Debt consolidation is often one of the first options people consider when they want to make it easier to pay off their debt or if they are facing a debt problem, especially when dealing with credit card debt. Some common goals of debt consolidation include:
- Making a simple single monthly payment to cover all your debts (instead of juggling various payments to different creditors).
- Repaying your debt at an interest rate lower than what you are being charged on your various debts.
- Having a plan for paying off your debt (instead of relying on minimum payments to eventually get you to debt-free).
Debt consolidation can be achieved a few different ways in Canada, and some debt consolidation options can have major benefits over others. There can be challenges to achieving a truly advantageous debt consolidation – and there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of.
Types of Debt Consolidation
Many consumers think debt consolidation means a single bank steps forward to pay off all your other debts (such as multiple credit cards), and you repay the bank in full with interest, at a lower rate of interest than you would have been paying on the individual debts. Although you can decide to consolidate your debt through a traditional consolidation loan, there are also multiple other borrowing and non-borrowing options to consolidate your debt.
Your unique goals and financial needs will play a big role in choosing your best consolidation option, and your personal situation will often guide your decision about the solutions accessible to you.
Consolidation Loans & Borrowing Options
Bank-based consolidation solutions may include:
- A basic debt consolidation loan from a lender who provides funds for you to pay off your individual debts, merging the balances into one new loan that is repaid with interest.
- Borrowing against your home equity with a home equity consolidation loan. (This is sometimes referred to as taking out a second mortgage or refinancing your mortgage).
- Balance transfers from a line of credit, an overdraft or another credit card with a lower interest rate to pay off higher interest debts.
A debt consolidation loan and borrowing options through a bank are often difficult to qualify for. The challenge for many people is that consolidation lenders will often want you to pledge an asset as collateral for the loan (such as a vehicle, or even your home), require a co-signer to guarantee the consolidation loan, or require you to have a high income and/or a high credit rating to qualify.
Because of these requirements, many people are turned down when they apply for a bank consolidation loan.
If you do not qualify for a bank’s debt help with a consolidation loan and/or you want to cut your monthly debt payment down as much as possible, debt consolidation using a non-borrowing option may be a better solution to consider.
Consolidation Without Borrowing
Many Canadians are not aware that there are options for legal debt consolidation that do not require taking on more debt. Non-borrowing options for British Columbians include consolidating with:
A Consumer Proposal
A Consumer Proposal is a legal debt consolidation arrangement, or debt settlement, with your creditors and allows you to repay only an affordable portion of your consolidated debts – in full settlement, with the unpaid balance of the consolidated debts being legally written-off/forgiven by your creditors. Ongoing interest charges are automatically stopped under a Consumer Proposal, and if any creditors have begun collection these actions must stop immediately.
Consumer Proposals to creditors are an increasingly popular solution to consolidate and deal with unmanageable debts and are the number one alternative to personal bankruptcy. They must be filed by a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and can have great benefits over debt consolidation loans or traditional credit counselling programs, which are discussed further below.
- Consumer Proposals allow you to reduce the debts you owe, restructure the time you have to pay off all your debts, or some combination of both, without accumulating interest or paying additional fees.
- You will only pay what you are able to repay on the consolidated debt, which is usually in the range of 30-60% of the total balance.
- For example, a Consumer Proposal to settle consolidated debts totalling $40,000 might offer your creditors $12,600, which you would pay by way of $350 per month for 36 months.
- Credit ratings are not a factor to qualify for a Consumer Proposal consolidation.
- A Consumer Proposal is the only legal consolidation option in Canada that can include balances for government debts such as taxes, student loans, ICBC debts, and more.
A Licensed Insolvency Trustee at Sands & Associates will work with you to tailor a proposal to your creditors that fits your household budget and personal circumstances. It is common for debts to be substantially reduced, making Consumer Proposals a flexible and affordable option for many people.
A Credit Counselling Debt Management Plan
Creditor counselling programs can be an option to consolidate certain types of debts. Debt counsellors and non-profit credit counsellors will review your financial situation and make arrangements with your creditors to coordinate a full-payment program for your eligible debt while negotiating an interest freeze if possible. You will repay 100% of your debt, usually without interest, plus the credit counsellors’ fees – even if they are a non-profit organization.
- Both non-profit and for-profit credit counsellors and agencies typically charge fees for setup, monthly administration and other miscellaneous debt help services.
- It should be noted that not all creditors will accept traditional or non-profit credit counselling offers; for example, government debts can only be settled or reduced by way of a Consumer Proposal (or Personal Bankruptcy).
- Although for-profit and non-profit credit counselling plans require to you repay your debts in full, the impact to your credit history will be the same as filing a Consumer Proposal (where your debt is normally substantially reduced).
Key Differences Between Consumer Proposals and Credit Counselling Plans
At first glance credit counselling and Consumer Proposals may sound much like the same consolidation solution – but they have some distinct differences to be aware of:
- Credit counselling debt management plans require you to repay 100% of your debt. Interest can normally be frozen on most non-government debts by negotiation.
- Consumer Proposals almost always come with a significant reduction in the total debt – reductions of up to 70% or more are often possible. Interest is automatically frozen.
- Not all creditors will agree to work with a credit counsellor, so debts such as government debts (or creditors who simply do not agree to your credit counselling debt management plan) would need to be paid separately in addition to your credit counselling payments.
- Only 50% of your creditors need to agree to your Consumer Proposal for it to be legally binding on all your creditors.
- Once filed, your Consumer Proposal will also protect you from collection action, creditor harassment and can even remove wage garnishments or other court actions.
- All administration costs are included in your Consumer Proposal consolidation payment and Licensed Insolvency Trustee fees are set and regulated by the federal government – there are no hidden costs or additional charges.
- Credit counsellors’ fees are unregulated and may include monthly monitoring costs, setup charges, etc.
- Some credit counsellors may promote their debt management plans over other options as they make money from creditors, getting a percentage of the debt they recover through your settlement.
- Only a Licensed Insolvency Trustee can help you file a Consumer Proposal and all Licensed Insolvency Trustees are qualified, endorsed and regulated by the federal government.
- Credit counsellors are not legally required to have any special training or set qualifications.
Key Considerations for Debt Consolidation
Because there are several ways to consolidate your debt, the details of each potential consolidation option make a big difference to how suitable each may be in helping you achieve your consolidation goals. Be sure you “do the math” in full and be on the lookout for challenges and pitfalls such as:
Qualifying for Debt Consolidation
A major challenge many people encounter when seeking consolidation is whether they actually qualify for the solution they are interested in.
- When it comes to bank-based consolidation, most lenders require you to have a fairly strong credit score and ideal debt-to-asset ratio to be eligible for borrowing.
- Lenders may alternatively (or additionally) ask you to have a co-signer to guarantee your loan, or for you to have an asset that they can hold security over (such as home equity or a vehicle).
- Conversely, with non-borrowing solutions like a Consumer Proposal, your credit score or account standings are not a factor in eligibility, nor are you required to pledge assets as collateral. A co-signer is never a requirement to file a Consumer Proposal.
Interest Rates & Costs of Consolidation
The costs or savings potential of a consolidation option may not be as good as it initially seems once you examine the fine print. For example: Is there a lower interest rate but payments are required over an extremely long period that will result in you paying more interest in total?
- Although a benefit of consolidation is normally that you will repay your debts at a lower interest rate, this is not always the case. Lenders may not extend you ‘best rates’, and there can also be lower promotional rates that are temporary.
- Consolidating by borrowing can get expensive if you are considered “higher risk” or have a lower credit score.
- Banks and credit unions will usually offer the best interest rates, with finance companies charging more.
- Take note of any administration costs, brokerage fees, penalties, etc.
- Some lenders may charge transaction fees when making the loan or other fees such as “loan brokerage charges” that can significantly impact the overall costs of borrowing.
- As mentioned previously, if you are working with a credit counsellor (even non-profit) to repay your debts in full using a debt management plan you can expect to pay a fee on top of what you pay towards your no-interest consolidation each month.
- If you are consolidating without borrowing and working with a Licensed Insolvency Trustee under a Consumer Proposal, you will not be paying a fee on top of your consolidation payment each month. The government-regulated, tariff-based fees are simply deducted from the funds your creditors receive and there is no additional cost above what you are offering in the interest-free Consumer Proposal. In effect, your creditors are bearing the costs of administration of your proposal.
Monthly Consolidation Payments
Make sure your budget allows you to truly afford your monthly consolidation payments and remember that most consolidation options (besides a Consumer Proposal) cannot cover ALL your debts if you owe government creditors.
If you are looking for the consolidation option with the least out-of-pocket cost and most affordable monthly payment, then a Consumer Proposal is often the best choice by a significant margin. For example:
- You have unsecured debt totaling $20,000 that you want to consolidate and pay off within 3 years:
- With a 12% interest rate a debt consolidation loan would mean monthly payments of approx. $665 over 3 years.
- In a Consumer Proposal, if you offered to repay 40% of the debt you could have monthly payments of around $220 over 3 years.
- The $12,000 that is unpaid will be legally written-off by your creditors forever.
This cost difference comes down to two main things: i) you are automatically not going to have to pay interest with a Consumer Proposal; and, ii) you can cut your debt down too.
“Should I Consolidate my Credit Card Debt?”
No two situations are exactly alike, but consolidating credit card debt can be a great option to get yourself on a path to being debt-free and to break the cycle of credit card payments and interest, particularly if you are:
- Struggling to make substantial progress on paying off your credit card debt;
- Having difficulty paying much more than your minimum monthly payments; or,
- Simply feeling like your credit card debts are never-ending.
Whether you are focused on paying off credit card debt or other debts, there are a few important factors for debt consolidation to keep in mind:
- Thoroughly research your options before you sign any consolidation loan or agreement
- Be aware of high-pressure sales tactics.
- Make sure you can realistically afford the payments you are agreeing to.
- Carefully read (and ensure you understand) all the consolidation’s terms/agreements.
- Limit your ongoing use of credit
- It can be tempting to see credit card balances at ‘zero’ and begin using them again.
- It is crucial you refrain from using credit while you are paying off your consolidation debts. Continuing to use credit after consolidating often means you are likely to find yourself in the same place again – sometimes quite quickly since you now also have the consolidation debt to manage.
- Have you been able to address the issue that caused the debt in the first place?
- If you are consolidating with a borrowing option that may not have set payments, do you have the discipline (and ability) to truly pay it off?
- When you choose to consolidate with non-borrowing options like Consumer Proposals, you will be provided with opportunity to gain insights into underlying issues or habits that can spark a debt cycle so that you can identify triggers in the future and take corrective actions.
- Two private one-on-one financial counselling sessions are part of your Consumer Proposal services, allowing you access to expert knowledge and resources around credit scores, improving spending habits, implementing manageable savings strategies and more.
“What if Consolidation Doesn’t Work for Me?”
If debt consolidation is not a viable option for you to deal with your debts, either by borrowing or non-borrowing means, you may want to consider addressing your debts by:
Contacting Your Creditors Directly
If you’re unable to maintain your minimum payment requirements and take the time to explain why you cannot make your debt payments, your creditor may be able to suggest an arrangement that could work for both you and the lender. While this will not consolidate your debt, some creditors may be willing to cooperate and even reduce your interest payments or agree to defer or waive payments for a period of time. Be sure you understand the full impact of any new arrangements you make with a creditor.
Be extremely cautious if you are considering engaging the services of a debt management company in making alternative repayment arrangements with creditors on your behalf. Be aware that:
- Creditors can still use collection agencies to recover overdue money you owe.
- You may be required to pay upfront fees, even if the company is unsuccessful in dealing with your creditors.
- Quick credit score repair services are generally misleading claims, it takes time to improve your credit score and the promise of a quick fix to your credit rating is simply impossible to achieve.
Bankruptcy is a legal option for both consumers and businesses that alleviates their debt, allowing them to start financially fresh, debt-free. You do not need to ask permission from your creditors to file for bankruptcy and get debt forgiveness, or to access bankruptcy protection laws in place for Canadians to get debt relief.
The bankruptcy process is often misunderstood, and there are many myths surrounding filing bankruptcy. For example, most people who file a personal bankruptcy are “in bankruptcy” for only 9 months, they keep all their assets and can rebuild a favourable credit rating in as little as 2-3 years.
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Options for Dealing with Debt — Where to Get Debt Help
Many British Columbians struggling with debt management feel that personal bankruptcy may be their only option to get out of debt – this is often not be the case at all! A Licensed Insolvency Trustee will connect with you at no charge to help you assess your overall situation, understand your unique needs and goals when it comes to your debt, and evaluate all the options available to solve your financial challenges. Licensed Insolvency Trustees (formerly known as Trustees in Bankruptcy) are the only debt management professionals endorsed by the Canadian government and regulated under federal law to provide debt help services.
A Sands & Associates representative can provide you with more information on any of the debt management options discussed here (and more!) during a one-on-one, no obligation consultation. Our qualified staff are here to help guide you through debt solutions based on your individual situation and needs. We pride ourselves on our non-judgmental and straight-forward approach to helping people.
Ready to Get Started with your own Debt-Free Plan? Book your free, confidential debt consultation with a caring Sands & Associates debt help expert today. Convenient phone and video appointments available for BC residents!