For the companies that promise relief to Americans confronting swelling credit card balances, these are days of lucrative opportunity.
So lucrative, that an industry trade association, the United States Organizations for Bankruptcy Alternatives, recently convened here, in the oceanfront confines of the Four Seasons Resort, to forge deals and plot strategy.
At a well-lubricated evening reception, a steel drum band played Bob Marley songs as hostesses in skimpy dresses draped leis around the necks of arriving entrepreneurs, some with deep tans.
The debt settlement industry can afford some extravagance. The long recession has delivered an abundance of customers — debt-saturated Americans, suffering lost jobs and income, sliding toward bankruptcy. The settlement companies typically harvest fees reaching 15 to 20 percent of the credit card balances carried by their customers, and they tend to collect upfront, regardless of whether a customer’s debt is actually reduced.
State attorneys general from New York to California and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau say the industry’s proceeds come at the direct expense of financially troubled Americans who are being fleeced of their last dollars with dubious promises.