Credit card debt, unpaid court fines, and going guarantor for loans taken out by family and friends all attract spiralling interest costs. For those on reduced incomes struggling to cope with today’s living costs, such debt can lead to despair and desperation, and a good reason to seek help.
Brian Smith, a Budget Advisor with Supergrans Christchurch may see between 8-12 people in his two-hour shift at the ACTIS hub Hampshire Street each Friday.
‘It’s desperation that brings people here,’ he says. ‘People usually don’t seek help until Baycorp or other collection agencies are knocking on their door.’
‘When the earthquakes first occurred, agencies such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army kicked in with emergency grants and essential supplies, which buffered a lot of immediate problems and collection agencies didn’t hassle them for a while. This year I think the storm has hit and it isn’t going anywhere for a while.’
‘My role is to meet with them and assess where they are, and identify ways to work within a budget and get rid of debts. Essentially, it is about what is the best method for them to achieve a better life.’
‘Depending on their circumstances some people can sort out their problems in a month, while others I may still be working with six months later. In more serious cases involving bankruptcy, I try to impart that this is serious and you can’t get into this situation again. The biggest problem is credit cards, store cards, anything you don’t have to pay cash for. Once those cards are taken away and they pay cash for everything, they have to live off that.’
‘For debt such as court fines, we can produce a budget and appeal before the courts to get fines reduced. I go to court and sit with them in case the judge wants to ask questions.
Brian, whose working life has entailed running his own business and working in real estate for 25 years, says he’s now busier than ever. He recommends volunteering as an activity for the newly-retired.
‘Success to me is when you have a client who is so desperate and feeling their life is not worth living, walk out of your office with a smile on their face saying they are not going to get into this situation again. A lot of people I have dealt with say their lives are better off than when they first came through the door.’