Debbie Squier-Bernst is an insolvency assistant administrator at BDO Dunwoody in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She assists people through the bankruptcy and insolvency processes. Debbie draws on her own experience with debt to help her clients, and always strives to treat them with dignity and respect. “I don't want them to feel shame or embarrassed,” says Debbie. “I just want them to feel like it's okay to have made a mistake and that there are some things that we can do to help them correct it.”
Debbie directs her clients toward the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's tools and publications. “My all-time favourite resource of theirs is the credit card comparison. Every kind of credit card that is on the market, they have compared them: all the interest rates, the service fees. And so you can make a really informed decision,” she says.
I am Debbie Squier-Bernst. I work as an insolvency restructuring professional, otherwise known as an estate administrator. My experience with insolvency started when I was all of 22 years old. The few creditors I had were like Sears and Zellers and things that a young person would have, and I really didn't have an idea of really how to deal with the debt problem… and the lawyer I ended up seeing suggested that I look at doing settlements with my creditors, so that is exactly what I did.
My second experience with debt started with student loans. When I was done school, I went to the bank and negotiated what I thought was a really good deal and started repaying the loans at 13.75 percent interest.
It took me about four years to repay those loans. That, I am happy to say, was my last experience with having serious debt problems.
As part of my working in insolvency and helping people with financial difficulties, there are some great resources that are available, and one of my favourites is the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. They have great publications for a credit history. Most people do not understand what their credit report is, how do you go about getting your credit history, why it is important. They have publications to deal with almost any type of financing that you are looking at.
And my all-time favourite resource of theirs is the credit card comparison. Every kind of credit card that is on the market, they have compared them: all the interest rates, the service fees. And so you can make a really informed decision.
I know from my own personal experience, what I bring to my job. And I realize that the only thing that separates us from being on different sides of the table is just one life experience ― something that happens that you have maybe very little control over. If you lose a job or you get really ill and you haven't had a lot of time for planning, like I hadn't when I was pregnant at a very young age.
I don't want them to feel shame or embarrassed. I just want them to fell like it's okay to have made a mistake and that there are some things that we can do to help them correct it.
Making changes in your life is never easy, but it's always necessary, I think. I have made several lifestyle changes. And through all those that things I have done, I've been really careful about how much it was going to cost and how I was going to get the money to pay for it.
You really have to be aware of your responsibility and what you want to get out of that process. And it feels very good to be here.