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Debt Review – Expectations vs Reality


In business they say it is important to “under promise/over deliver”. In other words, don’t promise too much and leave your clients disappointed, rather work hard and give the client more than they expected. This will pleasantly surprise them and make them happy with your service.

One of the common challenges facing consumers in debt review is that they do not fully understand what the process will involve. They are under-educated about the process, resulting in unrealistic expectations. Then when those expectations are not met, they become disappointed and disillusioned.

Has this happened to you?



Many debt counselling practices have a small team or even an outside company whose job it is to talk to people about debt review.

They will tell the consumer how wonderful debt review is, and how it can really help them. This is true but…there are concerns in the industry that some of these teams might be over promising. They may be painting an unrealistic picture of how debt review is easy, debt review is just a way to save money, debt review is not serious, and how people can enter and exit debt review at a moment’s notice.

The result is that some people who enter debt review have the wrong idea, that the process is a simple one, where credit providers always cooperate, where courts always side with the consumer, and where problems never come up.

Wouldn’t that be nice!


If you purchase a product that is advertised to work “first time, every time”, you will justly get upset if the product is actually complicated and doesn’t work in every situation.

Maybe you bought one of those exercise machines they advertise online or on TV. In only 2 weeks your winter fat will disappear. It should work in only 15 minutes a day, but as you look down at the remnants of cake on your plate, you are disappointed that it is much harder than promised.

You may soon find that exercise machine gathering dust in your garage, or that amazing vegetable cutting gadget at the bottom of your drawer. When consumers have unrealistic expectations of debt review, the same thing happens. They start the process with enthusiasm, but when they hit speed bumps along the way, they might foolishly think they can just walk away, like they do with some many other things in life. This can have disastrous consequences, and could even make things worse than they were before.


Some consumers seem to think that by entering debt review, it will change the behavior of credit providers and collections agents. While for the most part the banks and big credit providers try to make everyone in their business aware that consumers have entered debt review, they are often very big companies where one department doesn’t always know what another is doing.

Sadly, some credit providers will still take a chance and try to negotiate with the consumer without the help of their attorney or Debt Counsellor.

This bad behavior should be reported to your Debt Counsellor.


Some debt counselling practices use the average statistics of their clients in their advertising to try help consumers think about debt review. This can create an unrealistic expectation on the part of a brand new client, thinking that they too will only pay 40% of what they were paying before the debt review.

The reality is that each person’s case is unique. True industry averages help guess what might happen but each matter has to go before a Magistrate, who is the one who actually decides what will happen.

Also if consumers do not give the Debt Counsellor all the facts when enquiring about debt review, they should not be surprised if they end up paying something slightly different to what they were initially told, based on incorrect information.


Some consumers think that the debt review is only for their benefit. They think the Debt Counsellor is like their own knight in shining armour who will always be able to work things out to their benefit.

While it is true that Debt Counsellors get a fee for the work they do, these funds from the consumer would normally be going to the credit provider. So, in a way both parties are paying for the Debt Counsellors service. Debt Counsellors will use their knowledge of the law to protect consumers from abuse by credit providers, but they have a duty to find the best arrangement for all parties – a realistic and sustainable way for the consumer to pay, and the credit providers to get what is owed to them.

It is also important for consumers to realize that Debt Counsellors have more than one client. You may have to be patient, from time to time.


Some consumers think that because the Debt Counsellor has worked so hard to help restructure what they have to pay towards their debts each month, that if they run into a problem paying one month, the Debt Counsellor can just fix that situation with the credit providers.

Debt review is built around the principle of consumers repaying their debts. The best way to do that is in regular manageable amounts, month after month. This is the industry standard. If a consumer runs into trouble paying their debts, and if they get in touch with the Debt Counsellor well in advance, it is possible that the Debt Counsellor can talk to the credit providers or even take the matter to court but…if you do not pay, then the reality is, that some credit providers may walk away from the debt review.

This means they could legitimately start new legal action against the consumer to try to collect their debt outside of debt review.


Some consumers think that they can decide to leave the debt review at any time. They feel it is like many other services they use in life. If they get bad service or things are not working out like they thought they can just walk away from the process and go back to how things were.

The problem is that things were bad before your debt review, very bad. That’s why you needed debt review in the first place. More than that, debt review is done via the courts and is a legal process. Once it is begun, it is hard to just walk away from the process. Once the credit providers regularly started getting money each month again they were happy. If you try to mess with that arrangement, they will not react in a positive manner.

It is like divorcing your spouse. Once you have divorced them they will be rather surprised if one day they come home to suddenly find you sleeping in their bed again, as if nothing happened. They will probably not be happy to see you, even if you changed your mind after a few years. More than that you have used a legal process (divorce) to change your relationship.

The same is true with debt review. Once the legal process is begun the only way to finish the relationship is to finish the process. This has to be done with the help of a Debt Counsellor and all the debts need to be settled.


Some consumers are told that their debts will be settled quickly and the process is easy. After a year or two they grow confused about why it’s taking so long. They may not even know how long their plan to repay their debts will take, this can result in frustration.

While it is true that when consumers enter debt review, many credit providers will slash interest rates and will stop charging monthly fees, but this still leaves the thousands of rand in debt that is owed to the credit provider. Paying that off in small amounts takes time.

Many debt restructuring plans are made over many years to make the monthly repayments realistic and manageable for consumers. It is important for consumers to realize that they were going to take years to actually settle their debts before they entered debt review. Many would have received judgments against their names, and could have been repaying debts for as long as 30 years. If a consumer has a car then it is not unrealistic to expect to repay debt over 5, 6 or 7 years anyway.

These days, many debt review plans are scheduled over 60 months. You can get a copy of your plan from your Debt Counsellor so that you can check how far along you are in repaying your debts.


Debt Counsellors can help their clients have a realistic view of the process by spending enough time actually counselling their clients, spending time explaining the process and educating their clients about the process after the initial consultation.

More and more we are seeing Debt Counsellors who host weekly online workshops or podcasts for clients. Other Debt Counsellors have newsletters and emails they send to clients during the process. Others have catch-up sessions with clients and the best Debt Counsellors even organize for their clients to read that Debtfree Magazine each month (we recommend that)!

Debt Counsellors can make use of the complete guide to debt review booklet (also from the Debtfree Magazine team) to help their clients better understand the process and to track their own progress.

Debt Counsellors can also improve their contracts with consumers to state what they will, and won’t do for the client and what is and isn’t expected of the client. This is an area in the industry that still needs attention.


You may have entered debt review just looking to regain some control over your finances. You may have been drawn in by the promise of no harassment from credit providers, or the chance to save 60% on your repayments. Sure those promises sound great, but debt review can be so much more than all these things, it can be the hard reset your entire life was looking for.

If you work along with your Debt Counsellor to get the process in place, and keep up payments throughout then, yes, you will get rid of your debt. You may even save thousands of Rand on fees and interest through the kindness of your credit providers.

You may, however, perhaps go even further. You may really educate yourself about financial matters. You may learn to budget and manage your money each month – a skill that will benefit you throughout your life. You may learn to save, and plan for a secure financial future.

Your family might learn to work together towards a common goal and communicate better than ever… or maybe not.

We don’t want to make any unrealistic promises.