KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Facing mounting bills can be frightening and many of people in Tennessee are heavily in debt.
The airwaves are filled with offers to help people lower their monthly credit card and loan payments.
In Etowah, a grandmother is even more in debt today after seeking help from a debt relief company.
The California-based company offered Martha Harris a debt relief program for a monthly fee.
After the payments were made, she was expecting the amount she owed to her creditors would be lowered or the interest rates reduced.
It didn't work out that way. Today, she finds herself in worse financial shape.
For the last several years, Martha Harris' credit card debt has been mounting.
At 67, divorced and unable to work because of a disability, she draws $763 a month in Social Security.
According to her tabulation, she owes nearly $16,000 to several stores and credit cards.
In May of 2011, New Life Financial Consultants made an unsolicited call.
It's a debt relief or settlement company that, according to its website, offers to create a plan to reduce a person's debt burden.
Harris signed up with the service and was sent a contract. The company also does business as New Life Financial Solutions.
Martha was told the ten-month plan is simple. First, she should stop worrying about her bills.
"They told me not to pay anymore until this was all over with, not to pay no credit cards bills, do not pay another payment," Harris said.
Under her contract, Harris was directed to send New Life Financial a monthly fee.
"Send them $306 a month for ten months," she said.
But she says the company didn't keep up their end of the bargain. She says they never offered her credit card companies a settlement.
Since then, Harris says things have gotten much worse.
Harris has been summoned again to appear at the McMinn County Court March 5.
Already she's received three summons from various lenders, but the court has ruled her government check is safe.
"They cannot go in and take anything from your Social Security check. But if you come into any money, then these are your bills, you are liable to pay them," she said. "I haven't come into any money, but if it did, I would."
We called New Life Financial seeking comment about Harris' situation, but couldn't get through.
An e-mail was sent to the company last week, there's been no response.
Credit counselor Marcy Frankel is familiar with so-called debt settlement companies.
"If you make a payment to a company and they're holding your money, the creditors, they don't care if another company is getting money. They want their money and they want it now," Frankel said.
In Knoxville, CredAbility is a debt management plan.
For a nominal monthly fee, it offers a systematic method of paying down debt for its customers.
"And while they're in our program, most creditors will offer reduced interest rates, they won't have to pay late fees and often their monthly payments are lower," she said.
Harris says she now pays her bills with cash and desperately wants to get out of debt, but says New Life Financial is not the way to do it.
"They're not helping people," she said. "I don't know why the government lets them stay in business."
The Federal Trade Commission brought suit against New Life Financial last October, alleging the company made false and deceptive claims by telling lenders of their ability to negotiate on their behalf, making it possible to reduce payments.
The FTC says New Life Financial failed to produce any of the promised results.
On the other hand, local non-profit debt management service, CredAbility does produce results for the vast majority of its customers.
If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.