Who is the Credit Counselling Society?
by Tim St Vincent
I have been writing these articles for two years now. In fact, this February article is my two-year anniversary! So, I thought that perhaps it was time to give some details on who exactly the Credit Counselling Society is; who we are and what we do.
The Credit Counselling Society is a non-profit registered charity. We focus on helping people understand how money works. In particular, we focus on how credit and debt work. We do this in two ways: one way is through education; the other is through one-on-one free credit counselling and budget preparation.
On the education side, we work with groups that will range from employers and professional associations to the food banks. This is because that is the range of people who come to us for assistance: from those who are struggling to put food on the table to professionals; from those who have no income to modest income; to those who make in excess of $300,000 a year. There is no real difference between the two; they both make the same mistakes. Debt does not care who you are, what gender you are, what ethnic background you have. It does not care about your education level, your income or where you live. Anyone and everyone can have problems.
It is also important to know that about 50 per cent of Canadians are struggling financially. It is important for people to know that anyone and everyone can have financial challenges. If they are aware of this they are much more likely to ask for help when they need it. On the education side we try to provide people with the tools and knowledge required to understand how credit and debt work. We do this by running a series of over 20 workshops and webinars. We provide our educational resources with the hope that if we can provide this understanding, then people are less likely to have challenges with their debt. Last year we had approximately 70,000 people come to us for help.
At the same time there are people who need help beyond education and are looking for immediate assistance. To help those people we provide free one-on-one credit counselling. It is important to note that as credit counsellors we do not lend money. For me that is like saying, “Help, my boat is sinking!” and the person you are seeking help from says, “No problem, here, have an anchor!” The answer to debt troubles is not more credit. All that will do is slightly delay the problem. Then all of a sudden, your boat isn’t sinking; it is sunk!
The credit counsellor will provide a free financial review geared towards creating a budget. Once the budget is complete, they will point out what is working, what isn’t, and any potential danger signs. Many people at this stage will say that they are all good! That they don’t need any more help as they now have a budget and lots of people and resources that they can use if they have any more challenges. That is perfect! Just what we like to hear! Even with that, there are still about 10 per cent of the people who come to us in need of a little more assistance. They go into what we call a debt management program. Here we take the budgets we just prepared and talk to all of your lenders. We work with all of the lenders, banks, credit unions, credit card companies and payday loan companies, and we negotiate with them on your behalf towards the goal of reducing interest to 0 per cent. We then put you into the program and, with the increased savings, direct funds to pay off your debt.
This isn’t a quick journey. Anyone who says they can fix your credit in six months is trying to sell you something. It takes time to get into trouble, so it will take time to get out of trouble. The average duration of our program is about three years and the maximum is five. At the end of the program you are consumer debt free! Approximately 90 per cent of those who go into the program complete it successfully, and of those, 98 per cent say they would recommend it to others. We have less than a one per cent repeat rate, and with a 98 per cent recommendation rate, they don’t repeat because they don’t like us, they don’t repeat because they have learned how to manage credit and debt successfully. That is who we are and what we do.
If you need assistance, or would like a workshop for your workplace, church or association, feel free to contact me at the information below.
Tim St Vincent is a retired CFP and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. If you wish to contact the society for further information, to request a workshop or to attend a webinar, please call 1-888-527-8999 or visit www.nomoredebts.org or www.mymoneycoach.ca