Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Freedom Debt Relief, the nation’s largest debt settlement services provider, claiming that the company repeatedly lied to its customers about the company’s ability to negotiate debt settlements.
According to the CFPB, Freedom Debt Relief collects fees from customers without settling their debts as promised, makes customers negotiate their own settlements, misleads them about the company’s fees and the scope of its services, and fails to inform them of their rights to money they deposited with the company.
Freedom Debt Relief, on the other hand, claims that the CFPB “fundamentally misunderstands” the debt settlement process and says that it plans to “vigorously contest” the CFPB lawsuit.
Late last week, Freedom released a lengthy statement rebutting the CFPB’s charges and claiming that its services work as promised and that its customers are highly satisfied.
“We firmly believe that the CFPB fundamentally misunderstands how debt settlement works and has acted without proper regard for the consumers it is charged with protecting,” Freedom Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh say in the statement.
Housser was also named in the CFPB’s lawsuit.
“Housser knows certain creditors will not negotiate with Freedom, but its debt-resolution agreements claim that all creditors are willing to work with the company,” the CFPB said. “Housser also knows that Freedom charges consumers even if it doesn’t negotiate settlements with creditors. Yet he allows its agreements to assure consumers they will be charged only if there’s a settlement and consumers make a payment.”
But Housser and Stroh deny these charges.
“Throughout our 15-year history, we’ve stayed centered on our clients and worked hard to earn our reputation as a business that serves our customers effectively, efficiently and ethically. It’s no accident that we've become the nation's largest debt settlement provider,” Housser and Stroh say in the statement.
“It’s surprising, and very unfortunate, that the CFPB chose to act without taking the time to focus either on the facts or the utility and purpose of ‘coached settlements,’ both of which were thoroughly and completely disclosed to consumers at various points in their debt settlement programs,” they continued. “The overarching assertion that we cannot and do not settle client accounts with key creditors is simply not true.”
The company claims that to date, it has achieved over $7 billion in debt settlements for over 450,000 clients.
The company also claims that since 2010, it has settled $1.2 billion in debt (nearly 200,000 accounts) for clients whose accounts were with certain credit card issuers (including American Express and Discover) that CFPB identified as unwilling to negotiate with Freedom.
“Sadly, the CFPB paid no attention to the enormous benefits our clients realized from our active assistance in their settlement process,” Housser and Stroh write.
Another piece of information in the company’s favor, according to Housser and Stroh, is the absence of complaints about the company received by the CFPB through its complaint database.
“Perhaps most important, we are not aware of any complaints to the CFPB from our customers over this (or any other) issue – zero complaints,” Housser and Stroh write. “Freedom Debt Relief's business practices are legally compliant, highly ethical and serve the needs of our customers, saving them millions of dollars over what they would otherwise be required to pay.”
And it appears that the company’s claim about complaints is substantiated, as a review of the CFPB’s complaint database shows that there is not a single complaint for Freedom Debt Relief among the more than 901,000 complaints currently visible in the CFPB’s database.
HousingWire attempted to contact the CFPB to ask if the bureau has received any complaints about Freedom Debt Relief, but as of publication, the bureau has not responded.
Additionally, the company claims that it attempted to “sit down” with the CFPB on a number of occasions, but was repeatedly rebuffed.
“We are disappointed that they’ve rushed to judgment, seemingly putting the interests of a few of the largest creditors ahead of the interests of consumers who need help and support,” Housser and Stroh conclude. “We’re tremendously proud of the work we do and will continue to work every day to deliver on our commitments to our customers. And we will vigorously contest this complaint.”