Across Canada there are hundreds of companies offering debt help advice to consumers for everything from debt management strategies to consolidation programs. While many of these agencies are doing their best to help consumers who are struggling with debt, it's disappointing that there are so many who only seem to care about steering their clients in one direction: towards the program or service that makes them the most money. So we'll share with you how to find the best debt advice and get the help that makes the most sense for your financial situation rather than the salesperson's. Below are 6 insightful ways you can look behind the scenes and get a good idea of whose working in their client's best interests and whose working for their own.
Here is what to look for when searching for the best debt advice and help:
We've observed an interesting trend over many years of watching companies that provide debt help and advice. The very best companies that consistently provide the best service never have more than one complaint filed against them over a 3 year period. Two complaints would be really pushing it. This measure of quality applies to both small companies that help hundreds of people each year and to large organizations that help tens of thousands of people every year. The reason you can judge a company based on complaints is simple: the best organizations always do good work and don't give people reason to complain.
To find out how many complaints a company has over the past 3 years, you can search the Better Business Bureau, or you can type the company's name into a search engine followed by the letters "bbb", and the search engine will find the right page for you. So if you wanted to check out Awesome Debt Advice Services, you would search for "awesome debt advice services bbb".
In this excerpt from the Better Business Bureau's website you'll notice that the company reviewed on this page has had 14 complaints filed against them over the last 3 years. The best debt help and advice services usually don't have any more than 1 or 2 complaints.
In our view, the best debt help and advice services put the financial interests of their clients before their own. Some services exist for the sole purpose of helping people and others exist to make money. The organizations that are working the hardest to help people usually demonstrate this by opening offices in as many of the communities they serve as they can, and they staff these offices with trained Credit Counsellors who are available to provide one-on-one help. For companies who are working hard to turn a profit, they usually try and serve the entire country from one office or call centre because maintaining additional offices and staff for those offices costs money that they would rather keep for themselves.
Some profit driven organizations who don't want to pay for local offices but realize that having them creates trust, play games by opening up "virtual offices". A virtual office is a collection of business mail boxes, meeting rooms, vacant offices, and a receptionist that businesses pay a monthly fee for when they need to have a local address and appear to be local without actually having an office. Normally there's nothing wrong with renting a mail box and an office to meet clients from time to time. However, when you lead people to believe that a virtual office is a real office where you have real employees when you actually don't most of the time, then we would argue that this is misleading. To find out if an office is real or virtual, just Google the address followed by the phrase "virtual office".
So the bottom line here is simple. The organizations that care about you the most will have a real office located near you. Those who are working the hardest to turn a profit usually won’t.
What do current and former employees of a debt assistance firm think of the company? Are they proud of the work they did there, or do they wish they didn't feel so pushed to sign up everyone who calls them for the service that makes the company the most money? Do they feel their organization is doing it's best to help people, or does it have other priorities? You be the judge.
To find out if any employees have reviewed their employer, do a Google search for the organization's name followed by the phrase "employee reviews".
Have a look and see what a company or agency’s customer reviews look like. You can simply Google a company’s name plus the word “reviews” to find them. Be sure to look for reviews in more than just one place. See what their reviews look like on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. See if there is consistency with the average rating on all these sites or if there's just a company sponsored love-in taking place on one of the review sites. Also be cautious with reviews found on websites you've never seen before. Some review sites accept money to promote the companies they claim to be offering unbiased reviews for. Some review / company rating companies also allow companies with reviews to filter their reviews.
We've also noticed some companies with a lot of bad reviews on Facebook deleting their Facebook reviews page to get rid of the unfavorable reviews. We've also seen some companies send huge numbers of their happiest clients to a certain review site to leave glowing reviews (this can be done to distract from unusually high numbers of complaints). However, if you check out any of the company's competitors, you'll notice that hardly any of their competitors have reviews on that site. So if a company has lots of great reviews on certain websites but no reviews on other sites where people naturally like to leave reviews - like Facebook - then take this into account and be cautious.
5. They are Licensed and Qualified to Help You with Professionally Certified Counsellors or Advisors
You might be surprised to discover that many people representing themselves as Debt Advisors, Debt Consultants, Credit Counsellors, Restructuring Specialists, or any other similar sounding title, actually have no formal financial education, and many of them have had little to no experience working with personal finances before starting their current job. While this is concerning. It's not illegal. In Canada, anyone can offer debt advice and call themselves an expert. What is more troubling, however, is that most debt advice services provide their employees with very little financial training and education. The training they do provide usually focuses on the one or two products that the company makes the most money on.
One service that is now heavily promoted by a large number of Debt Advisors and Consultants is a consumer proposal. However, most people don't know that it's actually against the law for anyone other than a licensed Bankruptcy Trustee (Licensed Insolvency Trustee) to offer a consumer proposal in Canada. So many companies who claim to be able to help consumers consolidate and eliminate debt by offering them a consumer proposal are actually just sending 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 file 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 their area or city). Another option would be to get objective advice and look at all available options by finding a good, local Credit Counsellor who doesn’t work on commission.
6. The Debt Help & Advice Service is Accredited by & Accountable to a National Association of Their Peers
When it comes down to trusting someone with your finances and your future, it's very important that they be accountable and regulated. Debt help and advice services in Canada aren’t as regulated as many people would think, and where they are regulated, laws put in place to protect the public aren’t always enforced. To make sure you're being protected, it’s a good idea to ensure that any organization you choose to work with is accountable to a national association that can revoke their accreditation if they fail to follow the rules or provide quality service.
To get the most objective help and guidance, look for an agency that is accredited by Credit Counselling Canada.
In Canada, we believe that Credit Counselling Canada has the highest standards. They require a lot from their members, but two accreditation requirements really set them apart in protecting consumers:
- To be accredited, an organization must make sure that all of its Credit Counsellors are professionally accredited
- No Credit Counsellor is allowed to be paid on commission
These measures help to ensure that consumers who work with an agency accredit by Credit Counselling Canada receive quality, objective help and guidance which is not tainted by motivations of personal gain.
Where to Find the Best Debt Help and Advice Services
To find the best debt help and advice, have a look at our list of local non-profits who are accredited by Credit Counselling Canada, or visit Credit Counselling Canada's website and find a local accredited organization that is close to you.