With so many consumer credit counselling services offering debt help and advice, how do you know who to choose? We'll show you 6 great ways to cut through all the noise and figure out who is likely to be the most helpful and who, on the other hand, may actually be steering you towards help them achieve their own sales targets. With so many people needing help with their debt these days, credit counselling has unfortunately attracted a lot of people who view it as a business first, and their desire to do what is in their client's financial best interest comes after that. Fortunately, when debt relief agencies conduct their business in this fashion, it often reveals itself in a number of ways that savvy consumers can notice. Keep reading and we'll show you what to look for.
Here is what to look for to find the best consumer credit counselling services in Canada:
As a rule, none of the consumer credit counselling services with the highest standards of service in Canada ever have more than just 1 or 2 complaints filed on their record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) within a 3 year period of time. This measure of quality works really well across Canada with consumer debt counselling services of every size: both large and small. The reason why this works so well is simple: if you do good work, then people won't complain.
To see how many complaints an organization has against it, you can search the Better Business Bureau for both for-profit and non-profit agencies, or you can search for a company's name in Google with the letters "bbb" after the organization's name. So to find the BBB's review of say Awesome Credit Counselling Services, you would search for "awesome credit counselling services bbb".
In this snippet from the Better Business Bureau's website you can see that the company reviewed here has had 14 complaints filed against them over the past 3 years. The best consumer credit counselling services usually have only 1 or 2 complaints at the very most.
This point may seem kind of funny, but it's actually very revealing and shows what an organization is focused on doing. When a debt counseling service exists to make as much money as possible, they typically try to operate with as few locations as possible. Renting office space and hiring employees to staff offices is expensive. Most organizations that are pursuing a profit find it much more cost effective to work out of one office or call centre from which they attempt to serve the entire country. On the other hand, organizations that exist for the sole purpose of helping people often try to open as many offices as they can afford to operate in as many communities as they can. They then staff these offices with real people who are trained to help people one-on-one. Some companies claim to do this by opening "virtual offices" in various cities. Virtual offices are a collection of temporary offices, mail boxes, and meeting rooms for companies that need to have a physical office address but don't wish to actually maintain a real office. You can figure out if an address belongs to a real office or a virtual office by Googling it. A virtual office will be claimed by many different companies. A real office will only be claimed by one organization (or a few professionals if it's a professional office suite with a shared receptionist).
The bottom line here is very simple: the consumer credit counselling services that care about you the most will have real offices with real counsellors located near you. Those who are working the hardest to generate a profit won't.
What are the former employees saying about the agency on the internet? Were they proud of what they did and how the company operates, or do they wish the organization was less sales focused and the salaries weren't based on commission earned from convincing people to sign up for particular programs or services?
To see if any opinions or reviews have been posted by employees, do a Google search for the organization's name followed by the phrase "employee reviews".
Take a look and see what an organization's client reviews look like. To find these reviews it's often as simple as doing a search in a search engine for a service's name plus the word "reviews". However, they don't always show up with a simple search like this. Take a look and see what their reviews look like on Google Maps, Yelp, or Facebook. Don't just look in one place. Look in a few. Look for consistency in the reviews. Are the company ratings on one site similar to the ratings on another or has the company just sent all their best clients to one review site to make themselves look good? Also be very careful about reviews found on websites that you don't recognize. Some review sites claim to have unbiased reviews, yet they accept money from companies to promote the very companies who are being reviewed on the site.
5. Their Credit Counsellors, Advisors, Consultants, or Specialists are Qualified & Licensed to Help You
It may surprise you to learn that a lot of people presenting themselves out as Credit Counsellors, Debt Advisors, Debt Consultants, Restructuring Specialists, or any other similar sounding title, actually have no formal financial education, and many of them had little to no experience working in personal finance before starting their current job. While this is less than confidence inspiring. It's not illegal. In Canada anyone can offer debt advice and call themselves an expert. What is more concerning, however, is that most debt counselling services also provide their employees with very little financial training, and the training they do provide usually focuses on the one or two products that the company makes the most money from.
One of the services that is now promoted by a large number of Debt Consultants is a consumer proposal. However, it's actually against the law for anyone other than a licensed Bankruptcy Trustee to offer a consumer proposal. So many companies who claim to be able to help consumers consolidate and eliminate debt by offering them a consumer proposal are actually just channeling business to Bankruptcy Trustees (presumably for a fee which is also illegal because Trustees aren't allowed to pay referral fees). If someone wants to do a consumer proposal, they can actually save money by finding a reputable Bankruptcy Trustee themselves (by doing a Google search for "bankruptcy trustee" plus the name of your area or city), or they can get objective advice and look at all available options by finding a Credit Counsellor who doesn’t work on commission.
When it comes to trusting someone with your finances, it's important that they be accountable and regulated. In Canada, consumer credit counselling services aren’t as regulated as many people would think, and where they are regulated, rules put in place to protect consumers aren’t always enforced. So it’s important that any organization you choose to work with be accountable to a national association that can revoke their accreditation if they consistently fail to provide quality service.
To get the most objective help and guidance, look for an agency that is accredited by Credit Counselling Canada.
In Canada, Credit Counselling Canada has the highest standards. They require a lot from their members, but two accreditation requirements really set them apart:
- To be accredited, an agency must make sure that all of its Credit Counsellors are professionally accredited
- No Credit Counsellor is allowed to be paid commission
These standards help ensure that consumers who work with a member agency receive quality help and guidance and that this advice is as objective as possible and not tainted by motivations of personal gain.
Where to Find the Best Consumer Credit Counselling Services
To find the best consumer credit counselling services, have a look at our list of local not for profit agencies who are accredited by Credit Counselling Canada, or visit Credit Counselling Canada's website and find a local accredited organization near you.