Understanding the Debt Review Process (5 Steps)

Drowning in debt? Stressed about making ends meet every month? Unmanageable debt is a sensitive topic. It isn’t just a number; it’s a financial obstacle that can be difficult to overcome. Debt is an emotional crushing burden for millions of South Africans.

The implications of debt doesn’t just create immediate financial difficulties. It can take over various facets of one’s life, leading to stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Debt review, known as debt counselling, can be a lifeline.

For many South Africans facing the daunting challenge of overwhelming debt, Debt Review emerges as an effective and strategic solution. It offers immediate financial relief, protection, and a structured path to financial freedom for those with a stable income.

Understanding Debt Review in South Africa

Overindebtedness is when the consumer is unable to meet all credit obligations in a timely manner, considering their financial means, prospects, and obligations.

As a way to combat overindebtedness, debt review was introduced in 2007 by the National Credit Act (NCA) in South Africa. It’s a regulated process whereby a debt counsellor looks at your outstanding debt and implements a restructured debt repayment plan. The ultimate aim is to provide overindebted South Africans with a manageable way to pay their debts while ensuring that credit providers receive their due.

With reduced payments, you’ll find immediate relief in your monthly budget, allowing you to cover your essential living expenses, easing monthly financial strain.

How Does Debt Review Work?

Before you can begin the debt review process, you must admit to yourself that you’re struggling with debt and need help.

1. Free Assessment

When it comes to the debt review process, an initial assessment of your financial situation is crucial. A registered debt counsellor will determine if you are overindebted based on your financial information. The assessment process for debt review, as outlined by the NCA, is a critical part of this protective framework.

You will need to provide documentation, including identity proof, salary slips, bank statements, and a list of creditors and outstanding debts. Your debt counsellor will conduct an initial review of the submitted documents to gain an understanding of your financial situation. This evaluation helps determine if the consumer is over-indebted, as defined by the NCA.

If you are deemed over-indebted, your debt counsellor will give you an estimated reduced monthly repayment. This estimated repayment will cover all your debt in a single monthly repayment plan over a set period of time.

Bonus: Use our free tool to find out whether you are overindebted – Calculator

2. Application

If you decide to go ahead with the debt review process, your debt counsellor will legally place you under debt review by notifying all your creditors and credit bureaus that you’ve applied for debt review. This notification offers protection against legal actions from creditors while under review.

Your assets (like your house or car) are protected from being taken away. And you get peace of mind knowing you’re on a structured path to becoming debt-free.

3. Negotiating with Creditors

Your debt counsellor will negotiate with your creditors to reduce your monthly instalments and possibly even reduce interest rates.

A new repayment plan is proposed that consolidates all your debts into a single, more manageable monthly payment. Once an agreement is reached with creditors, the debt counsellor will obtain a court order to confirm the new repayment plan, ensuring it complies with the NCA.

This court order ensures that creditors can’t take action against you whilst under debt review as long as you stick to the repayment plan. Once approved, it becomes binding on all parties.

4. Repayment 

Most debt counsellors work with a Payment Distribution Agency (PDA). You’ll make a single payment to the PDA each month, and they’ll distribute the payments to your creditors as per the agreed-upon plan.

It’s crucial to keep up with your monthly payments. Missing payments whilst under debt review can lead to termination from the debt review, which could result in legal actions from creditors.

Under the National Credit Act (NCA), individuals undergoing debt review are restricted from incurring more debt, ensuring they focus on settling existing obligations without additional financial burdens. Once the debt review process is successfully completed and a clearance certificate received, you’ll be eligible to apply for credit again. 

5. Clearance Certificate

Once all debts (except possibly your bond) are paid off, your debt counsellor will issue a clearance certificate. This certificate is sent to all creditors, the National Credit Regulator (NCR), and credit bureaus, which will then remove the debt review status from your credit profile.

The Typical Timeframe

The debt review process in South Africa typically lasts 36 to 60 months but varies due to factors like total debt, creditor negotiation time, court approval processes, payment consistency, and income changes. Larger debts, extended creditor negotiations, court delays, missed payments, and income fluctuations may prolong this timeline.

Factors Affecting the Duration of Debt Review

To speed up the debt review process, consider prioritising high-interest debts to minimise total interest paid, potentially shortening your review period, but consult with your debt counsellor first. Utilise windfalls like tax returns or bonuses to significantly reduce debt instead of spending them on non-essentials, accelerating your path to financial freedom.

Earning extra income through side hustles or gigs can also fasten your journey through the debt review process, allowing for larger debt repayments. Additionally, achieving financial stability can also be realised by cutting back on expenses during debt review, which can be strategic for faster debt repayment and reaching debt-free status sooner.

Debt review isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and may not be suitable for everyone. However, for those South Africans for whom it’s a fit, it offers a structured, supportive pathway out of the emotional and financial quagmire of overwhelming debt. Remember, the key is to acknowledge the problem and take proactive steps toward resolution.

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