Covering the business of debt via blogging



Steve Rhode is using his personal finance experiences to cover the debt industry like no one else.

Rhode, 52, started in 2009, a blog that aggressively reports and investigates debt consolidation and debt advice businesses. From his home in the Raleigh area, he posts about five stories a day as well as answers questions from readers.

His site, which averages about 160,000 visitors and 320,000 page views per month, relies heavily on his experience from a personal bankruptcy more than 20 years ago and from running a non-profit organization called Myvesta that helped people with financial problems.

Rhode, who once wrote a personal finance column that was syndicated in more than 50 papers, says his site has no agenda or vendetta against the debt industry. He just wants consumers to have fair and balanced information.

“I write about something that I care deeply about and know well,” said Rhode in an interview Thursday. “It has to be something that you enjoy doing.”

Rhode sifts through dozens of tips each day to determine what he wants to cover. He collects legal documents from attorneys and through PACER, the online federal court system, and develops sources within companies. He also talks frequently to regulators across the country, primarily those in state attorney general offices.

At first, Rhode also sold advertising for his site, but he handed over that responsibility to Google Ads. While some readers complain that the companies advertising on his site are from the industry that he covers, Rhode says he now uses the ads as story ideas.

“The toughest thing is trying to find that balance,” said Rhode. “You’re serving the public and protecting consumers, but you also have to make an existence.”

His biggest current issue is litigation. A Texas attorney that was the subject of a story has sued him for $2.1 million in damages, claiming that Rhode has hurt his business. Rhode is defending himself aggressively.

“I developed a thick skin a long time ago,” said Rhode. “When you write about bad things, you have to know you can be the subject of an attack.”

Rhode appears frequently in other media — he has done Skype interviews this week with the Fox station in Tampa and a station in St. Louis — to discuss debt scams and issues. And unlike traditional journalists, he’s not afraid of alerting regulators to potential scams that he has uncovered.

Rhode declined to discuss his site’s finances, but he did say that he is making a living off the site, and he has one employee who helps him sift through tips and documents. But his site primarily focuses on the problems in personal finance, not balancing a checkbook and other softer personal finance topics.

For example, a recent story on the site uncovered a mortgage modifier company that was claiming in its solicitations to be from a local teachers union. Rhode also recently reported about a debt reduction program that claimed it was from Houston, but was actually located in Fiji with its owner in Thailand and had not registered to do business.

“My entire business philosophy,” says Rhode, “is that if you do a good job, then good things will happen to you.”