Got debt? Don’t pick a consolidator right away.

Some practical advice from MoneySense about how to pick a good credit and debt counsellor
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

This story, by Stefania Di Verdi, was first published at MoneySense in October of 2014. Maclean’s will be republishing a series of stories from MoneySense all week forMoneySense Week, a blitz of practical information about your bank account and bottom line during Financial Literacy Month in Canada.

If you’re struggling with bill payments, don’t just go with the first debt consolidator you hear advertised on the radio. A better choice is to seek out the increasingly available services of a government-sponsored, not-for-profit agency—such as Alberta’s Money Mentors, which recently began offering free assistance to those trying to get a better handle on their finances. Nationally, there’s also Credit Counselling Canada, which has member offices or toll-free assistance available to all regions of the country, where certified professionals are on hand for one-on-one assessments and budgeting help at rates of $0 to $20 (depending on your financial circumstances).

Both of these agencies can also negotiate debt repayment plans with creditors on your behalf for up to but no more than 10% of your monthly balance. But keep in mind you’ll still have to make monthly payments, including interest and fees, until your debt is fully paid off—typically, within 60 months. Be wary of anyone shilling a better deal.

Signs of a dodgy credit & debt counsellor:

  • Has no brick-and-mortar office to visit
  • Does not have an Accredited Financial Counsellor-Canada designation, or similar credentials
  • Promises to immediately change or erase accurate credit information
  • Requests payment in advance of services

Visit for more great money tips »