Debt and Credit Counselling
It’s likely you have a problem if:
- you can’t make your minimum monthly payments on your credit cards,
- you need credit to pay for basic living expenses,
- you aren’t sure how much you owe,
- you always seem to have unmanageable debt, and
- your financial problems are affecting your work or family life.
Here are some tips if you’re struggling with debt:
1. Talk to your bank early.
Banks have a strong interest in working with their clients who are facing financial difficulty to help them stay in good standing with their creditors. If you’re struggling, talk to your bank and your other creditors to discuss the situation and find out if there are options to help you pay off your debt. Banks are willing to be flexible and help customers make alternative arrangements to repay the money they owe to their bank. For example, banks may be able to help you by providing advice, debt counselling and flexible loan repayment arrangements such as loan consolidation or lengthening the term of the debt to reduce regular payments. They may also refer you to a not-for-profit credit counselling agency if they feel it would be helpful.
2. Seek help from a not-for-profit credit counselling agency.
You may also seek help from a not-for-profit credit counselling agency, which provides guidance on budgeting and money management and, if necessary, intervention on repaying debts through structured debt management plans. Not-for-profit credit counselling agencies provide a number of different services. For some clients, general money management education and counselling may be enough help. For others, the counsellor may talk with creditors to help them understand the client’s situation and make alternate arrangements for the client to repay the debt directly. For still others, a debt management program may be appropriate so that the counsellor can negotiate arrangements with creditors, provide ongoing counselling and channel the payments to creditors.
3. Be careful when choosing someone to help you.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has posted information on its website urging consumers to be cautious of debt settlement companies and their high-pressure sales tactics, unrealistic claims about slashing their debt, misleading information about protecting their credit rating, and false claims about government involvement or approval. The consumer alert is posted to the FCAC website at http://www.fcac-acfc.gc.ca/eng/about/news/pages/ConsAlert-ConsAvis-0.aspx?itemid=170.
Currently Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and PEI have regulations in place to regulate debt settlement companies and other provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, are also developing regulations.
For more than 40 years banks have been strong supporters — providing both financial support and many hours of volunteer employee time — of not-for-profit credit counselling agencies and the good work that they do to help Canadians learn better money management skills. Supporting credit counselling is also part of the broader and on-going banking industry commitment to strengthening the financial literacy of all Canadians.
To learn more about how credit counselling agencies can help or to find a credit counselling agency near you, visit the websites of these associations that are representing not-for-profit agencies in Canada.