Debt management firms 'can leave people in a worse financial situation'

Debt management firms 'can leave people in a worse financial situation'

Australia’s financial services regulator has warned consumers to be wary of companies that claim they can fix poor credit ratings.

ASIC is running a campaign to help Australians understand that credit repair and debt management firms can charge high fees – and sometimes give nothing in return.

These companies “often fail to fix credit and debt issues, which can leave people in a worse financial situation”, according to ASIC.

ASIC deputy chair Peter Kell said there are free services, such as the National Debt Helpline, which can help Australians fix credit reports or resolve their debt problems.

“Consumers experiencing money or debt problems don’t need to put themselves under further financial stress by paying high fees to firms providing credit repair and debt solution services,” he said.

“If people are having difficulty obtaining loans because of an incorrect default listing on their credit report, there are actions they can take that are free of charge to have it corrected.

“If you think you have had a credit default wrongly listed against you, contact the creditor and ask for it to be removed. If you aren’t satisfied with the response, you receive you can contact the relevant dispute resolution service for help.”

Mr Kell said consumers should consider alternative services, like financial counselling, before engaging a debt solutions firm.

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Learn more about personal loans

How can I improve my credit rating/score?

Your credit score will improve if you demonstrate that you’ve become more credit-worthy. You can do that by minimising loan applications, clearing up defaults and paying bills on time.

Another tip is to get the one free credit report you’re entitled to each year – that way, you’ll be able to identify and fix any errors.

If you want to fix an error, the first thing you should do is speak with the credit reporting body, which may take care of the problem or contact credit providers on your behalf.

The next step would be to contact your credit provider. If that doesn’t work, you can refer the matter to the credit provider’s independent dispute resolution scheme, which would be the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).

AFCA provides consumers and small businesses with fair, free and independent dispute resolution for financial complaints.

If that doesn’t work, your final options are to contact the Privacy Commissioner and then the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Will comprehensive credit reporting change my credit score?

Comprehensive credit reporting may change your credit score, either positively or negatively, depending on an individual's situation.

Under comprehensive credit reporting, credit providers will share more information, both positive and negative, about how you and other Australians manage credit products. That means credit reporting bureaus will be able to make a more thorough assessment of everyone’s credit behaviour. That will lead to higher scores for some consumers and lower scores for others.

How do I consolidate my debt if I have bad credit?

The worse your credit history, the harder you will find it to consolidate your debts, because lenders will be less willing to lend you money and will charge you higher interest rates.

However, people with bad credit histories can make debt consolidation work by following this three-step process:

  1. First, find a lender willing to give you a bad credit personal loan. This process will be simplified if you go through a finance broker or use a comparison website like RateCity.
  2. Second, make sure the interest repayments on your new loan are less than the repayments on the loans being replaced.
  3. Third, instead of spending those savings, use them to pay off the new loan.

How do I know if I've got a bad credit history?

You can find out what your credit history looks like by accessing what's known as your credit rating or credit score. You're also able to check your credit report for free once per year.

How long will I have bad credit?

Most negative events that appear on a person’s credit file will stay in their credit history for up to seven years.

You may be able to improve your credit score by correcting errors in your credit report, clearing outstanding debts, and maintaining good financial habits over time.

What causes bad credit ratings/scores?

Failing to repay loans and bills will damage your credit score. So will falling behind on your repayments. Your credit score will also suffer if you apply for credit too often or have credit applications rejected.

Who calculates your credit rating/score?

Credit ratings or credit scores are calculated by credit reporting bodies. The main bodies are Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and the Tasmanian Collection Service.

What are the pros and cons of debt consolidation?

In some instances, debt consolidation can help borrowers reduce their repayments or simplify them. For example, someone might take out a $7,000 personal loan at an interest rate of 8 per cent so they can repay an existing $4,000 personal loan at 10 per cent and a $3,000 credit card loan at 20 per cent.

However, debt consolidation can backfire if the borrower spends the extra money instead of using it to repay the new loan.

Can I get a personal loan if I receive Centrelink payments?

It is hard, but not impossible, to qualify for a personal loan if you receive Centrelink payments.

Some lenders won’t lend money to people who are on welfare. However, other lenders will simply consider Centrelink payments as another factor to weigh up when they assess a person’s capacity to repay a loan. You should check with any prospective lender about their criteria before making a personal loan application.

What interest rates are charged for personal loans?

Lenders aren’t allowed to charge interest on loans of $2,000 and under. Instead, they make their money by charging a one-off establishment fee of up to 20 per cent and a monthly account-keeping fee of up to four per cent. Lenders might also ask you to pay a government fee.

For loans between $2,001 and $5,000, lenders can make their money in only two ways: a one-off fee of $400 and annual interest rates of up to 48 per cent.

For loans of $5,001 and above, or for loans that have terms longer than two years, lenders can charge annual interest rates of up to 48 per cent.

Those fee caps don’t apply to loans offered by authorised deposit-taking institutions such as banks, building societies or credit unions, although such institutions are highly unlikely to charge interest rates of anywhere near 48 per cent.

Can I get an easy/instant personal loan?

Some lenders are able to approve applications with little documentation and within minutes. However, there is a catch. People who take out easy/instant loans generally pay higher interest rates and are restricted to lower amounts than people who follow a traditional borrowing process.

How do I find out my credit rating/score?

You're entitled to one free credit report per year from credit reporting bodies like Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and the Tasmanian Collection Service. You can also get a free report if you’ve been refused credit in the past 90 days.

Credit reporting bodies have up to 10 days to provide reports. If you want to access your report sooner, you’ll probably have to pay.

What is bad credit?

A person is deemed to have ‘bad credit’ when they have a poor history of managing credit and repaying debts.

What are the pros and cons of personal loans?

The advantages of personal loans are that they’re easier to obtain than mortgages and usually have lower interest rates than credit cards.

One disadvantage with personal loans is that you have to go through a formal application process, unlike when you borrow money on your credit card. Another disadvantage is that you’ll be charged a higher interest rate than if you borrowed the money as part of a mortgage.