Behind the Scenes With a Certified Debt Specialist
Accredited Debt Relief offers free consultations to those struggling with debt across the U.S., but what’s that first phone call experience really like? We interviewed Director of Sales and former Certified Debt Specialist Andrew Schwan about client phone calls, common questions and concerns, debt advice and his experiences at Accredited Debt Relief.
Working at Accredited Debt Relief
How long have you been with Accredited Debt Relief, and what has your career here looked like?
I started as a certified debt specialist. After almost four years, I became a sales manager and did that for about five years. I’ve been in my current role as a director for a little over a year.
Tell me more about your current job. What are you responsible for now?
I’m a director of sales. I help manage the managers and work on special projects to drive the Certified Debt Specialist team.
What do you love about the San Diego office?
It’s very open. You hear the buzz with people on the phones – there’s that excitement and good energy. You can tell that people are helping people and that there’s a really good culture. They’re doing something that’s really impacting someone’s life, which is great.
What is your favorite part about working with your team?
Everybody has good intentions, and they want to help people. It’s very much a team – we’re all working together, and everybody really cares.
Calling Accredited Debt Relief
How long is the first conversation with a potential client?
To enroll someone from start to finish, the conversation could be an hour or an hour and a half. Depending on the number of questions a caller has, or if the client needs time to gather their account statements or has limited time to speak with us due to work and family obligations, we can have multiple, shorter conversations over several days.
What kind of debt do callers typically discuss with you?
Unsecured debt, like credit cards, personal loans, private student loans and things in collections. We don’t work with secured debt like mortgages, auto loans or federal student loans.
What are the most common questions that clients have when speaking with you about our program?
“How much do you charge?” That’s one of the best things about our program: we don’t earn a dime in fees until we get you a settlement, you accept it and start paying toward that settlement. We don’t enroll accounts unless we have had success with similar ones in the past or are confident that we can reach a settlement agreement. Clients will get a couple of different payment options where our fee is factored into their program’s monthly deposits.
Another common question is, “Is my credit going to be impacted?” Everybody’s situation is different, and there are a lot of variables that come into play when determining someone’s credit. One of the biggest factors is your credit utilization ratio – if you’re starting to reach your credit limits or are maxed out on some of your accounts, even if you’re current on other accounts, your credit score may start to drop. For a lot of the people we speak with, that’s already happening; they may be current, but they’re just overextended. At this point, it’s not a credit problem – it’s a debt problem. To improve your credit in the long run, we need to get the debt off your books. As long as our clients focus on the program, and they stay current on their mortgage, auto and student loans, that will put them in a better position to help improve their credit-worthiness.
You can usually rebuild your credit. The people who call us are scared and don’t want to hurt their credit, but they have to remember the path that they’re on. They might have to take one step back to take five steps forward. Ultimately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re here to help them with their debt and so they can move on with their lives.
How do you make sure your clients have a full understanding of the debt settlement program during enrollment?
We review things several times, that’s for sure! Whenever we’re reviewing something, we’ll finish by saying, “Do you have any questions? Does that make sense?” There are also several things that we do need to review, like fees, program expectations and creditor collection efforts. We’ll review all of that in our initial conversation, and then we review it again during the enrollment agreement.
There’s also a welcome call where we’ll verify what we’ve already gone over. Plus, new clients receive a Welcome Kit and an online Client Portal, where a lot of frequently asked questions are recapped.
The Settlement Process
How long does it normally take you to reach a settlement with a creditor?
It takes about four to six months to reach a first settlement with a new client. Sometimes it happens sooner, but we like to give four to six months as a general gage.
Why does the negotiation process take so long?
There’s two main things that are why it takes the time it takes. One is that we need to build savings to pay an account’s settled amount, and two is that we need to show the hardship. We can call someone and tell them all day long that this person needs help, but if they don’t see a reason to help, then they’re not willing to work with us towards a settlement. Creditors are not just going to help someone after one missed payment, they want to see a series of missed payments before they do anything.
To get even more specific, a creditor has a general timeline of four to six months before they have to do something with the account. They can’t just charge interest and late fees on it forever. At that four to six month mark, the creditor is in a better position to offer a settlement – they’d rather get something back instead of nothing.
Is there anything in a consumer’s credit history that could cause a creditor to not want to settle a debt?
One of the things that we always do is highlight our clients’ hardships to their creditors. So if somebody’s keeping out a lot of other debt with other credit cards, they might not appear to be struggling, and that really hurts our ability to negotiate.
For example, a person might need help because they went through a divorce and they’re in a really tough financial situation. If creditors pull up their credit report and see that they’re falling behind on payments and have $10,000 in this program, but that person also has $30,000 that they’re staying current on with other creditors, why should that creditor reduce their balances when that’s not happening with the client’s other accounts? When somebody keeps too much debt out of their debt relief program, it can create a conflict of interest.
Accredited Debt Relief’s Certified Debt Specialists take up to 150 calls a day. How do you stay positive and friendly for each call?
I think the important thing is to remember that it’s most likely the client’s first call. You’ve always got to reset and remind yourself that this could be their first time calling, and first impressions are everything. Debt is a very sensitive topic, and these calls can really change someone’s life. Being able to reset and remind yourself of the overall goal is really important.
How do you deal with clients that aren’t happy with the service provided?
We definitely want to listen as much as possible to find out what we could have done better. Learn what was missing, acknowledge it, and let them know that we understand and will try to fix it if possible.
What if a potential client changes their mind during the consultation and decides not to enroll in our program? What are their options?
There are a few options. You can do nothing, but that’s the most costly. You can also pursue Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but that’s going to have the longest, most negative impact on your credit profile, which could impact your employment and your insurance.
There’s also credit counseling programs, some of which are run through the credit card companies that help to lower interest rates or fees. The tough part is that since they’re lowering the interest rates, a consumer may have to pay back the debt in a shorter time frame, and that usually increases the monthly payment. Most people we speak with need a lower payment, not a higher payment.
Trying to get a loan is another option. Usually, if you’re overextended on credit and loans already, somebody who’s willing to give you another loan will only give it at a high interest rate. Then you’re just doing what you’ve already done and digging yourself deeper into debt.
Words of Wisdom From the Specialists
What’s your best advice you would give to someone considering a debt relief program?
Do your research. Make sure the company is not charging upfront fees, and that they’re explaining everything to you and making you feel comfortable. Ask as many questions as you want. The person that you’re speaking with should feel like someone you can trust – that’s usually a reflection of the company.
Also, time is the most important commodity. By staying in debt, you’re limiting your amount of time to build up your savings for things like retirement, your kid’s education, taking a vacation with your family or just living a more stress-free lifestyle.