Avoid Debt Panic

Debt Counselling aims to help over-indebted consumers get out of the debt trap.

When I was in high school, the father of a close friend of mine shot him­self dead at home. My schoolmates and I found it dif­ficult to understand why he had done this — he’d always seemed so upbeat about life, and had such an awesome family. Huddled around a dining room table at night, after receiving the news, one of our friends cautiously revealed that the father had been in major debt, and he probably viewed death as the only way out.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario says Neil Roets, chief executive of Debt Rescue, which provides debt counselling services. “We have unfortunately come across clients who find themselves in dire straits considering suicide,” he says. “Many clients wake in a cold sweat at night, realising that they cannot pay their debt while at the same time sup­porting their families. For some it feels as if they failed if they can­not provide adequately for their families, while others see debt as a crime.”

But, says Roets, panicking only worsens the situation. “Due to this they do not speak up and seek the help that debt counselling can offer them.”

According to the National Credit Regulator (NCR), debt counselling is one of the debt relief measures available in South Africa and pro­vided for in the National Credit Act.

“This process is intended to assist over-indebted consumers struggling with debt, through budget advice, negotiation with credit providers for reduced payments and restruc­turing of debts,” the NCR states on its website. “Consumers who are struggling to meet their monthly debt obligations qualify to apply for debt counselling. These consumers should have a distributable income, which will be used to offer reduced payments to their credit providers.”

Only debt counsellors registered with the NCR may offer debt coun­selling services. Prior to registra­tion, they have to successfully com­plete a debt counselling training

Many clients wake in a cold sweat at night, realising that they cannot pay their debt while at the same time supporting their families. For some it feels as if they failed if they cannot provide adequately for their families, while others see debt as a crime

course, satisfy prescribed education, experience and competency require­ments and display a healthy ability to manage their own finances.

The NCR advises that consum­ers can verify debt counsellors by checking that their registration cer­tificate carries the NCR logo, as well as the debt counsellor’s details and registration number. Registered debt counsellors should have a vis­ible window decal (green sticker) at their premises. Consumers can also verify registration of debt counsel­lors with the NCR.

Roets says that while there are a few options available to over- indebted clients, debt counselling is by far the best and safest option available. “The majority of the large credit providers have accepted debt counselling the best and most cost effective collection method,” he explains. “A client is over-indebted the moment he finds himself in a position where he can no longer afford to pay his minimum monthly debt instalments, while at the same time having funds available for his living expenses. You should approach a debt counsellor for assistance immediately and not wait until it is too late.”

He explains how it works: “Debt counselling is not only about repay­ing your debt, but also about finan­cial education. At Debt Rescue we assist over-indebted clients dur­ing the debt counselling process by negotiating with their credit pro­viders for a smaller monthly instal­ment and a possible reduced inter­est rate.”

The main aim is to help clients become debt-free in the shortest possible timeframe, within the lim­its of what they can afford. Since debt counselling is a legal process, a court order that restructures the cli­ent’s debt is obtained, safeguarding the client against onslaughts from unreasonable credit providers and ensuring a smooth road to financial freedom.

“What it comes down to is that (debt counsellors like) Debt Rescue will handle the whole process on your behalf. The only thing that you should ensure is that you have enough money available in your account for your new, reduced instalment to go off successfully,” says Roets.

As with other services there is a fee involved for debt counselling, but this is worked into the individu­al’s new repayment plan, and this is also regulated by the NCR.

If your debts are currently man­ageable, make sure you always pay your accounts on time, says Roets, because arrears and arrear interest will have a negative impact on your accounts. He also cautions against “maxing out” your accounts, and using one debt to pay off another. “Some clients will for example, pay [into] their credit card, then draw funds from the credit card to pay their personal loan.” Credit cards should not be used to buy daily necessities like food and petrol, he says. “Attempt to pay more than the minimum towards [servicing] your debt. Even R50 [extra] can have a big impact on reducing your debt repayment timeframe.”

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