Due to a high unemployment rate, economic uncertainty and various unforeseen circumstances, South Africans are experiencing financial strain. Sounds familiar? If you had to rank your debt situation, in which of the four stages would you fall?
The urgency of South Africans’ debt situation is further emphasized by the latest (March 2019) figures received from the National Credit Regulator (NCR); stating that of the 25.7 million credit-active South Africans, an alarming 10.15 million of them had impaired credit records.
Taking the above into account, it is clear that South Africans struggling with their debt need access to debt-relief programs that are regulated and that have been proven as workable, practical solutions to over-indebtedness. Debt Review/Debt Counselling is such a program – governed under the National Credit Act (NCA), regulated by the NCR and managed by a registered Debt Counsellor.
The main goal of a Debt Counsellor is to help fix the excessive debt and restore your – and other South Africans’ – financial positions. But when should you consider contacting a Debt Counsellor?
Debt Counselling is ideal to consider when you find yourself over-indebted. Or, when you are unable to take care of all your financial obligations on time – running the risk of legal action against you by creditors, or even repossession.
What Does DebtSafe’s Registered Debt Counsellors Do?
DebtSafe’s Debt Counselling program has been thoughtfully constructed through a decade of experience. The program consists of three practical processes:
which the DebtSafe Debt Counsellors follow to effectively fix your debt. Therefore, what DebtSafe’s Debt Counsellors do, comes down to the three processes (Apply, Restructure, Restore), which will be unpacked in the next section.
When applying for the DebtSafe Debt Counselling program, your Debt Counsellors must first determine whether you are over-indebted and if the program will benefit you.
Since Debt Counselling is a legal process there are specific requirements set out by the NCR to qualify for the program. These requirements are determined by:
- Over-indebtedness. You will have to be seen as over-indebted according to the NCA.
- Income. We will not be able to assist if you are unemployed.
- Debt type (unsecured/secured debt).
- How much debt you have.
- Living costs.
- Marriage contract. Your Debt Counselling program will be structured according to your marriage contract.
To determine whether you will qualify for our program, a professional DebtSafe consultant will complete a Debt Assessment (it is free, without obligation). When it is established that you could qualify for the program the consultant will send you an official Application Form (Form 16).
Once your Debt Counsellor receives your signed Application Form and required supporting documents from the DebtSafe consultant you will be under the legal protection of the NCA.
Once your Application for the program has been finalised your DebtSafe Debt Counsellor will start with the restructuring process. In the most basic sense, this process is to restructure your finances in such a way that you can repay your creditors AND cover your family’s essential living costs – making it a practical, workable, solution to your over-indebtedness.
To do this, the Debt Counsellor combines the information from your
- Debt Assessment,
- your credit profile and
- your C.O.Bs (Certificate of Balance that your Debt Counsellor requests from your creditors).
The Debt Counsellor then restructures your finances and formulates your action plan to fix your debt. This action plan is then presented to you in the form of a Payment Plan and personal budget.
With your restructured plan ready, your Debt Counsellor will be in regular contact, discussing your monthly budget and your Payment Plan – which is the monthly, reduced, instalment you will be paying towards your Debt Review program.
Your Payment Plan
From the start, your Debt Counsellor will try their best to structure your Payment Plan accurately, but a large part of this process is the negotiations your Debt Counsellor will enter into with your creditors to get you your much-needed debt relief. These negotiations will be ongoing between your Debt Counsellor and creditors until your Court Order is granted.
If your Debt Counsellor contacts you to discuss changes in your Payment Plan it usually is because:
- C.O.Bs received from the client’s creditors differs from the information received from you or differs from the information on your credit report.
- Creditor counter offers.
- You might not have been aware of all of your debt accounts, which the Debt Counsellor then have to add to the Payment Plan.
How Your Payment Plan Pays Your Creditors
The NCA requires that a Debt Counsellor use an accredited Payment Distribution Agency (PDA) to manage your money. This is to safeguard your money and to make sure that your money is timely and accurately distributed to your creditors according to your Payment Plan.
Each month you will receive a statement from your Debt Counsellors’ PDA, outlining how your money was distributed to each creditor.
It is of utmost importance that you stick to your Payment Plan amount each month. Remember: if you do not pay the advised repayment amount, your various creditors will not be able to receive money from the PDA and your creditors’ will be within their rights to terminate your Debt Counselling program and take legal action against you.
After concluding negotiations with your creditors, your Debt Counsellor will prepare your Court Order application and send it to a Magistrate’s Court to obtain a court date.
Once the court approves the Repayment Plan, in other words, your Court Order gets granted, there will be no further negotiations with your creditors and all you have to do is stick to the Payment Plan each month.
The final part of your Debt Review journey is to restore your finances, one month at a time. Each month that you stick to your Payment Plan will mean a month closer to restoring your finances.
During the restore process, your Debt Counsellor will continue to make sure that your assets stay protected and will continue to offer an after-care service.
After-Care Services Provided by Your Debt Counsellor
Important and distinctive after-care tasks include (but are not limited to) some of the following:
- The PDA will be updated with your Payment Plan that has been approved by the court.
- Queries from you or your credit provider(s) will be resolved.
- Updating balances to avoid/address balances that do not match between credit providers and the PDA system.
- Handling changes in your financial circumstances.
- Settlement figures can be obtained when you can settle your debt, for example.
- Credit bureau updates.
- An annual review will be sent to / discussed with you to determine whether an increase in repayments is possible to speed up the process, for example.
Apart from additional services provided by your Debt Counsellor – you, the client, also have an important role to play during this time.
What a Debt Counsellor Wants You to Know About Personal Finance
The Debt Counselling program is here to help you and has a ‘rehabilitative spirit’ to get you out of debt and credit active again (but this time in a responsible manner). Here are things that you have to keep in mind about the process and also consider throughout:
- Be sure to inform your Debt Counsellor about a change of address, banking details, debit order changes and contact details.
- You are more than welcome to pay extra towards your repayment plan since this can fast track your Debt Counselling program. But, please inform a DebtSafe Debt Counsellor about this.
- It might also happen that your spare cash will be able to settle one or more of your accounts. In this case, you are advised to pay your creditor directly and to send the paid-up letter and proof of payment to a DebtSafe Debt Counsellor so that they can remove the account from your repayment plan.
- REMEMBER: Always try your best NOT to miss or skip any Payment Plan installment. If you miss a payment it will give your creditors enough legal reason to terminate your Debt Counselling program and begin legal action against you.
Sticking to your Payment Plan will help you to receive your Clearance Certificate (also known as your Form 19) and get debt out of the way as soon as possible.
Attaining Your Clearance Certificate
Your Clearance Certificate signals that you have succesfuly completed our program, and your finances are completely restored.
As soon as a Debt Counsellor receives paid-up letters from all of your creditors, a Clearance Certificate can be issued. The Debt Counsellor confirms that you have satisfied the obligations under your Court Order and that all short-term credit agreements (including your vehicle finance) have been paid up in full. Your home loan (which is not in arrears), however, does not have to be paid up to get your Clearance Certificate but you should be able to service your original installment.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSIDER DEBT COUNSELLING?
Debt Counselling is a good idea to consider if and when you:
- Have a disastrous looking credit profile or score.
- Currently receive a consistent form of income.
- Have already been refused new credit by a credit provider.
- Are currently in arrears with certain credit payments like your vehicle finance or home loan instalment amounts.
- Have received threats from your creditors to repossess your assets (but no legal action has been taken yet).
- Are experiencing severe anxiety and other physical, psychological and emotional symptoms relating to debt stress.
- Are unable to function normaly because of your personal financial situation’s consequences disrupting and limiting your life.
As a debt-relief program available to South Africans, Debt Counselling has been proven as a powerful tool to overcome over-indebtedness. But, it is still important to make absolutely sure that you choose the right Debt Counsellor – one you can trust – and to play your part and fully commit to the success of the program and ultimately the success of your financial wellbeing.