Ontario, Canada Consumer Minister Tracy MacCharles wants to crack down on debt settlement companies. A bill introduced Thursday would ban them from charging upfront fees while giving consumers a 10-day cooling off period to cancel contracts.
Only unsecured debts on credit cards, lines of credit and personal loans are included in the legislation. Other debts, such as student loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, tax debt and auto loans, are not.
Debt settlement services negotiate with creditors to help consumers pay off debts over two to four years, while cutting the total amount owed. According to MacCharles, who was appointed in February by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, unregulated debt settlement services that use online ads or telemarketing to reach customers can pose problems.
Under changes to the country's Collection Agencies Act, she said, Ontario could revoke the licenses of companies that failed to comply with any new rules.
MacCharles said she was acting on an earlier speech where she promised to "build a fair society." Ontario is joining other provinces, including Alberta and Manitoba, which have regulated debt settlement firms. There are 22 such companies and 38 credit counseling providers that offer debt settlement services in Ontario.
Credit counseling agencies, which work with creditors to help consumers repay debt slowly and reduce interest charges, are regulated by the Ontario consumer ministry.