From understanding the differences in debt help professionals to deciphering the ‘fine print’ of the Canadian debt relief industry, the world of debt expertise can be a confusing place for those already overwhelmed trying to solve their challenges with debt.
What many people do not know is that even the best credit counselling agencies will have limitations in the debt management services they offer consumers, and for the unaware individual this can lead to many undesirable outcomes. The onus is very much on consumers to adopt a “buyer beware” attitude, do their own research and ask the right questions to understand the processes in full before making commitments.
Read on to learn more about informal credit counselling debt management plans and agencies, and learn how these stack up against formal debt solutions offered by Licensed Insolvency Trustees. Knowing is not owing!
What Consumer Should Know Before Choosing a Credit Counsellor
Despite Canada having only one type of debt help professional operating with full federal legislation, licensing and regulation – Licensed Insolvency Trustees – there are many debt relief services available to consumers. One of these options is to engage the services of a credit counselling organization (both “for-profit” and “non-profit” agencies exist) who will contact your creditors to negotiate an agreement where you seek to consolidate your eligible debts into a monthly repayment plan. This is called a debt management plan.
- A credit counselling debt management plan is an informal debt consolidation plan that does not have any legal authority. As such, you cannot cut your debt balances this way, but some eligible creditors may agree to stop charging ongoing interest.
- As part of this debt management plan, you should expect to repay 100% of your debt over a period of up to 5 years, plus fees charged by your credit counsellor.
- Even non-profit organizations charge fees for their debt management programs.
- Example: A ‘capped’ sliding scale fee of $75/month.
- Even non-profit organizations charge fees for their debt management programs.
Credit counselling debt management plans are different to those typically proposed by debt settlement agents, who usually (but not always) attempt to negotiate your debts one at a time with lump-sum settlements to your creditors.
Although these two types of informal debt relief plans are different, it is important to understand that informal debt repayment is not a regulated industry in BC. This means:
- Anyone can call themselves a credit counsellor.
- Credit counsellors and debt repayment agency solutions are limited:
- Debt management plans/programs aren’t legal solutions, creditor participation is voluntary.
- Many common types of debt cannot be negotiated or consolidated through informal plans.
- These professionals have no ability to enforce negotiation nor provide protection from creditor actions like wage or asset seizures.
The Government of Canada has posted numerous consumer alerts in relation to debt settlement companies and credit counsellors including:
- “Some companies offering help to pay off debt or repair credit are misleading consumers.”
- “Be aware that some credit counselling agencies may promote a debt management plan over other options, because they make money from creditors by getting a percentage of the debt that they recover.”
Credit Counselling Debt Management Programs in BC
Before considering their debt management plans or following their professional advice, take a careful look at the agency/organization. Bear in mind considerations such as:
- Does the company or organization have any standing with a provincial or national association? At minimum are they registered with Consumer Protection BC?
- People who charge a fee to act for or represent you to your creditors need to be licensed with Consumer Protection BC.
- Credit counsellors are not legally required to have any special education or training. What qualifications or credentials does this representative have?
- Be aware that accreditations for credit counsellors in Canada are self-regulated – there is no government body providing accreditation.
- Will you be expected to pay consultation costs, referral fees or other charges?
- An organization that implies the following is likely misrepresenting their services or abilities:
- Quickly improving your credit score
- Guaranteeing a reduction of your debt
- There is nothing to guarantee a creditor will accept your informal plan/offer.
- Licensed Insolvency Trustees are the only professionals able to help Canadians with debt solutions that allow you to be discharged from your debt (i.e., have some or all your debts forgiven).
- Being part of a government program or affiliation
- Unless they employ a Licensed Insolvency Trustee it is against the law for companies to say they can manage a Consumer Proposal or bankruptcy for you.
Is a Consolidated Credit Counselling Debt Management Plan Right for Me?
A credit counselling debt management plan may work for you if you:
- Have a fairly small amount of debt (under $5,000), or higher income compared to your debt-load.
- Only have basic unsecured debts such as credit cards, lines of credit etc.
- Can afford to repay 100% of your debt (possibly without interest), plus the program fees, with consistent monthly payments over a period of up to 5 years.
Regarding any debt management plan recommended, consider specifics such as:
- What debts will be covered? How much do you need to repay? Is the plan affordable?
- Will you be able to manage the separate debt payments to creditors who won’t agree to be a part of your debt management plan?
- Government debts such as Canada Revenue Agency tax debt and student loans will NOT be covered by an informal plan. To consolidate and cut these debts consider a Consumer Proposal.
- Are you comfortable with a debt management agreement that doesn’t legally prevent your creditors from using collection actions (including wage garnishment) against you?
- What are your costs of using the plan/program? Will you be saving money?
- You might save on interest, but you will be charged fees for services. Watch for set-up fees, monthly maintenance, membership etc.
- In a 60-month debt management plan, even a $75 monthly fee adds up to $4,500.
- Are the details of payments and distributions to your creditors clear?
- What all is required from you? What about your assets?
- What services will the agent / organization be providing you?
- What options are available if you can’t afford the payments anymore, or miss a payment? What about if a creditor changes their mind and wants to withdraw from the repayment plan?
Does Credit Counselling Consolidation Affect my Credit Score?
Although fairly straight forward, the credit rating impact of using a credit counselling debt management plan is often misunderstood. Credit counselling plans will:
- Require you to pay back all the debt you owe (maybe without interest).
- Require that you pay a fee to the credit counsellor.
- Be noted on your credit history for two years after you complete the debt management plan.
The two-year impact of a credit counselling plan on your credit score is similar to that of completing a Consumer Proposal, even though that formal plan can substantially lower the amount of debt you need to repay, and at no additional cost to you.
As mentioned previously, agencies or companies that claim to be able to quickly boost your credit score are misleading – improving your credit score takes time. You should also be aware that:
- Credit counsellors may attempt to stress the importance of your credit rating and may even word advertisements in a way that implies you can avoid a “serious” credit rating impact.
- Any time you do not pay your debts in full per the original borrowing agreement, your credit rating will be impacted. This is true of ALL debt management plans, Consumer Proposals, etc.
- Impacts to your credit score are temporary – and in getting to a point of being debt-free, you are substantially improving your financial state of affairs in the long-run.
- Even after a personal bankruptcy it is possible to rebuild your credit and be granted new credit at best rates within a couple of years.
- Many people gain a financial fresh start and an ideal credit rating faster by taking steps to restructure their debts and then rebuilding their credit rather than if they had tried to pay off all their debt (plus accumulating interest) on their own.
Whatever solution you choose to help you manage your debts, be sure it is in your best interest, not just in the best interest of the person making the recommendations. You can also get a second opinion from a Licensed Insolvency Trustee at any point, without any cost or referral.
What is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee?
Licensed Insolvency Trustees are professionals who offer specialized debt support and debt management services under the authority of federal regulations and legislation. Licensed Insolvency Trustees operate far beyond the many constraints and limitations placed on debt repayment agents and credit counsellors. With federal licensing and mandated qualifications and training, Licensed Insolvency Trustees have expertise and a code of ethics built-in to the profession.
Licensed Insolvency Trustees provide advice to consumers and businesses on how to deal with debt, helping people to make informed decisions – and we do this for free. We also can administer powerful formal solutions like Consumer Proposals as well as bankruptcy; these legal processes allow you to significantly cut your debt and gain protection for your income and assets.
Quick Facts About Licensed Insolvency Trustees
Who Licensed Insolvency Trustees Work For
Licensed Insolvency Trustees are a neutral party; we will however deal directly with your creditors on your behalf.
- Licensed Insolvency Trustees do not work for your creditors, and unlike many credit counsellors, neither do we accept any commissions or money from banks, lenders or other creditors.
- No creditor or other party can stop you from getting help from a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and accessing the legislated solutions we can help you with.
Like misunderstandings about credit rating impacts, when many people learn that “public records” are kept for bankruptcy or proposal filings, they are not made aware that:
- To search these government databases requires having an account set up; and
- There is a cost to search these public records.
Contrary to many fears, even a personal bankruptcy filing is quite a private affair in Canada.
Licensed Insolvency Trustee Fees
The administration fees for a Consumer Proposal (and personal bankruptcy) are strictly set by law, Trustees don’t set their own costs or charge you a ‘fee for service’.
- In a Consumer Proposal whatever you are offering as payment to your creditors is all you will have to pay. Tariff-set administration fees are calculated then deducted from the funds your creditors receive, and this does not translate into any extra costs for you.
- At Sands & Associates we do NOT charge any upfront fees to start a Consumer Proposal.
- Most personal bankruptcies cost a total of $2,300, paid by way of monthly payments over the basic 9-month period of bankruptcy.
Formal Debt Consolidation – More About Consumer Proposals
Consumer Proposals are a unique consolidation option only accessible by working with a Licensed Insolvency Trustee. Consumer Proposals:
- Allow you to consolidate and cut (even by up to 80%) virtually all your debt, while automatically freezing ongoing interest (no negotiation needed).
- Monthly payment terms are flexible, tailored to your unique situation.
- Payments are generally significantly less than any other debt management strategy.
- Are almost always accepted by your creditors. If the majority of creditors (by dollar value) agree, your offer becomes binding on ALL your creditors, even those who did not agree.
- A creditor cannot choose to not participate in your Consumer Proposal, and they are forbidden from contacting you for payments, or pursuing you for collection actions etc.
- Can even halt an ongoing wage garnishment with a creditor as powerful as Canada Revenue Agency.
- If something happens and you miss a payment your proposal will not automatically fall apart. If your situation changes and you can’t continue with your payments there are options to amend your proposal, or you could even consider whether bankruptcy would be more appropriate.
Many people haven’t heard about Consumer Proposals before, and these are just a few of the many built-in advantages and benefits of choosing a Consumer Proposal to consolidate and manage your debt.
All Sands & Associates Licensed Insolvency Trustees provide free debt consultations where you can get expertise and professional insights. You should never pay money for a consultation with a Trustee (or any debt help provider for that matter), and there is no referral needed to connect.
You can turn to us for virtually all things debt-management related including: evaluating the pros and cons of debt management strategies, whether a debt is payable, what you can do if you’re having trouble paying your debt, resources that can help you deal with your debt and more.
Ready to connect with a local BC debt expert? Book your free non-judgmental debt consultation now.