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GREENSBORO, NC -- Credit card debt. We all have it. A company called National Settlement Service offers what it calls a credit card hardship program. You pay them for their services. You may not recognize their name but the BBB knows them well. National Settlement Service has a C rating. The reason - lots of complaints for its advertising practices.

The company says none of its actual customers ever complain about their service. A viewer's email about this company got us looking into credit card hardship programs in general. They are legit. Your credit card company offers them. And they're FREE.

Melissa Rivera is with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Greensboro. She says a credit card hardship program can be a good option for people drowning in debt. "Creditors can usually lower your interest rate, lower your monthly payments, your fees or offer you a combination of all those items."

Rivera says the companies will create a payment schedule for you to continue to make payments and continue to provide a financial commitment to the creditor and that way for the creditor and for you to avoid losses in the future.

The best candidates – people who need help staying afloat for six months to a year. Maybe you lost you job. Have a big medical bill. To enroll: Ask to speak to someone from the hardship program or customer assistance.

Rivera says, "If the person you're talking to is not providing the answers or the information you need, don't be afraid to hang up and call again and try someone else."

Have your income and expense numbers handy and be honest about the amount you can pay.

"You have to be realistic in regards to that. They're not going to accept a $10 payment for a $3000 balance but you need to be firm about how much you can afford," says Rivera.

Be aware-- your credit card company might close your account. Ask if the company will allow you report it "closed by consumer".

"The credit grantors are going to see you are responsible for your debts and it's going to be easier then for you to get credit in the future," says Rivera.

Make sure you ask all your questions upfront. If you're not comfortable with the answers or the terms of the program, don't sign up. Then give the credit card company details about your finances. They could freeze your credit limit if they decide you can't pay your bills.

ClearPoint Credit Couseling Solutions offers more detailed information. And here's an article with phone numbers for many credit card companies.

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