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A frequent question I get is from people upset with the performance of some company they hired to help them.
When they reach out to me for answers, they are pissed off and angry. That is understandable.
There is a healthy and helpful way to resolve such company complaints without raising your blood pressure or being victimized.
Today I want to share the secrets I’ve learned over the years on how to best deal with any company you have a problem or disagreement with regarding a product or service.
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While my focus is usually on dealing with debt relief providers, what I’m about to share can help you deal with just about any company, from the gutter installation outfit to the car dealership to the magic debt elimination company.
For the sake of this podcast, I’m going to focus on companies selling debt relief.
When an issue arises, it creates all sorts of feelings or emotions. For example, you might be angry or frustrated. Irritated or on edge.
But unfortunately, many of those emotions do not help resolve the problem. On the contrary, I think they are counterproductive. I find most people stop listening when they are agitated, and this is a time you need to hear what the company has to say.
In a perfect world, the company would eagerly accept your concerns and work politely, professionally, and responsively to address and eliminate the issue you are having.
It’s not a perfect world.
When a problem occurs, the goal should not be to get even or feel like you win but to get a resolution that deals with the problem based on facts.
What do I mean by that?
When a dispute or dissatisfaction arises between you and the company you’ve hired to help you, the worst thing you can do is allow your emotions to go from zero to 100.
Sending a nasty email or leaving a rude message might help you feel better in the moment, but it will not help you resolve the problem.
Solving the problem should be your ultimate goal.
I recommend the first step is to pull out the contract or service agreement you signed when you hired the company. Those documents typically clearly describe the services and terms you agreed to.
What surprises many people is that the services in the written agreement often differ from what the salesperson promised or promoted.
But that written agreement typically says whatever the salesperson said does not apply. So the written contract is what you are purchasing. The description of services in the contract is what you are buying. Yet, most people never take the time to read it before signing.
Reading and understanding the written agreement you may be asked to sign is imperative and essential. But, unfortunately, it is also why some less than ethical companies won’t share the client agreement with you ahead of time, rush you through the contract, and want you to sign it online now.
They don’t want you to read it, even though it contains pertinent facts about the services you are purchasing.
I believe the first step to resolving unfortunate issues with the company begins before you sign any client agreement.
As the consumer and purchaser, you are responsible for reading the agreement and asking questions before signing.
It is reasonable to ask for clarification or a further explanation of anything that does not sound like what the salesperson told you.
I believe you should be able to ask any company for an advance copy of the client agreement you will be asked to sign. This will allow you to read the contract and ask a friend or someone you trust to help you be comfortable with it.
If a debt relief company will not give you a copy of the client agreement in advance or rush you through it on the phone, that is a giant red flag for me. That is a runaway moment.
The only two logical reasons for a company not to share the client agreement with you in advance are either they don’t want you to read and understand what you are agreeing to, or they care more about making their job easier.
If a company says they can’t give you a copy of the client agreement to carefully review before signing, don’t use them. Go elsewhere, find a better company.
Understanding the client agreement is crucial because it will be the ultimate basis for solving your unhappiness over any future problem with the company. The contract also contains fees, cancellation process, or refund policy information.
When it comes to debt relief company problems, the typical issues are how fees are charged and earned, the actual service the company is providing, the impact on credit and credit score, and the legal and tax implications of the service.
Nearly every time someone has a disappointment or surprise over something related to those issues, and you read the client agreement, it was covered there.
For example, someone says, “I didn’t know the debt settlement service you hurt my credit. That’s not what the sales person said.”
The client agreement often says the service may negatively impact your credit report and credit score. They also say you may be sued, lose, have a judgment against you, and more. It’s typically all in there, and you agreed to it when you signed.
Or a consumer says, “I wasn’t told settling my debt would lead me to owe taxes.”
But yet, the client agreement the consumer signed and agreed to says the service may result in tax liabilities, and the company does not provide tax advice.
It is an uphill battle to fight against not getting the service you agreed to when you hired the company if you later feel they are not doing what the salesperson said they would.
As you can see, obtaining, reading, and understanding the client’s agreement is vital.
Now, let’s get into how to resolve any problem with the services provided by the company.
Step 1 is to read your client agreement before sending an angry email or leaving that nasty message. It is not helpful to yell at a company representative for a service you agreed to.
It’s like yelling at Ronald McDonald for a bad Happy Meal. Pointless.
After reading the agreement, you might realize you made a mistake hiring that company, but that is not the representative’s fault. You should own your own mistakes and expect a good company will take responsibility for their own mistakes and work to resolve them.
Step 2 in resolving any problem you have is to allow the company to fix the problem in a reasonable period.
You will quickly learn they will either value you as a client and work with you to solve the issue, or they will not try to correct it.
Some past scam companies I’ve written about intended to sell clients’ services, collect initial fees, and then provide horrible customer service so the clients would quit, and they kept the money. But unfortunately, good customer service is not always a goal or priority with some businesses.
A company can telegraph to you they are not going to do anything and don’t value you as a client through poor communication and rude interactions.
If your emails and voicemails are not returned, or promised information is never given to you, the company is sending you another clear message. You don’t matter. Those companies are just begging to be reported to regulators and watchdogs.
The mark of a great company is not if a problem might arise but how they deal with it.
So let’s give every company a chance first to address your concerns and see what their response is. That’s only fair.
I don’t think a 14-paragraph angry email in all caps and no punctuation is productive in eliminating a problem. The elimination of your situation and concerns is your goal.
The better approach is to make your email as concise as possible and lay out the pertinent facts.
For example, complaining that the salesperson told you a different story about the services before you signed the client agreement is no use. I’ve covered that. The moment you signed that agreement, those are the services you purchased. Not what Billy said.
But let’s say you have a customer service issue, like wanting to know which creditors the company has contacted. Ask them that.
It is not unreasonable to also ask for dates and what the contact was about, and the creditor’s response.
Or, if you have a concern about where your payments are going, ask the company for an accounting so you can get some clarity on how much is going to fees and not your creditors.
But Make Sure You Do This!
As you begin to call and send emails, keep a log of your efforts to get answers. I would suggest you save all your emails in a folder or print them out and keep them in a safe place. You need a documentation trail if this matter is not resolved and escalates.
From my point of view, two business days is reasonable for a company to respond to your concerns. After that, if you don’t hear back, ask again. If you keep asking for answers or help and they don’t respond, what message does that send you?
That takes us to the next step.
Step 3 is a crossroads moment.
If the company responded to your concerns and said, “No matter what your issue is, we will work diligently to resolve it. You matter to us.” Then you don’t need to do much if they solve the problem.
However, if the company doesn’t respond or refuses to solve the problem, then you need to ask yourself if you should continue or cancel with the company. Then, you need to decide if it will be better to cut your losses and move on.
The decision to cancel is not as clearcut as you would hope. So often, our emotional brain wants to say F It and walk away when we finally reach a breaking point after some time.
However, that might not make logical sense after you’ve been with a company for several years; they’ve delivered what they promised to some of your creditors and are still working on the rest.
I look at these situations from the perspective of what is the best way to proceed from today and not prosecute the poor performance of the past.
Does it make sense to cancel with the company and seek a different solution? It certainly can.
For example, let’s say you hired a credit counseling company to make monthly payments for five years to try and resolve your debt.
You’ve sent your payment each month, and things have been going smoothly for a few years.
However, you made the payments on time but did not have money left over to save for retirement or build an emergency fund. This has left you without a financial safety net.
Over the past few years, the credit counseling customer service has been spotty. You’ve been tolerant but never been delighted.
You are unexpectedly laid off, and your income is cut.
Your problem today is not to address the reduced customer service you’ve been getting but the change in your income and reality.
You don’t need to spend time-fighting a customer service battle in this situation. However, considering the income reduction, it would be best if you reevaluated your credit counseling solution altogether.
A core rule that applies with debt solutions is unless the result can be achieved in a couple of years or less, the chances are life will change, and you may not be able to continue to make payments for many years. As a result, your financial problems may never be eliminated, and you will have wasted years not solving your money troubles.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that people who file bankruptcy and discharge their debt quickly do better financially in the long run than those who did not file bankruptcy. You will find an article about this on my site GetOutOfDebt.org.
So the ultimate decision you need to make at this crossroads moment is if you need to try to repair the relationship with the company or change your solution and strategy.
Just because you selected path A in the past doesn’t mean it is still the best path for you. In these cases, it might be better to say goodbye rather than fight over a minor issue.
Step 4 comes into play when you are unsatisfied with the company’s response and want them to deliver the services you hired them for.
I’m assuming you’ve already sent your concerns to the company, and the response was unsatisfactory. In this case, you can escalate the matter by filing a complaint with state or federal regulators.
But in the interest of being perceived as a reasonable person here, I think you should correspond one more time with the company.
Tell them their response was insufficient and that unless they can provide clear answers or resolve the problem, you plan to file complaints with state and federal regulators. Then do what you say you will do.
Escalate your complaints if the company has not resolved your problems satisfactorily.
You should file complaints online with the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
However, a critical step is to be sure to file an online complaint with your State Attorney General’s office. Always do this.
You can also file a complaint about the company with any State agency that regulates the company.
For example, if your problem is with a lender or a credit card company, file a complaint with your State Banking Commissioner.
If the problem is with a debt collection company, file a complaint with the department in your state that licenses debt collectors.
Maybe your issue is with an attorney. You can file a complaint with the State Bar Association, which often supervises attorneys.
You can find all these people with a simple web search for your state.
Let’s review what we’ve done so far.
You’ve identified an issue with the debt relief company you hired.
You’ve read the client agreement to see if your problem is addressed in the contract.
Concisely and politely, you brought your concerns and problems forward and gave the company a chance to address them.
The company either dealt with the issues or left you stranded.
If you feel stranded, give the company a final chance to fix the problem in a reasonable period, and if they don’t, file escalation complaints to State and federal regulators.
If your situation has changed along the way and you need to implement a different solution, do what is best for your current situation. Sometimes that can mean terminating the company services and taking a different route.
So Let’s Talk About Some Truths.
You can get as outraged as you want and threaten to sue the company for bad service. However, you’d probably be better off hiring a local attorney and having them contact the company to attempt to get your money back.
If you want to sue the company, expect a protracted and expensive legal battle. But, even if you won that lawsuit against the company, you’d still have to collect from them. Good luck with that.
The advantage of filing complaints at the right time with regulators is they can intercede on your behalf and ask for a resolution. In addition, submitting your complaints will not cost you any money.
If a regulator goes after a lousy company and eventually wins the case against them, don’t expect to get much of a refund or any satisfaction.
Instead, those cases often end with the debt relief companies claiming they are poor, the money is gone, and limited funds are available to send back to former clients. So while the company may be forced out of business, nobody ever really wins or is made whole.
Suppose you want to warn others about a particular company. In that case, you can file complaints on my site at GetOutOfDebt.org, with the Better Business Bureau, or anywhere that allows you to post your dissatisfaction. Of course, it won’t resolve the problem, but it can help to warn others.
Another truth is it is always better to politely raise any customer service issue you have with any company as soon as possible. Letting a problem fester is not helpful to any party. The longer you wait to bring your concerns forward, the more you might be left in a worse position. Don’t delay.
If the company does not value you as a client and can’t or won’t address your concerns, it is better to come to grips with that now rather than a year from now.
So let me leave you with this advice. The best way to avoid problems with any company you hire for debt help is by being a savvy consumer.
Please do your homework about the company and research them before you sign any contract and pay them any money.
Make sure you ask for the client contract before being forced to sign it. Then, review it, ask questions, ask a friend for a second opinion, and make sure you feel confident before agreeing to anything. Of course, you can always contact me if you have any questions.
The best way to not struggle climbing out of a dangerous pit is to keep your eyes open and avoid the hole to begin with.
Seeking a fair solution to a problem you might have with any company does not have to be a bitter war.
Instead, keep your wits about you, deal with facts, be polite and give the company a chance to fix the problem. Give them a second chance and let them know that you will be escalating your complaint if they don’t repair the situation.
If the problem is not resolved fairly and reasonably, file your complaints with state and federal regulators and look elsewhere for a different company to work with that will value you as a client.
Life is too short to suffer from bad actors and incompetence. You have the power to change the situation, but you must take action.
On my site at GetOutOfDebt.org, there is a post titled How to Get Your Money Back From a Debt Relief Company if You Feel Like You’ve Been Scammed. If you want a step-by-step guide, go to the site and search for it.
This is Steve Rhode, your Get Out of Debt Guy. Wishing you happiness, peace, and success because you deserve it.
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