As great as the internet is for finding in-depth info on basically any topic to ever exist, it can be a misleading place where convenience and laziness reign supreme. We’re already overly reliant on the top results Google serves us, and when we read information that agrees with our preconceived notions, we tend to automatically agree without investigating further.

In the case of debt relief, a stigma already exists about the industry’s lack of legitimacy. Circulating press from the Freedom Debt Relief lawsuit back in November only further muddled the picture as one of the nation’s largest debt relief providers with a successful track record was called out by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

What’s more, when articles uniformly portray debt relief as a fool’s choice, it does a disservice to debtors that can actually benefit from debt relief programs and continues the all-too-common cycle of overwhelming debt stress leading to inaction.

So while it’s true that debt relief isn’t for everyone, and can’t do everything a debtor would like, it can still provide some benefits. Let’s take an honest look at four things debt relief can and cannot do.

Things Debt Relief Can Do

With as much contempt as debt relief is viewed with, Americans are in more debt than ever before. Per NerdWallet, the average U.S. household had nearly $16,000 in credit card debt. Not every household will be able to get out of this debt on their own. Debt relief is a bright spot for creditors as it at least recoups some of the money owed to them, unlike bankruptcy.

  • Relieve Your Stress

Constant creditor calls, late payment mail, debt that keeps going up as each month passes and a lingering thought with each financial choice that arises. Talk about stressful. Debt relief won’t magically solve all these things but working with a company could lower a debtor’s stress levels. From the basic aid of talking through problems, to letting a company handle the responsibility of communicating with creditors, handing the keys over to experienced professionals will definitely help debtors feel a little less alone in their mess.

  • Reduce Your Overall Debt

The amount of debt you can reduce will depend on which specific debt relief strategy you choose. Debt management and debt consolidation might save you from paying higher interest fees but won’t reduce the actual size of your debt balance. More severe circumstances that call for debt settlement however can reduce debt amounts anywhere from 25–65 percent off your original balance.

  • Pave a Path Toward Financial Independence

Looking at your various credit statements and putting your hands to your head might seem like all you can muster during an extremely stressful time, but inaction ultimately leads to, well…inaction. Debt relief programs, regardless of their side effects, do create a path toward financial wellness. Unless you can solve your debt issues on your own through lifestyle changes or by borrowing money from family or friends, debt relief will start the process toward financial wellness again.

  • Save You from Declaring Bankruptcy

This isn’t to say declaring bankruptcy is always a bad option. But unless you want to find an attorney, shoulder court fees and pay for financial management courses (not to mention lose your assets if you commit chapter 7), bankruptcy is typically seen as the last-resort option.

Things Debt Relief Can’t Do

Debt relief, for as many people as it’s helped, does have thorns. But in reality, if it didn’t, that would make it a scam. How else could your debt be reduced without any negative side effects?

  • Give You a Good Credit Score

Debt management and debt consolidation technically can help a debtor’s credit score, but only if the borrower pays on time and doesn’t rack up more debt. This doesn’t mean the improved credit score will be a good one though, rather, just improved from the one that carried multiple debt balances. Debt settlement, however, will severely impact credit scores, but usually not for as long as bankruptcy. One commonly overlooked aspect of how debt settlement impacts credit scores is that, to be in a position where debt settlement makes sense, usually means that a debtor’s credit score is already decimated, or on the verge of sharp decline, and in the world of credit scores, you can only go so low.

  • End Collection Calls

Constant collection calls and late/missed payment mail is a big reason for the constant duress debtors face. If only they could go away for good. Debt relief won’t end collection calls, but when a company is negotiating with your creditors on your behalf and discussions are progressing, you’re bound to get a few less. Just don’t expect them to go away entirely. They won’t.

  • Resolve Debt Quickly

No option exists to resolve debt quickly. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the quickest path, taking as little as three-to-six months, but you’ll lose all your assets and have a giant dent on your credit for up to a decade. Chapter 13 will let you keep your assets but you’ll still have to make court-ordered payments for three-to-five years. Debt settlement usually takes anywhere from two-to-four years to resolve.

  • Reduce Your Debt for Free

Again, unless we’re talking about financial help from friends and family, reducing debt comes at a steep cost. Most debt settlement providers charge fees around 20-30 percent of the debt they resolve. And if your debt is forgiven through debt settlement, the IRS will tax the forgiven debt. Debt management and debt consolidation will cost a monthly fee when done through a company.

So now that you have the honest 4-1-1 on what debt relief can and can’t do, you can find the solution right for you.