meridian.

    What did I miss?

  • Angelo

    Id be willing to bet a kidney that an attorney is NOT actually settling your accounts, attorney’s time is best spent practicing law, not negotiating with collection agencies. The next question and more important one is, how are the fees being collected? With an FTC compliant debt settlement plan every penny is accumulated to negotiate a settlement. No upfront, no monthly maintenance fee, no retainer fee…NO fees of any kind should be charged until an account is settled for you. Think about this for a second Tom…debt settlement companies are no longer able to charge fees upfront so they partner up with attorneys and charge a “retainer fee”. If the first few drafts (usually 3-6 with the remainder spread out over time) are being applied to the retainer fee, little or no money is being accumulated to settle the debt. They lure you in with the warm and fuzzy feeling that you will be defended by an attorney if you get sued but if all of your funds are going towards fees there is nothing being accumulated to actually settle the account. What’s the good of having an attorney defend a summons when you dont have any money to actually settle the account with? In most cases the only option is to set the client up with a full balance payment plan. Hell, you can do that on your own once you are served with a summons. Accumulating funds is the key, regardless if you are represented by an attorney or not. Best wishes!

  • ComplianceSlave

    He never said he was in a bad financial position now, just that his current debt will keep him from retiring for a long time. If he can afford his minimum payments, bankruptcy is not an option, but CCC is.
    If he can afford his minimums, and it appears he can, the BK court will tell him to pay them. I work for a debt settlement company so I have no vested interest in steering to CCC. If his goal is to get out of debt as fast as possible and keep similar payments- CCC

  • Angelo

    Id be willing to bet a kidney that an attorney is NOT actually settling your accounts, attorney’s time is best spent practicing law, not negotiating with collection agencies. The next question and more important one is, how are the fees being collected? With an FTC compliant debt settlement plan every penny is accumulated to negotiate a settlement. No upfront, no monthly maintenance fee, no retainer fee…NO fees of any kind should be charged until an account is settled for you. Think about this for a second Tom…debt settlement companies are no longer able to charge fees upfront so they partner up with attorneys and charge a “retainer fee”. If the first few drafts (usually 3-6 with the remainder spread out over time) are being applied to the retainer fee, little or no money is being accumulated to settle the debt. They lure you in with the warm and fuzzy feeling that you will be defended by an attorney if you get sued but if all of your funds are going towards fees there is nothing being accumulated to actually settle the account. What’s the good of having an attorney defend a summons when you dont have any money to actually settle the account with? In most cases the only option is to set the client up with a full balance payment plan. Hell, you can do that on your own once you are served with a summons. Accumulating funds is the key, regardless if you are represented by an attorney or not. Best wishes!

  • Steve Rhode

    You are correct about the bankruptcy thing. From a security risk point of view a person that is loaded with a lot of debt is a higher risk than someone that used a legally approved solution through the courts, bankruptcy, to address it.

    If you have not read this yet, you’ll find it interesting. The Truth About The Success Rates, Failure Rates and Completion Rates of Credit Counseling, Debt Settlement, and Bankruptcy

  • Debt Whistleblower

    ComplanceSlave: You are right about possible employment problems with federal government jobs. Defaulting on credit cards makes you look bad. I was told if you actually file for BK, they don’t look down upon that as much – as you are actually accepting responsibility and taking the long-term hit.

    I do have to disagree with credit counseling though, as a whole. People need a reduction in what they owe, not a reduction in their interest rates. That’s why the completion rates for most credit counseling programs are SO low.

    And unfortunately many people in debt are near retirement age. In my opinion, there really is little hope for them if they don’t A) settle for 20-30 cents on the dollar of what they owe, or B) file for bankruptcy.

  • ComplianceSlave

    Also- defaulting on credit cards can often lead to HUGE employment problems- especially for federal gvt ee’s. Bankruptcy as well.
    You might consider a Credit Counseling company. There are some good ones… Check with your human resources department regarding how each of those options is viewed- get their opinion in writing.
    You might even consider borrowing against your retirement to pay off your high interest rates. Sometimes, depending on the plan you can pay yourself back, in a hardship the LOWER interest and principal. If your cards are high interest rates, you could pay yourself back in time to retire. Check with your plan sponsor & tax professional.

  • Debt Whistleblower

    Tom,

    Steve is right on the ball, and his advice is solid.

    Also, I worked for one of these “law firm” type of debt-settlement companies that solicited you. Not Meridian, but one just like them – based on what you have described. The person on the other end of the phone when you called is nothing other than a salesman. He is probably 100% commission based, and if he doesn’t sign you up, he doesn’t make money. So very often these companies will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to sign on the dotted line.

    As Steve said, no one can predict what debt amount your creditors will settle at. Some might be 20 cents on the dollar, and some might not play ball, at all. It also might be a good suggestion, as Steve stated, to seek out a local bankruptcy attorney. You’d be surprised; a real attorney might actually be cheaper to do debt settlement for you than going with Meridian. Nearly every attorney will give you a 30-minute free consultation. If they don’t, find someone who will. You should at least know what your options are.

  • Steve Rhode

    Tom,

    I want to clarify two points made. First off, if you are not insolvent when all of your debt is reduced then you may owe taxes. If you are still insolvent then there is a process to state your status to the IRS and possibly avoid an additional tax liability.

    There has been no change to the bankruptcy code that would prevent consumers from have access to bankruptcy and discharging their debt. In fact currently about 70% of the bankruptcy cases filed are Chapter 7 bankruptcy which results in an elimination of the debt.

    Please keep me posted on what you want to do.

    Steve

    P.S. By the way, do you still happen to have that offer letter you received from Meridian?

  • Tom

    Thank you for your time. I do have considerable concern about the fact that the IRS considers “debt reduction” as a form of income. Makes no sense to me, but neither does the IRS. Can’t for the life of me see where not paying off debt is the same as earning money. It doesn’t do a thing to put more money in my wallet, just prevents me from having to take it out. At the tax rate that I would have to pay, $8000 debt reduced equals $2000 of tax. I will have to rethink whether this would be an overall good move in spite of the considerable savings. They’ve already quoted a payment schedule, but haven’t “negotiated” anything yet, and that made we be a little concerned as well. Can’t honestly understand why a credit card company would “negotiate” anyway since Congress guaranteed them they will get their money with credit card debt no longer “losable” in personal bankruptcy. Again, thank you for your time. Your efforts truly is appreciated.

  • Tom

    Thank you for your time. I do have considerable concern about the fact that the IRS considers “debt reduction” as a form of income. Makes no sense to me, but neither does the IRS. Can’t for the life of me see where not paying off debt is the same as earning money. It doesn’t do a thing to put more money in my wallet, just prevents me from having to take it out. At the tax rate that I would have to pay, $8000 debt reduced equals $2000 of tax. I will have to rethink whether this would be an overall good move in spite of the considerable savings. They’ve already quoted a payment schedule, but haven’t “negotiated” anything yet, and that made we be a little concerned as well. Can’t honestly understand why a credit card company would “negotiate” anyway since Congress guaranteed them they will get their money with credit card debt no longer “losable” in personal bankruptcy. Again, thank you for your time. Your efforts truly is appreciated.

    • http://GetOutOfDebt.org Steve Rhode

      Tom,

      I want to clarify two points made. First off, if you are not insolvent when all of your debt is reduced then you may owe taxes. If you are still insolvent then there is a process to state your status to the IRS and possibly avoid an additional tax liability.

      There has been no change to the bankruptcy code that would prevent consumers from have access to bankruptcy and discharging their debt. In fact currently about 70% of the bankruptcy cases filed are Chapter 7 bankruptcy which results in an elimination of the debt.

      Please keep me posted on what you want to do.

      Steve

      P.S. By the way, do you still happen to have that offer letter you received from Meridian?

    • http://www.EliminateCreditDebt.com Debt Whistleblower

      Tom,

      Steve is right on the ball, and his advice is solid.

      Also, I worked for one of these “law firm” type of debt-settlement companies that solicited you. Not Meridian, but one just like them – based on what you have described. The person on the other end of the phone when you called is nothing other than a salesman. He is probably 100% commission based, and if he doesn’t sign you up, he doesn’t make money. So very often these companies will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to sign on the dotted line.

      As Steve said, no one can predict what debt amount your creditors will settle at. Some might be 20 cents on the dollar, and some might not play ball, at all. It also might be a good suggestion, as Steve stated, to seek out a local bankruptcy attorney. You’d be surprised; a real attorney might actually be cheaper to do debt settlement for you than going with Meridian. Nearly every attorney will give you a 30-minute free consultation. If they don’t, find someone who will. You should at least know what your options are.

    • http://www.ftc.gov ComplianceSlave

      Also- defaulting on credit cards can often lead to HUGE employment problems- especially for federal gvt ee’s. Bankruptcy as well.
      You might consider a Credit Counseling company. There are some good ones… Check with your human resources department regarding how each of those options is viewed- get their opinion in writing.
      You might even consider borrowing against your retirement to pay off your high interest rates. Sometimes, depending on the plan you can pay yourself back, in a hardship the LOWER interest and principal. If your cards are high interest rates, you could pay yourself back in time to retire. Check with your plan sponsor & tax professional.

      • http://www.EliminateCreditDebt.com Debt Whistleblower

        ComplanceSlave: You are right about possible employment problems with federal government jobs. Defaulting on credit cards makes you look bad. I was told if you actually file for BK, they don’t look down upon that as much – as you are actually accepting responsibility and taking the long-term hit.

        I do have to disagree with credit counseling though, as a whole. People need a reduction in what they owe, not a reduction in their interest rates. That’s why the completion rates for most credit counseling programs are SO low.

        And unfortunately many people in debt are near retirement age. In my opinion, there really is little hope for them if they don’t A) settle for 20-30 cents on the dollar of what they owe, or B) file for bankruptcy.

      • http://GetOutOfDebt.org Steve Rhode

        You are correct about the bankruptcy thing. From a security risk point of view a person that is loaded with a lot of debt is a higher risk than someone that used a legally approved solution through the courts, bankruptcy, to address it.

        If you have not read this yet, you’ll find it interesting. The Truth About The Success Rates, Failure Rates and Completion Rates of Credit Counseling, Debt Settlement, and Bankruptcy

      • http://www.ftc.gov ComplianceSlave

        He never said he was in a bad financial position now, just that his current debt will keep him from retiring for a long time. If he can afford his minimum payments, bankruptcy is not an option, but CCC is.
        If he can afford his minimums, and it appears he can, the BK court will tell him to pay them. I work for a debt settlement company so I have no vested interest in steering to CCC. If his goal is to get out of debt as fast as possible and keep similar payments- CCC

      • http://www.ftc.gov ComplianceSlave

        You wrote ” People need a reduction in what they owe, not a reduction in their interest rates. That’s why the completion rates for most credit counseling programs are SO low. ”

        He needs a way to pay off his debt quickly so he has the opportunity to retire sooner. I didn’t get that he needed a reduction in what he owed. He did not seem to express a concern with making his current payments either. Simply, he said he was solicited to get him out of debt quickly (through settlement) & was settlement a good idea with Meridian.

        What did I miss?

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