Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Debt Relief -- Act Now!

Yesterday three pieces of mail showed up in our mailbox. One in an official-looking envelop advised "Request for Immediate Action - Time Sensitive Material Enclosed" and added "Warning: $2,000 Fine, 5 Years Imprisonment, Or Both For Any Person Interferring Or Obstructing With Delivery Of This Letter U.S. Mail TTT. 18 Sec 1702 U.S. Code."

Since it was addressed to "Property Owner" we opened immediately. Hmmm, HUD was announcing a new FHA program that allows us to CASH OUT up to 95 percent, and our credit rating is "NOT A FACTOR."

How great is that?

The next letter looked like a W-2 statement, except it was some form called a 4553-FHA. "Copy 1 For Recipient" urged us to please respond immediately. Line 2, our recorded lender,was "SUPPRESSED FOR PRIVACY." How thoughtful. We knew we could trust this one because it was stamped HUD and came with the "Equal Housing Opportunity" label.

The third, from the "Dept. of Maryland Notifications" came with another warning that the "enclosed Notice is intended for the sole purpose of the addressee and should be opened by the aforementioned only."

Hey, we were the aforementioned. Inside, we found out we had been instantly approved for a new loan.

We thought about these three pieces of correspondence as we read this story in WaPo about a plan to allow for-profit debt counseling companies to operate in the state.

Isn't it nice that so many companies out there want to help us with our debt problems?

A Columbia-based for-profit credit counseling company whose business practices are being reviewed in a number of states is on track to be licensed in Maryland under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

Maryland is one of only a handful of states to close its doors to for-profit firms that charge consumers deep in debt to find financial security. But AscendOne Corp. and its supporters say that the company has helped thousands of consumers in 35 states recover good credit and get out of debt. The legislation would allow the companies to operate in Maryland, just as nonprofit counselors do.

Opponents, including consumer groups that have fought the proposal for two years, call for-profits such as AscendOne predators cashing in on vulnerable homeowners struck by the home-foreclosure crisis.

"The bill's a disgrace," said Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery), the Judicial Committee chairman. "We've got an economy where people are really struggling. We need to make a profit on people whose debt are so high they need help?" Frosh was one of five senators to vote against the bill, which passed the Senate easily last week.

AscendOne said its business practices are legitimate and helpful to thousands of people in need of counseling. "We have not been accused by any government agency or attorney general of any wrongdoing," said AscendOne's chief operating officer, Michael Croxson.

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