J Thomas Black
Board Certified, Consumer Bankruptcy Law- Texas Board of Legal Specialization

I had another prospective client come in tonight, owing $65,000 in credit card and medical debt, and she had been with a Debt Settlement company. Most of them seem to be from Florida or California. She had paid them over $15,000 in fees, plus $700 a month for 8 or 9 months. And they had settled one debt! And when she told them she was going to see a lawyer, they said "Oh No! Don't go see a lawyer! They'll tell you to file bankruptcy!"

Well after reviewing all her circumstances, income, assets, debts, and expenses, that did indeed make sense so that was my advice, to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, discharge all that debt, and get a fresh financial start. Of course, I always leave the ultimate decision up to the client after we review all available options. Most so-called "debt settlement" companies are operating illegally in Texas, as they are not properly licensed under the Texas Debtor Assistance Law, which is Chapter 394 of the Texas Finance Code.

These services must be registered with the Texas Consumer Credit Commissioner in order to be operating legally. A list of those services that are registered is on the web site of the Texas Consumer Credit Commissioner. Click on "List of Debt Management Services Providers" to see if your service is listed.
If you are a Texas resident, and your debt management service is not listed on that page, or if they have violated other provisions of the act, you may have a right to recover from them: (1) all the money you've paid them; (2) any actual damages you've suffered as well as punitive damages; (3) attorney fees for enforcing your rights; and (4) injunctive relief (a court order stopping them from continuing to operate illegally).

If you believe that your debt management service has violated this law, you are welcome to come in and visit with me about it, and your rights to recover money from them. There is no charge for your first visit. Please bring any and all documents that you received from the debt management service, and a list of the amounts and dates of your payments to them. If you want to settle your debts, hire a legitimate attorney to help you. Filing bankruptcy may be the answer or it may not, but if it is not, I'll be the first one to tell you.

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