This installment in Sands & Associates’ “Ask a Licensed Insolvency Trustee” series compares some of the main differences between credit counselling programs and personal bankruptcy.

Q: What’s the difference between credit counselling and bankruptcy?

While both credit counselling programs and personal bankruptcy are debt options to consider if you find yourself over your head in debt, as you’ll learn, these are two distinctly separate debt solutions with some big differences.

Who Performs Credit Counselling and Bankruptcy

Credit Counselling: Both for-profit and not-for-profit companies provide credit counselling services. Credit counsellors are often trained as Accredited Financial Counsellors, but there is no law in place that requires them to have any formal training or education.

Although some may operate as a registered charity, there is no government authority regulating credit counsellors as a profession.

Bankruptcy: In Canada, a bankruptcy for a person (or business) can only be filed by a Licensed Insolvency Trustee “LIT” (formerly called a Trustee in Bankruptcy). LITs are the only debt professionals regulated and authorized by the Canadian government to file legal debt solutions that allow you to write-off debt (like a Consumer Proposal, or bankruptcy).

What Debts can be Consolidated by Credit Counselling and Bankruptcy

Credit Counselling: General consumer debts can be consolidated into one monthly repayment using a credit counselling program. These would be debts for things such as credit cards, lines of credit, utility bills or payday loans. If any of your creditors don’t agree to participate in your credit counselling program, you’ll need to pay them separately. Usually your creditors won’t bother you, as long as your credit counselling payments are in good standing.

Only a Consumer Proposal or bankruptcy can be used to consolidate and write-off government debts.

Bankruptcy: In addition to allowing you to write-off consumer debts (like the ones described above), filing a bankruptcy can also deal with student loans and other government debts for things like taxes, business GST, outstanding MSP premiums and even ICBC. Your creditors are prohibited by law from charging further interest or contacting you, as soon as you start the process.

Consider! What kinds of debt do you need help with? How much of your debt are you able to repay?

How Much Do I Have to Pay Back

Credit Counselling: Normally you will repay all your debt (100%) once it is consolidated into a credit counselling plan. Your creditors may or may not charge you interest while you’re repaying the debt, although it will generally be at a lower interest rate.

In addition to making your consolidated credit counselling payment, you will also need to pay the credit counsellor’s fees (even if you engage a not-for-profit credit counsellor). Credit counselling companies can set their own prices.

Bankruptcy: In most bankruptcies, you won’t repay anything to your creditors. The out-of-pocket cost of the full bankruptcy administration would amount to $1,800 – paid at $200 per month over a nine month period. Virtually all of your debt will be written off under the bankruptcy.

Consider! How long are you reasonably able to make payments on the debt? Could your financial situation change, compromising your ability to make those payments?

How Long Does it Take to Finish

Credit Counselling: It can take up to a maximum of five years for you to complete your credit counselling program.

Bankruptcy: Depending on your income, If it’s the first time you’re filing a bankruptcy it will take either 9 months or 21 months until you are discharged (released) from bankruptcy.

What’s the Impact on my Credit History

Credit Counselling: There will be a notation made on your credit history for two years after you finish your credit counselling debt management plan. Tools on credit rebuilding will be offered as part of your credit counselling program.

Any time your debts are not paid in full per the original lending terms your credit history will take a temporary hit.

Bankruptcy: Your credit history will show your bankruptcy filing for six years after you complete your bankruptcy. Tools and resources are offered as part of the bankruptcy process. Most individuals find they are able to re-establish a solid credit rating within 2-3 years of bankruptcy discharge.

Consider! Is it really so bad for your credit score to suffer temporarily if it means you’ll emerge debt-free? Is a “good credit score” worth what you stand to save by dealing with your debts?


View our detailed infographic to learn more about these (and other) differences between Credit Counselling and Bankruptcy.

Ready to talk about your debt options? We’ll walk you through debt consolidation, credit counselling, Consumer Proposals, personal bankruptcy and more – the choice is yours!

Book your free confidential debt consultation today – we have 16 offices in BC to serve you.