As mediators between debtors and licensed moneylenders, credit counselling services have to work out a structured repayment programme agreeable to both parties.
It is no easy task for these voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), especially if the borrowers are overstretched and have taken loans from multiple moneylenders, or have other financial obligations from hire purchases, for instance. But two VWOs - Blessed Grace Social Services and Adullam Life Counselling - can now, with a borrower's consent, refer to a credit bureau to get a clearer picture of his or her credit records.
A memorandum of understanding was signed on Wednesday by the VWOs, together with the Moneylender's Association of Singapore (MLAS) and DP Information Network, which manages DP SME Commercial Credit Bureau.
The repository has over 15 million payment records of Singaporeans and Singapore businesses. The information is gathered monthly from bureau members, which provide details of the companies and individuals who owe them money, along with which debts have been paid on time and which have not.
MLAS president Peter Tan said: "We hope that by working together with the VWOs, most debtors will be able to settle their debts in a restructured repayment scheme."
Adullam chairman Wong Kee Soon said borrowers who go to his group for help often do not "come clean" about all their debts.
Mr Billy Lee, founder and executive director of Blessed Grace, estimates that in two out of 10 cases, negotiations between the VWO and licensed moneylenders fall through - either because borrowers offer too little in repayment or moneylenders want a shorter repayment period.
But getting borrowers to deal with their debt is just one part of the solution. Mr Lee said: "They must also admit what is the root cause... If you don't take out the bad roots, it will just produce more bad fruits."