. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4 Pillars
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Join our Debt Boot Camp

Get 10 short email lessons on debt consolidation, consumer proposals, and bankruptcy 101. It's free and written for Canadians. Not your usual advice.

The Best Alternatives to Bankruptcy in Canada

By Paul Murphy

bankruptcy alternatives

Bankruptcy is a frightening part of debt. But while most Canadians have a good idea of how bankruptcy works, they often don’t know that there are tons of great alternatives to bankruptcy in Canada. By the end of this article, you’ll know:

  • The best alternatives to bankruptcy plus the pros and cons of each option.
  • Concise explanation of the structure of the debt industry. If you understand this, you’ll be able to evaluate different advice and options better.
  • A better understanding of the help available for Canadians experiencing financial hardship.

This advice is based on my own experience in the industry and contains the same options that my company has used to help thousands of families, businesses, and individuals build a plan to get out of debt.

When faced with looming bankruptcy, here are the best options for avoiding bankruptcy.

Your basic alternatives to bankruptcy

Alternative #1: Sell your personal assets

This may allow you to pay down your debt and protect your credit rating. Creditors will usually give time to see a debtor make an effort to pay off or pay down their debt.

The downside with this approach is usually the debtor needs personal assets to live and selling the assets in this situation you will not likely see you get full value for them.

You will also repay 100% of your debt.

This is usually the first route many people take.

Think carefully about selling assets quickly, especially if this only means a temporary fix to your debt. So while this one of the most common options it can be dangerous.

Selling your assets might help in the short-term but could cripple you in the future.

Alternative #2: Get a Consolidation Loan

This allows you to avoid personal bankruptcy or any other type of debt restructuring and will likely reflect more positively on your credit rating.

The terms of repayment may be more manageable than making a number of payments to all the debts individually, and the interest rate on the loan may be more reasonable than on the individual debts.

The problem people face is their debt levels are simply too high, and consolidating the debt is simply replacing one debt for another and the payments may still be unmanageable.

Your credit score and your income will determine if you qualify for a consolidation loan and this may require a co-signor and/or security and depending on how the lender assesses the risk. This could result in a higher interest rate and now the risk is also an associated risk to the co-signor.

You have added the risk of potentially losing any security pledged. There is also no potential to negotiate the amount of debts, which is ultimately the best way to reduce the payment and provide a strategy to actually repay the debt unless you can considerably lower the interest rates.

A consolidation loan can be a wise choice. It is definitely one of the better options out there, as long as you consider the caveats above (it depends on your income and amount of debt).

Alternative #3: Credit Counselling Societies and non-profit Credit Counsellors

As you are not paying back the debt on the original terms and conditions, this will reflect as an R7 on credit rating for the length of time it takes you to pay off the debt (usually 5 years) + an additional 3 years so 8 years in total.

Many Canadians do not know that the non-profit society is actually financed by creditors. The debtor pays the credit counselling society and they pay the creditors.

The fees paid by the debtor are usually minimal but rarely do they offer less than 100% of debt repayment but can usually reduce the interest.

So are the credit counsellor societies a good option?

My personal experience is that you will likely pay much more back to your creditors (in the thousands). If I was in debt and based on what I know from working in this industry, this would not be my personal choice.

You can get free help from credit counsellors, though. However, I would not personally (nor professionally) recommend this option to my family or friends in debt.

Alternative #4: Informal Proposals

This involves directly negotiating a one-time settlement with each individual creditor.

The repayment can be structured based upon the debtor’s ability to pay but usually requires a lump-sum one-time payout where creditors agree to accept a lesser amount.

This will usually require showing the creditors details around your current financial situation and an explanation of your financial hardship.

The creditors are not obligated to settle but will if they feel the offer is a better return than if the consumer declares bankruptcy. It is prudent, though, when considering informal proposals to talk to a professional first before negotiating with your creditors.

The reason being, your creditors work in this industry; you are a consumer.

You need to be educated about what to avoid and how best to approach your creditors before volunteering a settlement, you need to understand the correct process to obtain a full release from the remaining debt and you need to know the implications when you stop paying the creditors and enter into an informal negotiation.

Alternative #5: File a Consumer Proposal

A consumer proposal is a formal offer to all your creditors made through the Bankruptcy and Insolvency act.

It is a provision available to debtors that need new terms to repay the debt and want to avoid filing bankruptcy. If the majority of creditors accept the proposal it is binding on all creditors.

If creditors don’t accept the deal then the consumer is in the same position they were in prior to filing. Filing a consumer proposal places a legal stay of proceedings in effect, meaning no creditors can take any action to collect the debt.

The proposal must provide creditors with more than they would receive if the debtor filed bankruptcy.

Certain debts, such as debts for alimony or maintenance cannot be included in the proposal. A bankruptcy trustee is required to make any filing under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

This reflects as R7 on credit rating for the length of time it takes to repay the proposal (usually 5 years) + an additional 3 years (total 8 years).

4 Pillars has a program that can reduce the impact on your credit rating to 3 years.

Consumer proposals are often ranked as one of the best options for getting out of debt, depending on your situation.

Last option: File for Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a formal arrangement and binding on creditors.

The debtor applies for legal forgiveness of debt and the process can last between 9 and 36 months.

The debtor is required to complete monthly income & expense reports for the length of the bankruptcy and the monthly bankruptcy payment are determined by income and family size and are monitored throughout the term of the bankruptcy and an increase in income can extend the term of the bankruptcy.

When a consumer declares bankruptcy they hand over all their non-exempt assets to the Bankruptcy Trustee and these are liquidated and the funds given to the creditors.

Bankruptcy has the most severe impact on your credit rating and reflects as R9 for 6 years after the discharge period.

Again, it comes back to the long-term financial goal of not just getting out of debt, but rebuilding your finances so that you can enjoy long-term stability and build up your assets.

Bankruptcy is a large interruption to your ability to accumulate assets and can have long-lasting implications on your ability to get ahead (beyond just the 6-year credit rating purgatory).

Short-term and long-term consequences

Now you understand the options, we need to look at what makes the plan to deal with your debt successful.

The key is to deal with debt as part of your long-term financial plan.

You need to clearly understand your long-term financial goals and then look at all the options you have available.

Getting out of debt is about cash flow & credit rebuilding

The two key areas that are often missed when creating a plan to manage debt are the pre-work analyzing cash flow and the post-work implementing a comprehensive credit rebuilding plan and using any additional cash flow to meet your long-term financial goals.

These are ultimately the cornerstone of the debt restructuring plan and can be the difference between success and failure. I don’t mean this as a product pitch, but 97% of people entering into a debt restructuring plan with 4 Pillars successfully complete the program and we believe this is the highest in the industry.

We credit this success to making debt repayment “livable.” You have to look out for your overall financial situation.

You can’t just dump every penny into debt payments as this leaves you vulnerable and tends to lead to more borrowing, refinancing, and using back up credit as soon as it is available again.

The banks, the trustees, and credit counsellors – who to trust?

Now we understand the options and what makes a debt management plan successful we need to know how to implement the plan and who we need to seek advice from.  For example, if you call an independent expert on debt you are obviously going to get a very different answer than if you call your bank and ask them for a lower rate.

Your Bank

If you have good credit, good income and a manageable debt load but need to consolidate your debt payments into one monthly payment to make life easier, your local bank should be able to help you with a consolidation loan at reasonable interest rates.

Now for the more aggressive measures to deal with the debt that you are either struggling to pay or never see the ability to repay, you ultimately need a plan to reduce your debt as this is really the only way you will lower the payments and create a plan to become debt-free.

Non-profit Credit Counsellors

We touched on these earlier in the article and as they rarely have the ability to reduce the debt and but still have a significant impact on your credit rating, a consolidation loan would be a much better alternative and if you don’t qualify or can’t easily afford the payments then you need to move on to one of the other options.

Debt Settlement Firms

A lot of US debt settlement firms have surfaced in Canada as debt levels have now surpassed the US. Here is a very brief overview of how a debt settlement firm works.

They attempt to informally settle with your creditors (see above) but in order to do so, you need a lump sum payment to make to the creditors, which most people in financial difficulty don’t have.

A debt settlement firm be it US or Canadian will set you up on a monthly payment plan to create a pool of cash that can then eventually be used to settle the debt.

Depending on the debt load this can take between 12-36 months. In this process, the consumer has stopped paying the creditors at the request of the debt settlement firm but has no legal protection from the creditors taking action to collect the debt and what we are seeing in the industry now is when creditors are receiving settlement offers from debt settlement firms they are escalating the legal process to force the consumer to either pay the debt or take a different approach to deal with the debt by filing under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

Bankruptcy Trustee

The bankruptcy trustee plays a critical role in debt restructuring and any formal restructuring plan filed under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act requires a trustee. Let’s look at the definition of the role of the trustee:

‘The trustee is an officer of the court who acts on behalf of the creditors in a fiduciary capacity.’

The fiduciary responsibility is very powerful. A fiduciary is a legal or ethical relationship of trust between two or more parties.

A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances that give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence.

A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care at either equity or law. From this, we can see the responsibilities the trustee holds and the duty of care they have for the creditors.

If you approach the trustee directly to file under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act they will determine which assets are exempt and which assets are available to the creditors and if filing a consumer proposal they will determine the terms to which the proposal will be filed.

The analogy our customers have used when they truly understand the relationship between trustee and creditors is: It is like having your ex-wife’s divorce lawyer representing you during the settlement hearing.

The other piece to remember is there are hundreds of trustees in Canada and they all interpret the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in a different way which can have a significant impact on any restructuring plan you enter.

How to choose the right debt relief option

Now you understand all of the options out there. You now need to take the next step.

When selecting a course forward, here is the process we use (you can either do this yourself or seek professional help).

Review in detail all the debt relief or restructuring options. For example, if you have a mortgage or any other secured debt you will need to factor that into your decision.

Basically, you can either research these options in detail or get professional help. I’ve listed a few additional resources below.

Depending on the route you choose, you will then need to talk to your creditors and negotiate or interview bankruptcy trustees if filing under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

You do need to proceed with caution as you will be negotiating with professionals who know much more about the industry than you and this can be a very daunting process without someone who has the same industry knowledge as they do look out for your interests.

Build a plan and budget that takes into account debt repayment as well as your long-term future.

Stick to your plan. Pay down debt (preferably at a lowered rate and adjusted principle as agreed upon by you and your creditors) and start rebuilding your financial future with proper budgeting. Pay attention to short term and long term financial needs.

You will also need to create a comprehensive credit rebuilding plan to minimize the impact on your credit rating. Without this you will only obtain part of the benefit of dealing with your debt and the road to meet your long-term financial goals will be much longer.

I know that you’re still at the beginning of your journey, but I hope at least you now have a list of different options and a better understanding of how the debt industry works.

I hope this guide has helped. As always, I appreciate your personal stories and responses. You can send a question or message to me here – Paul Murphy – at paulm@4pillars.ca and I’ll respond personally.

Additional debt help resources:

Our 1 hour sessions

4 Pillars offers Canadians information sessions, educating you about the alternatives to bankruptcy and how to deal with debt as part of your long-term financial plan.

There is no cost to you and our sole mandate is to represent the interests of the debtors and help them make well-educated informed decisions to deal with debt.

You can read reviews and hear about families and businesses we’ve helped here.

These sessions can happen in your city (we have offices across Canada) or via Skype or telephone.

  • Get detailed information about consumer proposals, debt consolidation, and how these debt relief options affect your credit rating and mortgage.
  • Get expert answers about your current debt situation and offer an unbiased review of your options.
  • Information about spousal responsibility and debt, the long-term effect of different options on your ability to get another mortgage, and what you can do to best deal with your creditors.

We’ve helped thousands of Canadian families reduce their debt and are one of Canada’s largest debt restructuring companies.

Read reviews here.

Book your free consultation.

Your local office will be in touch with you promptly.

By submitting this form you agree to have one of our offices reach out to you via email, call or text.

"The stress and worries are over. We are living again."
Actual client testimonial. Name removed to protect privacy.
Go To Top Button