What is debt counselling?
Debt counselling is a process that was introduced by the National Credit Act to assist consumers who have high debt levels and are in trouble. The aim of debt counselling is to restructure debt and establish a repayment plan that is supported by creditors or that is found by the court to be fair in the circumstances.
In other words, it is a form of rehabilitation that carries on in a structured manner until a consumer’s debt levels return to “normal” and he/she can function normally like any other consumer who controls his/her debt levels.
The process is of such a nature that debt counsellors follow set guidelines in a structured and ethical way to assist consumers in gain financial well-being.
The process of examining a consumer’s outstanding debt takes place according to set guidelines, and should a consumer be over-indebted at such a level that such person is indeed amenable to debt counselling, a new monthly budget and repayment plan are established while making adequate provision for the consumer to carry on living.
Consumers are still protected by the National Credit Act, and by paying one monthly instalment to a payment distribution agent, who is registered and accredited, all creditors are repaid in an amount agreed upon with such creditors.
In this way the consumer reaches a position where he/she can still survive on a monthly basis without having a sword over his/her head of creditors who simply try to collect as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
The horizon of debt counselling is a maximum of five years. The aim is to enable a person to be debt-free after this period or to have such debt levels that he/she can function normally in the consumer world.
Why debt counselling?
Household debt levels in South Africa are extremely high. The economic crisis of a few years ago, together with reckless granting of credit, often put consumers in a position where they incurred much more debt than they could repay monthly. High proportions of people’s monthly income are used to settle debt before there being any funds left to live on. The problem is that people then often incur more debt to repay other debt and to live, or decide which creditors will be paid this month while others are simply skipped.
The National Credit Act was enacted to protect consumers by introducing several measures, including debt counselling. Debt counselling is a process aimed at putting consumers in a position where they need not lose everything or be sequestrated but will be able to settle their debt in a legal and structured manner. At this stage it is the best process to follow in South Africa when it becomes clear that a person’s debt simply has become unmanageable.
During debt counselling a person is assisted by a dedicated debt counsellor who continuously gives aftercare to a person and is an important link with all interested parties.
Are my debt levels such that I may go for debt counselling?
If a person is over-indebted, he/she is amenable to debt counselling. Being over-indebted simply means that at the time of assessment of debt levels such a person is not capable of meeting his or her financial obligations in terms of credit agreements in good time, bearing in mind such person’s financial ability or future financial ability. This simply means that at any given time it is not possible for such a person to meet his or her obligations in terms of a credit agreement in good time because income levels or what may potentially be regarded as income is insufficient to meet these obligations. Put even more simply: the money I receive is not enough to cover the monthly amounts I have to repay to creditors.
If you struggle every month to repay debt or if you are in arrears with debt repayments, it is a good indication that you are over-indebted. Unless something drastic happens to improve your financial position, you are simply going to fall in arrears to an ever increasing extent while you take on the one side to plug a hole on the other side without there really being a positive prospect for financial improvement.
May I go for debt counselling?
Free debt calculator
How does it work?
If you have used the debt calculator and have been advised by a debt counsellor of DebtGrip that you are amenable to debt counselling, a couple of simple steps may bring you financial peace of mind and financial improvement while still being able to live from month to month and to look after your yourself and your family without struggling too much. Steps 1 to 5 will take approximately 60 days. The steps below are what a typical debt counselling process will entail.
Complete a debt counselling application form (Form 16). You will need the following:
- A list of all your creditors
- A copy of your identity document
- A recent payslip
- Recent creditor statements
- Bank statements for the last three months
- Proof of residence
- Any legal documentation from creditors
DebtGrip will inform all your creditors that you are over-indebted and are going for debt counselling. You are now indemnified against any legal action.
Your debt counsellor will now look at your budget and calculate a reduced preliminary monthly instalment while ensuring that you will have enough cash to live on. Your debt counsellor will also request all your creditors’ outstanding balances during this step.
A preliminary debt repayment plan is drawn up. It is important to know that this is a temporary plan that is submitted to all your creditors. What is extremely important is that the preliminary amount agreed upon will have to continue to be paid monthly in terms of this plan. This will prevent unnecessary problems and will show that you are dedicated and motivated to repay your debt and get rid of your debt.
The debt repayment plan is negotiated with creditors. Your debt counsellor negotiates with all creditors on your behalf to establish and agree upon a reasonable and affordable repayment plan. Depending on negotiations with creditors, your debt counsellor may possibly have to adjust or restructure the plan.
If a repayment plan is agreed upon with all your creditors, an application is submitted to the Magistrate’s Court or the National Credit Tribunal to have your repayment plan declared an order of the court or to have it certified. During this process you will be assisted by DebtGrip’s team of dedicated attorneys. Once the court order has been given or the repayment plan has been approved by the Tribunal, you have to continue paying the monthly amount agreed upon to the appointed payment distribution agency. This agency will then pay all your creditors on your behalf every month. It is extremely important not to miss any monthly payments or to pay an incorrect amount, because this will then enable credit grantors or creditors to take legal action against you. It will remove you from the protection of the debt counselling process and will expose you.
Example of restructuring of debt
Solidarity has negotiated the following for its members as a member benefit for paid-up members:
- No initial fee for successful placement under debt counselling – you save more than R6 000.
- Creditors are paid with effect from the first month – your debt is settled quicker.
- Following our restructuring of your debt you have more cash available to cover day-to-day expenses.
- Our competent team of debt counsellors deal with any communication and negotiations with your creditors on your behalf.
- We ensure that you repay all your debt through one lowered and affordable monthly instalment.
- We help you to regain financial control and to get financial peace of mind. We help you to protect your home and vehicle.
- You have access to financial experts of Solidarity Financial Services.
- We help you to achieve financial freedom and well-being without affecting your credit record.
- What is a debt counsellor?
A debt counsellor is an individual who is qualified and registered with the National Credit Regulator. The National Credit Act provides for the registration of debt counsellors and these debt counsellors have to function within the framework of the Act and within the ambit of the applicable rules and regulations.
A debt counsellor has to assist a client in restructuring his/her debt in order to establish a repayment plan and negotiate with creditors; to cause such a repayment plan, once agreed with creditors, to be made a court order; and to perform monthly aftercare to ensure the client is always happy and enjoying financial well-being in the circumstances.
- Do I have to pay interest on my outstanding debt while I am under debt counselling?
Debt counsellors try to negotiate with banks and other creditors to lower interest rates on outstanding debt as far as possible, using a repayment plan. This often includes a zero per cent rate on unsecured debt and a very low interest rate on secured debt. Interest rates are definitely lowered when a repayment plan is agreed upon. This makes a huge contribution to settling/downmanaging debt within the period of debt counselling. It is important to know that creditors may again increase interest rates in the event of payment of monthly instalments in terms of the repayment plan being missed.
- Consolidation of debt versus debt counselling
Consumers are often advised to consolidate their debt. It is important to know that a person who is over-indebted will not qualify for a consolidation loan. Therefore, this option is not available to many consumers who find themselves in an over-indebted situation. For such consumers, debt counselling often is the only way to handle and manage outstanding debt in a meaningful way. The debt counselling process is designed to give over-indebted consumers an opportunity to manage their debt in a structured and responsible way without losing assets and going without adequate means of sustenance for still living a dignified life.
- Do I have to appear in court?
No, when a repayment plan is negotiated with creditors, one of our dedicated attorneys will take your case through court on your behalf and ensure that the repayment plan is made an order of court.
- I am unemployed, may I apply for debt counselling?
The process of debt counselling presupposes a monthly income. This income is of course important with a view to submitting a repayment plan to creditors. Without an income, in other words if a person is unemployed, such person will not qualify for debt counselling, unless he/she is married in community of property and has another source of income from a spouse on a fixed monthly basis.
- Dealing with and contacting creditors
Persons under debt counselling enjoy the protection of the National Credit Act. If you are constantly being contacted by creditors and are in fact being harassed for repayment, you may simply refer the creditors to your debt counsellor. We will handle all contact with your creditors while you are under debt counselling.
- May I go under debt counselling if I am married in community of property?
Yes, such an application is a joint application together with your spouse. A single application cannot be submitted when a person is married in community of property since there is only one estate in terms of the law.
- How soon will I experience relief?
If you go under debt counselling you will immediately experience relief of your debt repayment burden. Formal communication in terms of the National Credit Act is sent to all creditors when you decide to undergo debt counselling. Within the first 60 days of debt counselling no creditor is entitled to institute legal action against you. The final repayment plan is negotiated during this period, so you will still experience relief once the final repayment plan is accepted and a court order is given.
- Is the process confidential?
Yes, the process is absolutely confidential. No person, including your employer, is informed that you are under debt counselling. The entire process is dealt with confidentially in terms of applicable legislation.
- What about my debit orders?
When a person applies for debt counselling, all creditors are contacted to ensure that existing debit orders are cancelled. It is often advisable to open a new bank account and even to move to another bank so as to ensure that funds are not withdrawn outside the debt counselling process because of debit orders not being cancelled in time.
- Will I still be able to rent a property when I am under debt counselling?
Yes, it is perfectly possible to rent a property while a person is under debt counselling. The rental amount often is made part of the restructuring of debt and the new budget of the person under debt counselling. The landlord may be informed by way of a letter that a person is under debt counselling and will not be able to pay the monthly rent in terms of the restructured budget, as agreed.
- What are the costs involved in applying for debt counselling?
There are fixed debt counselling fees and legal fees that all debt counsellors have to comply with. The National Credit Regulator established this framework, and it applies to all debt counsellors. DebtGrip’s advantage is that Solidarity has negotiated a No Initiation Fee benefit for Solidarity members, which means that you are in a much more advantageous position when you use DebtGrip as a member of Solidarity.
Your fees for debt counselling as well as legal fees are included in your restructuring plan, meaning that no extra fees are payable to ensure that your application is dealt with.
Click here for a breakdown of fees in terms of the framework of the National Credit Regulator.
- Are there any amounts that cannot be included in a debt restructuring plan?
Only credit agreements, as referred to in the National Credit Act, may be included in the debt counselling process. Accounts from other persons or companies are excluded. Accounts for legal action that has already been instituted, in other words before you applied for debt counselling, or amounts where a court order has already been obtained or a garnishee order is in force, are also excluded.
- Is there a difference between debt counselling and administration?
Yes, administration is regulated in terms of the Magistrate’s Court Act and applies only to debt not exceeding R50 000. The process often is longer than that of debt counselling.
- Will I be put on the black list or another list if I am under debt counselling?
A person under debt counselling cannot be blacklisted with ITC. A person will, however, be listed with credit bureaux as “under debt counselling” so as to inform creditors that the person is under debt counselling.
- A creditor has obtained a garnishee order against me. Can this order be included in my application for debt counselling?
No, the debt counselling process does not provide for the inclusion of debt where legal action has already started. For this reason it is important to apply for debt counselling as soon as possible when it looks like you are not going to be able to meet your monthly obligations for repaying debt. What is important is that the amount to be paid for a garnishee order may be made part of a monthly structured repayment plan.
- What is unsecured debt?
Unsecured debt is any debt that is not secured or where no security is provided against a property. This includes credit cards, personal loans and shop cards, etc.
- May I incur more debt while I am under debt counselling?
No. The purpose of debt counselling is to protect an over-indebted consumer within the framework of the Act so that he/she will not lose everything. The person is to be rehabilitated financially within the period of debt counselling, and consequently a person is prohibited by law to incur further debt while under debt counselling.
However, when a person has been rehabilitated following a debt counselling process, a certificate is issued stating that the person has been rehabilitated and is no longer under debt counselling. Such a consumer may of course then again function normally and incur normal debt. This is one of the reasons why “under debt counselling” is indicated, so credit grantors may know that a person is under debt counselling or is no longer under debt counselling when an application for credit is received.
- Will debt counselling limit my job opportunities?
A person should not be prejudiced while he/she is under debt counselling. Potential employers often perform a credit search to see if prospective employees are financially sound and if they can manage their own finances. People often are required to prove that they can manage their finances when applying for a position involving financial management. The fact that a person is under debt counselling normally should not prejudice job opportunities. On the contrary, it is an indication that the person is responsible and is taking ownership of his/her financial position and wants to ensure that debt obligations will not be ignored again.
- Will credit grantors continue charging fees while I am under debt counselling?
Banks’ monthly fees and interest rates are lowered when a person’s repayment plan is accepted by creditors.
- May a credit grantor unilaterally decide to change anything once the debt counselling proposal has been accepted?
No, a credit grantor may not unilaterally decide to change his mind once a debt counselling proposal has been accepted and agreed to. At the time of your debt counselling process, and while you are meeting your monthly obligations and payments, the debt counselling agreement will remain unchanged.
- How much will I have to repay when I am under debt counselling?
Our debt counsellors will consult with you thoroughly concerning a budget so as to ensure that your debt is restructured in terms of a repayment plan while there are still adequate funds available to live on.
- What happens if all or some of my creditors do not accept the debt repayment plan?
We will try our utmost to ensure that the proposed repayment plan is accepted by the creditors. We constantly negotiate in circumstances where some or all creditors do not accept the proposed repayment plan.
If it appears that there is no settlement or acceptance of repayment in terms of a proposed plan, the magistrate’s court has to be approached with the facts in question and the magistrate has to be convinced in a court application that the proposed repayment plan is the best in the circumstances and requires a court order. In such circumstances a different fees structure for all Solidarity members will kick in.
- May a credit grantor or creditor contact me directly to try making a new arrangement while I am under debt counselling?
No, a creditor may not contact you directly while you are under debt counselling. This would undermine the process and would unnecessarily expose you. The only point of communication is DebtGrip’s staff and your debt counsellor.
- Will I be able to keep my home or vehicle when I am under debt counselling?
Debt counselling is a process that is designed precisely to help over-indebted consumers as far as possible. It can contribute to or help a person to keep a home or a vehicle, but it should be kept in mind that every person’s circumstances are unique. It is important to ask the following:
- Did you receive a section 129 letter? If so, how long ago? A person has 10 days from receiving a section 129 letter to try to go under debt counselling.
- Have you been summonsed with regard to your home loan or vehicle financing? What vehicle is this? Is it a luxury or an essential vehicle? It is important to know that debt counselling can only be to your advantage, and a dedicated debt counsellor of DebtGrip can assist you in dealing with banks or financiers on your behalf.
- How long will I have to remain under debt counselling?
The horizon of debt counselling is 5 years. However, we try to settle or downmanage your debt as soon as possible. This requires dealing with creditors to increase repayment periods and negotiate lower interest rates where possible. But there are always unique circumstances for every person.
- Will I be put on the black list if I am under debt counselling?
No, a person cannot be blacklisted when under debt counselling. However, when a person was blacklisted before (prior to the debt counselling process), this will remain against that person’s name until the debt counselling process has been completed and the person may be removed from the blacklist.
- What happens if I am retrenched while under debt counselling?
It remains a huge challenge for persons who are retrenched to get a job again and to retain financial independence. It is important that a person has to have an income while he/she is under debt counselling, in order to meet the structured monthly repayment instalments. Such a person should try to get a job again as soon as possible in order to get an income and to remain under debt counselling.
- Do I have to attend a physical consultation prior to debt counselling?
No, the process can be dealt with electronically and telephonically and the person will not be requested to attend a physical consultation.
- Will my insurance policies be affected by debt counselling?
No, we make provision for paying insurance policies in the debt repayment plan. In the case of vehicle insurance, consumers often are obliged to have insurance on the vehicle.