How to avoid debt relief scams as credit card use spikes

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Given today’s economic realities and rising prices, people are pulling out the plastic more. As a result, credit card debt is rising. And when it comes time to pay, some people find themselves backed into a corner, so they turn to companies promising debt relief.

More Americans borrowed money in March, creating one of the largest spikes in credit-card balances on record.

Total credit increased to $26.5 billion -- the most in four months. Outstanding credit -- which includes credit cards -- jumped to $17.6 billion.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is sending a warning to anyone searching for debt relief.

The agency sued three operators for taking tens of millions of dollars from people by promising to erase or reduce their credit card debt.

The scam charged people thousands of dollars and even told them to stop making payments to their credit card companies.

In return, they were left in a far worse situation -- owing their original debt, plus thousands in fees and interest.

Here are some steps to avoid credit card debt relief scams.

  • First: Don’t pay upfront. It’s illegal for a debt relief company to charge you a fee before they do anything to relieve your debt.
  • Talk with your credit card company -- for free. Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card. Ask for a payment plan that you’ll be able to afford.
  • Consider a reputable credit counselor. They can help you develop a payment plan that works for you.

If you spot a company making false promises to eliminate credit card debt, report them at

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.