This month is an important reminder of South Africans’ human rights, and rightfully so. But, if there is one thing that the South African consumer should also take note of is, that World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on the 15th of March. Consumers are primarily responsible not only to make sure they protect their human and consumer rights, but also to guarantee their right to a debt-free future. How do they enable their way to a financially-free future exactly?
According to Matthys Potgieter, spokesperson and debt expert at DebtSafe, South Africans should know what their consumer rights entail for them to ensure themselves a debt-free future.
The National Credit Regulator (NCR) outlines various consumer rights in terms of the National Credit Act (NCA). Consumers have the right to:
- Receive a credit agreement in simple and clear language. Individuals with average literacy skills (for example) need to fully understand the information given in plain language.
- A quote and pre-agreement statement, binding for five days. Consumers do not have to accept an offer made in the pre-agreement. The quotation or pre-agreement is valid for five business days – meaning that they have some time to consider whether or not they want to enter into the proposed agreement.
- Referring to the above right of a consumer, there is also a cooling-off period (when a contract has been signed by the consumer). The consumer has five days to change his/her mind and has to notify the company (in writing) that he/she would like to cancel the agreement.
- Advertising & marketing which contains all the information on the cost of credit. Marketing and advertising have to be authentic and display all the terms and costs involved to the consumer.
- Know why credit was declined. Consumers have the right to ask the creditor why credit was declined. And, if the creditor’s decline is based on a credit bureau report – the credit bureau’s details (name, contact details etc.) must be given to the consumer.
- The regulation of automatic credit limit increases. Institutions might phone ‘good credit users’ to increase their credit limit of a credit card, for example. Consumers need to know they can say ‘no’ and the organisation cannot increase their credit limit without their consent.
- Prohibition of reckless lending. Reckless lending is when a credit provider gives a consumer credit, like a loan for example, without following the proper affordability assessment guidelines. Consumers need to make sure this doesn’t happen to them.
- Regulated Credit Bureaus and the right to receive their free credit report once a year. Consumers need to get ‘involved’ with their finances and know what their credit profile is currently portraying. They can visit the following regulated credit bureaus: Compuscan, TransUnion, XDS or Experian and download their report once a year, at no cost.
- Assistance when over-indebted, negotiate with a credit provider or debt counsellor. Communication is key – consumers need to take the first step to get the support they need. Help is around every corner – why wait?
- Debt counselling to enable the restructuring of their debts. Potgieter shares a few pointers regarding Debt Counselling:
- “Debt counselling is the preferred method to get out of debt, rather than sequestration or administration,” says Potgieter.
- Each debt counselling firm is unique in the manner in which they handle their clients’ statutory and procedural requirements.
- Debt Counsellors provide various skills and services to make sure clients attain their Clearance Certificate (Form 19 in terms of the National Credit Act) at the end of the debt counselling process.
- The tasks involved, can include the following: consolidating debt into one affordable instalment, giving clients cash flow relief from their next paycheques, dealing with credit providers and potential harassment, implementing a reasonable payment plan and clearing clients debt history from credit bureaus.
- Regarding fees – debt counselling fees are regulated by the National Credit Regulator. Debt Counsellors cannot simply charge what they want.
- Debt counselling has a rehabilitative spirit. The whole aim is to get the client credit active again, but, in a responsible manner. Many clients who completed the debt counselling process applied for credit with great success.
- A former DebtSafe and now debt-free client admits: “In the beginning the process was hard but then it became easier.” Managing debt does not happen with the-snap-of-a-finger, but “through commitment and keeping up with the negotiated payments, consumers can become debt-free,” highlights Potgieter.
South Africans have the right to a debt-free future. If a consumer finds him/herself in an unavoidable over-indebted position, debt counsellors are here to assist in attaining a so-desperately-needed debt-free life.