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Debt Lawyers: Who Are They & What Do They Do?

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In a Nutshell

As a consumer, you have certain legal rights and protections. These rights extend to your interactions with debt collectors and collection agencies. If you’re being harassed by a debt collector, you can hire a debt lawyer to help you understand and defend your rights. These attorneys can also help defend you against debt collection lawsuits. If you just need help figuring out what to do about overwhelming debt, a debt settlement lawyer can explain your debt relief options and help you pursue them successfully.

Written by the Upsolve TeamLegally reviewed by Attorney Paige Hooper
Updated September 21, 2023

What Does a Debt Lawyer Do?

Debt lawyers typically work with individuals who are facing large amounts of debt. These attorneys could include consumer protection attorneys, bankruptcy attorneys, or debt settlement attorneys. Some debt relief attorneys specialize in specific areas of debt law, while others offer broader services.

What Does a Consumer Protection Attorney Do?

Consumer protection attorneys specialize in consumer protection laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). 

If you’re dealing with a debt collector who has violated one of these laws, a consumer protection lawyer may be able to help.

What Do Bankruptcy Attorneys Do?

Bankruptcy lawyers help individuals file for bankruptcy (usually Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy). Many offer free consultations to help you understand if bankruptcy, or another debt relief option, is the best path for you. 

Though some people feel more comfortable getting legal help, it’s possible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer. Upsolve may be able to help you file for free. If Chapter 13 is a better option for you, it’s advisable to hire an attorney to ensure your case is successful. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is usually more complicated than Chapter 7.

If you decide to file bankruptcy, you get the benefit of the automatic stay, which stops all collection efforts while your bankruptcy case is pending. Bankruptcy can also wipe out all kinds of debt, including medical debt, credit card debt, personal and payday loans, and more.

What Do Debt Settlement Attorneys Do?

Debt settlement attorneys help individuals deal with lenders and debt collectors. They can negotiate on your behalf to come to a debt settlement agreement with the lender. In these agreements, you usually pay a lump sum of less than the full amount you owe to settle the debt for good. 

Debt settlement works best with unsecured debts like credit cards, payday loans, medical bills, and private student loans. Debt settlement isn’t commonly used for federal student loan debt or secured debts like mortgages or car loans

There are also private debt settlement companies that advertise debt settlement services. Approach these companies with caution to avoid being scammed.

Should I Hire a Debt Lawyer? 

Legal fees can be expensive, so it’s good to consider your case, your financial situation, and your goals before you hire a debt lawyer. 

The first step in making this decision is to consider how urgent your situation is. If you’ve received a summons for a debt collection lawsuit or notice about a foreclosure or repossession, getting legal help may feel more pressing. But if you aren’t at risk of losing property or going to court, it may be wise to start with credit counseling.

If the Situation Isn’t Urgent, Start With Credit Counseling

If the situation isn’t urgent — that is, you aren’t being sued and your home or car isn’t at risk — a good first step is seeing a nonprofit credit counselor

Like some debt lawyers, credit counselors can help you understand your debt relief options and decide which is best for you based on your particular situation and goals. 

Most credit counseling agencies offer a free consultation. If you decide to hire a credit counselor to help with debt consolidation or a debt management plan (a payment plan incorporating all your debts), their fees tend to be more affordable than legal fees.

When To Consider a Debt Attorney First

Hiring a debt attorney can help in the following situations:

  • A lender or debt collector has taken legal action to recover the debt and you need help with your debt collection defense.

  • You’ve already been sued and the lender has a court judgment against you to garnish your wages or bank account.

  • You’re experiencing harassment or abuse, such as nonstop phone calls, despite telling the debt collector to stop contacting you.

  • You aren’t sure how to approach your debts to help protect your credit score, protect your home from foreclosure, or keep your car from getting repossessed

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What To Expect From a Debt Lawyer 

Hiring a debt settlement lawyer or another type of debt lawyer usually comes at a cost. So, before shelling out money that could be used to tackle your debt problems directly, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. 

Depending on your financial situation, having a debt collection lawyer might benefit you in the following ways:

  • They have experience with debt collectors. Your attorney probably has years of experience dealing with lenders and debt collectors. They can use this knowledge to advise you on types of debt relief and to negotiate with your creditors.

  • They’re equipped to handle negotiations. Many people don’t feel comfortable negotiating with debt collectors, especially if they’ve experienced harassment. A lawyer can handle this for you.

  • They can represent you in court if needed. Though you can represent yourself in court, some people feel more comfortable having legal representation. 

  • They can help you avoid intimidation from collection agencies. Collection agencies may be less likely to “push you around” or try to trick you after they find out you have legal representation.

  • They can call out improper behavior. A lawyer can help spot FDCPA and other legal violations. This can give you more leverage when negotiating your debt and may even allow you to sue the debt collector for damages.

  • They have experience processing legal paperwork. Having a professional handle the paperwork will help reduce any confusion you might have, as well as reduce the chances of an error.

  • They understand state and federal laws. Like any area of law, debt collection law can get complicated. An experienced attorney will know about the statute of limitations and other important issues that can impact you.

How To Hire a Debt Lawyer

To hire a debt settlement attorney, you’ll need to research your options then figure out which one is best for you to hire. There are several good places to look for a debt collection lawyer.

  • Search online: Just type your location and “debt settlement lawyer” into the search bar to get some prospects to consider. 

  • Get a recommendation: Ask your family, friends, or colleagues if they’ve worked with a debt lawyer before who they can recommend. You’re more likely to trust the recommendation and get the best possible service from the lawyer.

  • Check your local or state bar association: These professional organizations list attorneys by location and area of expertise.

  • Look for legal aid organizations: If you can’t afford to hire an attorney, see if there are legal aid organizations or volunteer attorneys in your area.

How To Choose the Best Debt Lawyer for You

After you’ve found a few lawyers to consider, you need to choose one. This is a personal decision, but here are some things to consider.

Do they offer a free in-person consultation?

It’s helpful to find an attorney who’s willing to meet you face to face, at least during the initial consultation. Many offer free case evaluations, and you can take advantage of this to learn more about the best path forward and to feel out the attorney-client relationship. 

Meeting the lawyer in person can help you get a better feel for whether they’re right for you. Notice how comfortable you feel with them and how easily you understand one another. The more comfortable you feel talking to them, the better they can represent you.

Pay attention to how the paralegals, law office staff, and others on the legal team treat you as well. If you hire the lawyer, you’ll be working with them and their legal team.

Do they have experience with your type of case?

Ask about the types of cases they’ve taken on in the past. Have they dealt with the type of case you’re facing? How did those cases turn out? 

You’ll want to find someone with plenty of experience and a track record of success with consumer law issues. This shows they can offer trustworthy legal advice concerning improper debt collection activities, bankruptcy law, consumer protection rights, and dealing with credit card debt. 

How much do they cost and how does the fee structure work?

Law offices bill clients in different ways. Make sure you’re clear about what the attorney fees will be (at least an estimate), whether you have to pay upfront or not, and whether the law firm works on contingency (meaning you don’t have to pay upfront). Keep in mind, though, that state laws limit what types of cases lawyers can take on a contingency basis.

What To Watch Out for When Working With a Debt Lawyer

Lawyers are bound by a strict code of ethics and rules of professional responsibility. But sometimes, even if an attorney isn’t violating any rules, there may be signs that they aren’t a good fit for your case. Some potential red flags to watch out for include:

  • Taking an unreasonably long time to respond to communication from you or your creditors

  • Not keeping you informed about what’s happening in your case

  • Taking too long to move the case forward

  • Glossing over or not clearly advising you about the risks involved in your case, such as the risk of your settlement offer getting rejected by the creditor, high debt settlement fees, how your debt settlement decisions may affect your credit score, and the chances that your debt might actually increase

If you feel your case isn’t progressing as it should, say so! Lawyers can be busy people, and sometimes just expressing your concerns is enough to clear things up. That said, don’t ignore your gut if you feel something isn’t right. Keep in mind that you can fire your attorney if you don’t feel they’re working in your best interest.

Let’s Summarize… 

A debt lawyer can help you find the right debt relief program and apply for it or represent you if you get sued. They can also negotiate and communicate with debt collection agencies and lenders on your behalf.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to hire an attorney to help you with debt collectors. Many people successfully deal with debt collectors without getting legal help.

Written By:

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is fortunate to have a remarkable team of bankruptcy attorneys, as well as finance and consumer rights professionals, as contributing writers to help us keep our content up to date, informative, and helpful to everyone.

Attorney Paige Hooper


Paige Hooper is a seasoned consumer bankruptcy attorney with 15 years of experience successfully representing debtors in Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 cases. Paige began practicing bankruptcy law in 2006 and started her own solo, multi-state bankruptcy practice in 2012. Gi... read more about Attorney Paige Hooper

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