Some surprising facts about debt

Using credit and being in debt is common for most South Africans (about 55m people). According to official statistics, about 23m of us are using or have used credit. Despite credit and debt being so widely used, there are facts about debt that many people don’t know.

. According to the National Credit Regulator, of the 23m credit-active consumers, almost 10m are in arrears with one or more of their accounts. If you’re struggling to keep up with your debt repayments, don’t feel alone.

. Consumers in South Africa have laws (such as the National Credit Act) that protect them from being exploited. Credit cannot be granted recklessly, for instance to people who cannot afford to pay it back, and interest rates are capped. Even first-world countries such as the United Kingdom don’t have this kind of legal protection.

. South Africa has more than one credit bureau. The major ones are ITC (also known as TransUnion), Experian and Compu-Scan. Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of them every year, so that you can check your blacklisting status.

. The Law of Prescription also protects consumers from being harassed to make payments for debts which have been dormant for more than three years, when the consumer hasn’t acknowledged the debt and the creditor hasn’t taken legal action. Consumers cannot be held responsible for payment of these debts - they must be written off.

. The National Credit Act protects consumers whose accounts are in arrears by limiting the amount of interest and fees that can be added by a creditor. This means that a creditor can’t claim that the R5000 you owed them three years ago has now grown to more than R10 000 because of interest and penalty fees.

. The National Credit Act also protects consumers who are over-indebted (meaning those who cannot afford their monthly debt repayments), by allowing them to see a debt counsellor and apply for debt review.

. When over-indebted consumers apply for debt review, it doesn’t matter how much they owe - the creditor has to negotiate with the debt counsellor to reduce repayment instalments.

. Although our credit protection is among the best in the world, be warned: Over-indebted consumers can’t hide from creditors by ignoring them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t open your statements or collect your registered mail. The law says that creditors only have to be able to show that they’ve sent you correspondence, not that you’ve fetched or read it.

. Consumers are protected from legal action as soon as they apply for debt review. It doesn’t matter if a debt collector has already threatened to collect your car or furniture or auction your house - as long as the creditor hasn’t actually already gone to court in a legal action against you, you can still apply for debt review and receive this legal protection.

. Once a consumer is under debt review, most creditors will also accept a proposal for lower interest rates from the debt counsellor. This is just one of the advantages of debt review over administration.

. Consumers who use debt review are not blacklisted forever. Once their debts have been settled, the debt counsellor sends a certificate to the credit bureaus so that their credit record is cleared.

South Africa’s credit protection legislation is a benchmark internationally, which means that we as consumers are among the best-protected in the world. We will always encounter hurdles in life, but the good news is that there are qualified experts to help you overcome them.

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