2011 credit card debt – please don’t commit suicide!

Dear Lex,

I owe RM250,000 to banks for 15 credits cards, which have been  cancelled.

I cannot settle my debts and I thought of looking for Ah Long help. I have even contemplated suicide. Can you help?

Mr Be Rok

Dear Mr Be Rok

You don’t have to commit suicide or see an Ah Long. Bank Negara Malaysia has set up a way out, known as Agensi Kaunseling Dan Pengurusan Kredit or AKPK. What surprises me is a lot of Malaysians, and especially Sarawakians and Sabahans, are not aware it even exists.

What is AKPK?

AKPK is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank Negara Malaysia, set up to provide financial counselling and debt management to individuals as well as financial education to help individuals take control of their financial situation and gain peace of mind that comes from the wise use of credit.

AKPK’s vision is to “Make Prudent Financial Management a Way of Life for all Malaysians”. To achieve this, their mission is to promote financial wellness among Malaysians by empowering them to be financially savvy through comprehensive consumer educational programmes and providing professional credit counselling and debt management programmes to enable them to regain control of their finances.

Individual borrowers can seek AKPK’s assistance in rescheduling or restructuring their housing loans, hire purchase loans, and personal loans from, or outstanding credit/charge card balances due to, the financial service providers under the purview of Bank Negara Malaysia. Through AKPK’s facilitation, debt management plans are devised to assist borrowers to work out budgets that will help them meet their loan obligations and living expenses, thereby minimising any incidence of non-payment and averting foreclosure of their homes.

Up until Dec 31, 2009, over 110,000 people took up AKPK’s counselling services and from that, over 35,000 customers have been enrolled in their Debt Management Programme.

Consumers who approached AKPK for assistance are from all walks of life. In most cases, the factors contributing to their indebtedness and inability to repay include poor financial planning, ignorance and lack of financial discipline to live within their means. There are also borrowers who have been affected by unforeseen circumstances like health problems, death of a breadwinner, loss of employment and business failure.

According to AKPK, financial and credit education is the answer to many of the problems consumers face today. AKPK has made it its goal to provide a variety of educational services designed to help individuals everywhere take control of their financial situation and gain peace of mind, which comes from the wise use of credit.

Success stories

Before we look at how AKPK works, let us look at some testimonies:

When Mr Ramon went to see AKPK; he was three years into battling a debt he previously knew nothing about. Back from the United States after residing there for 15 years, he came to find out rather shockingly that he was RM66,000 in debt due to credit cards.

This information startled him, as he was extremely sure that he paid all his debts off before leaving for the United States. When he checked with the banks, he found out that it was not an outstanding balance that he did not pay causing the debt, but rather his lack of foresight when he forgot to cancel his credit cards. Both the banks levied finance charges on membership fees and the amount just ridiculously ballooned in a matter of years.

Even after numerous negotiations with both banks that stretched over a span of three years, he still could not get them to concede by retracting or reducing the amount on the accounts. Needless to say, when he heard about AKPK, he had all but lost hope.

In a matter of days, AKPK negotiated with both the banks on his behalf. They also managed to secure Mr Ramon a 10-year tenure to pay off the loan.

However, Mr Ramon showed absolute determination in paying the loans, and to do so fast.

After a few short months, he managed to come up with a lump sum payment to settle all the outstanding owed.

He then again approached AKPK for advice. After second negotiations with the banks, AKPK was able to get Mr Ramon a further reduction on his outstanding balance. Mr Ramon settled with both the banks on the same day and now prudently manages his finances.

Meanwhile, Su Ling was in her mid-30s and had progressed fairly well up the ranks in a marketing firm in downtown KL and was living modestly. She had big dreams but never let work get in the way of her family. Su Ling is forever indebted to her parents for all that they had taught her in life and as such her main priority was always to look after her ageing parents, especially now that she could afford to do so.

With her life in order and her parents being looked after well due to her high pay cheque, financial difficulty was something Su Ling had not expected. Tragedy first struck when Su Ling’s mother was diagnosed with kidney failure.

As her mother’s condition worsened, dialysis was a necessity. Desperate for any form of monetary assistance, she looked into different avenues to fund her mother’s medical treatment. However, all her efforts were met with a dead end.

She was unable to attain subsidies neither from the government nor from any NGOs. Hospital and medical bills became hers to bear as her father was retired and had very little saved up as he approached his golden years. Dialysis and hormone therapy alone amounted to RM6,000 monthly.

Due to her mother’s surgery expenses, the bulk of her salary went to financing medical bills.

Five years into her mum’s treatment, Su Ling’s father was then diagnosed with lung cancer. She could not believe the situation she was in. It felt as though the world around her had crumbled. She didn’t know who to turn to, and for the first time in her life, she felt helpless. She knew that the cost of medical bills would potentially double as chemotherapy was needed to battle the cancer.

Within months, medical bills for both her parents soared, resulting in a tough financial strain on Su Ling. She was forced to work odd jobs over the weekends just to earn a little extra income. Even then, she was just able to make ends meet and had no extra money for other expenses.

Su Ling’s life was falling apart, she was aware of her inability to maintain paying for her parent’s medical expenses much longer with the pay she was getting. All that however was incomparable to the fact that Su Ling was staring directly at the possibility of losing the two most important people in her life.

Unable to support herself and finance both her parents’ medical bills with her current earnings, she found herself in dire need of financial assistance. Su Ling took the easy way out and turned to the number one cause of debt — credit cards. She applied for several cards in order to ease the strain, knowing fully well the consequences of her actions and the amount of debt she would be in.

She had no choice, however, as she had to find a way to finance both parents’ medical bills.

The condition of her parents slowly deteriorated and in a few short years she lost both parents in the same year.

The loss left Su Ling devastated, she could not believe that all her efforts met with such a depressing end.

On top of that Su Ling was left with the task of servicing the debt she had accumulated. Though help was handed to her by her family members, it did not suffice and Su Ling sought the counsel of AKPK.

The AKPK agent negotiated with the bank for some waivers of interest and penalty interest. The outstanding balance totalling RM500,000 on her five credit cards were restructured in such a way that allowed Su Ling a minimal monthly payment of RM300 to service the debt with interest waived.

AKPK agent’s negotiations also resulted in the bank lowering Su Ling’s monthly payments by almost 50 per cent. Su Ling was thankful that finally, after the last 10 years of financial stress, she is able to relax and get on with her life.

To be continued. For more news go to my website @ lexborneo.com. For inquiries and comments SMS 012-8030778 or email askmelaws@yahoo.com.

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