NFCC International Affiliate Quality Standards

# 01.00

International affiliate agencies shall obtain and maintain NFCC-approved accreditation for their countries as determined based on an assessment of the International Affiliate applicant’s country conditions.

Official Comment:
International affiliation in the NFCC is predicated upon total quality service. Accreditation standards can supplement existing regulatory or membership association requirements to demonstrate the values and best practices of the NFCC. The NFCC Council on Member Affairs will consider what supplemental Accreditation standards are necessary for each country on a case-by-case basis.

In countries for which the CMA determines a third-party Accreditation status is required for international affiliate membership, potential international affiliates must furnish proof of existing accreditation, or must have initiated the applicable application to the relevant accrediting body before they can be approved for international affiliation in the NFCC, and must complete that accreditation process within a reasonable timeframe as determined by the CMA.

For International Affiliates operating in Canada, membership in Credit Counselling Canada, including its Accreditation program, will satisfy this Accreditation standard requirement.

# 02.00
Access and Availability

International affiliate agencies shall provide services within a reasonable amount of time and at times convenient to the public. International affiliate agencies will not discriminate in providing service for any of the following reasons: age, race, color, creed, national origin or ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, gender, sexual orientation, religion, employment, marital status, financial status or any other consideration made unlawful by federal, regional or local law.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies should refrain from waiting to schedule a counseling session until the potential client completes and returns a written application or questionnaire; such action will be considered a form of pre- screening. International affiliate agencies must have operating procedures in place to assure timely service, recognizing that various times of the year create increased consumer demands. Where available, pre-screening for Debt Management Plans (DMP)* is expressly prohibited.

A Debt Management Plan is defined as an agreement between the client and an international affiliate agency to assist the client in repaying all unsecured outstanding debt. DMP agreement forms must include the client’s expectations and responsibilities, an enumeration of the debts, a proposed payment for each creditor, the total debt owed, and a statement of the client’s right to cancel the agreement.

# 03.00
Financial Literacy

International affiliate agencies shall develop, foster, or provide financial literacy programs on money management, budgeting and the responsible use of credit for consumers using methods that meet the community need.

Official Comment:

International affiliation with the NFCC requires adherence to the mission of the NFCC. We are an educational organization providing high caliber, professional, confidential counseling and education services.

Public relations and marketing activities do not qualify as education events. One-on-one counseling sessions provide valuable education, but do not qualify in this standard as a group educational event.

The organization offers financial literacy programs which may include seminars taught by qualified instructors that are designed to meet the current needs of the financially stressed individuals.

# 04.00
Counseling Sessions

International affiliate agencies must provide comprehensive, one-on-one money management counseling and provide a written assessment and action plan to the client as applicable to the service provided, or as required by law.

Official Comment:
Comprehensive money management counseling is defined as an interview or series of interviews which includes but is not limited to, discussion of financial goals, sources of income, expenses, consumer debt (secured and unsecured), housing costs, utilities, garnishments, tax debt, credit reports, referrals to other sources, settlements of debts, etc. when it is applicable to reach goals. Quality counseling is based on thoroughness. Our goal is to educate and give guidance to those who seek our help. A thorough review of the client’s financial situation must be an integral part of the service regardless of whether a debt management plan is feasible or necessary.

A written assessment and action plan is defined as a document outlining the client’s individual situation and offering appropriate solutions. It will include:

  • A complete budget assessment with a review of income, expenses, debt, housing issues, etc.;
  • Identification of problems and need for appropriate referral or services;
  • An assessment of the client’s and family’s strengths and resources for addressing their problems and reaching their goals;
  • Options and action steps for the individual or family
  • Clients shall be provided with adequate information through the written assessment and action plan to assist them after they leave the counseling session. This is our opportunity to assist in their personal financial plan with educational handouts, referrals and prioritized action steps. Clients under stress cannot be expected to remember the counselor’s advice in all cases. Both counselor and client can refer back to the written assessment.

# 04.01

Individuals providing counseling on behalf of an international affiliate must be trained and certified in a manner that adequately prepares them to conduct their assigned duties competently and in adherence to the mission of the NFCC.
International affiliate agencies are prohibited from paying financial incentives to counselors based on the number of DMPs and any similar programs established or assessing financial penalties to counselors if their client leaves a DMP or similar program.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies must establish training and development programs for counselors to improve knowledge of agency policy and procedures, interpersonal skills, and abilities that enhance counselor sensitivity to the needs and preferences of clients.

International affiliate agencies must have formal procedures in place for continuing education or recertification of all counselors on an ongoing basis. The Operating Committee of the NFCC will review the certification, training and continuing education policies to determine their compatibility with NFCC certification requirements. All documents provided to the NFCC for review must be in English.

# 05.00
Debt Management Plans

Where available, international affiliate agencies shall establish debt management plans only when appropriate and predicated upon client needs and preferences to assist in achieving their financial goals and objectives.

Official Comment:
NFCC international affiliation is an assurance of quality to both client and creditor. International affiliate agencies shall ensure:

  • that the amount available for the repayment of the client’s indebtedness represents the client’s best effort after a thorough evaluation of income, expenses, assets and debts;
  • that in any proposed plan, negative amortization shall be avoided and that all known debts are accounted for in the written action plan;
  • that a method of prorating accounts shall be employed that treats like creditors alike, assuring that no creditor receives preferential treatment in return for financial support;
  • that the disposition of credit cards is recorded;
  • that the DMP reflects that the client will close all lines of credit and refrain from obtaining future credit without the international affiliate agency’s approval;
  • that client confidentiality and the creditor’s rights to information are recognized. All counseling provided by international affiliate agencies is strictly confidential. Client confidentiality as it relates to debt management plans refers to family, friends, employers, etc. A creditor participating in a debt management plan has the right to pertinent information (full disclosure) such as: addresses, phone numbers (unless the phone number is unlisted), assets, income, expenses, other creditors involved in plan, balances owed, reason for plan, etc. Non–participating creditor should not be given any information without the client’s approval. When a client’s debt management plan has been closed, information may also be verified and/or released to only those original creditors listed on the original plan. Any creditor found to be using the information provided to harass an existing depositing client should be reported to the agency’s management/creditor relations division and may be denied information in the future. The NFCC’s Monitoring and Compliance Committee should be notified of any such actions taken with creditors;
  • that the agency provides, at a minimum, a quarterly status report to active DMP clients that fully discloses their deposit and disbursement history and approximate balances;
  • that the agency establishes and adheres to a process of reviewing existing debt management plans annually, preferably including the client; and
  • that the agency does not create any plans for the benefit of an individual client which jeopardizes the plans of existing or future clients.

International affiliate agencies will avoid conflicts of interest by not paying agents, counselors, or employees commissions or referral fees for DMP accounts.

International affiliates of the NFCC will avoid conflicts of interest by not paying creditors for client referrals or agreeing to receive reduced fair share to receive referrals.

# 06.00
Fiscal Integrity

International affiliate agencies must have sufficient internal controls to protect the assets of the organization from acts of fraud, misrepresentation, or misallocation.

Official Comment:
NFCC international affiliate agencies are expected to handle all financial activities in a professional manner.

International affiliate agencies shall secure insurance in an amount appropriate to cover potential losses and meet all applicable bonding requirements.

International affiliate agencies must reconcile operating accounts on a monthly basis.
International affiliate agencies must immediately report to the NFCC all known or suspected acts of fraud, misrepresentation, or misallocation of funds.
International affiliate agencies must have an annual financial audit conducted pursuant to International Affiliate Quality Standard #06.01.

# 06.01
Client Trust Accounts

International affiliate agencies shall have all financial books and records audited on an annual basis. International affiliate agencies shall provide the NFCC with an entire copy of the
completed audit report within 180 days of the close of each fiscal year.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies must prepare annual financial statements in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and an audit conducted not less than annually by an independent Certified Public Accountant, Chartered Public Accountant or equivalent. The audit must be conducted in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards as defined by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). Tests of compliance and evaluation of controls associated with this audit are to be applied to client deposit accounts and activity as well as the operating accounts and statements of the international affiliates, and shall be so noted by the auditor.

The governing board must appoint a board member(s) to meet with the independent auditor to review the auditor’s findings. The board member(s) must make a report to the full governing body at the next officially scheduled board meeting. Evidence of compliance must be provided to NFCC annually.

If pursuant to an international affiliate agency’s annual financial audit, the auditor’s opinion is not an unqualified opinion, then the international affiliate agency must provide the NFCC with a plan of action to obtain an unqualified opinion by the next annual audit. Until the next annual audit, the international affiliate agency must provide quarterly updates to the NFCC on its progress.

# 07.00
Governance / Board of Trustees

To ensure non-discriminatory community representation, NFCC international affiliate agencies shall have a diverse, voluntary governing board comprised of at least 7 members who represent the broad interests of the public. No more than 20% of the voting members of the governing board may be persons directly or indirectly compensated by the NFCC international affiliate agency. Except for the agency’s executive officer, no related parties may serve on the governing board.

The governing board shall be comprised of persons who do not have, or give the appearance of, a conflict of interest with the NFCC international affiliate agency. Governing board members and related parties are prohibited from using their relationship with the NFCC international affiliate agency for personal gain. This prohibition, however, does not apply to the compensation received by paid personnel of an NFCC international affiliate agency who serve as a governing board member.
International affiliate agencies shall establish and enforce a conflict of interest policy for employees and governing board members that include the principles and prohibitions embodied in this standard.

International affiliate agencies shall endeavor to fill any vacancies on their governing board within 120 days.

Official Comment:
Governing board members must disclose any business relationship with or financial interest in a corporation, partnership or entity with whom the NFCC international affiliate agency transacts business and must not participate in any NFCC international affiliate agency governing board discussion or vote concerning such corporation, partnership or entity.

Nothing in this standard or official comment prohibits governing board members from providing free or discounted products or services to an NFCC international affiliate agency. The provision by a governing board member of discounted products or services, however, must be supported by documentation showing the fair market value of such products or services. The documentation must demonstrate that the products or services were provided to the NFCC international affiliate agency at a discount.
Nothing in this standard or official comment prohibits a person who serves as an officer, director, employee, partner, proprietor, or owns or controls 10% or more of a credit granting organization from serving as a governing board member of an NFCC international affiliate agency, provided, however, that no more than 49% of an NFCC international affiliate agency governing board may be comprised of such persons and any other related party.

Related parties include agency personnel, their family members, and employees or officers of a business in which agency personnel or their family members own or control 10% or more of the business. Family members include, but are not limited to, parents, spouses or domestic partners, siblings, children, stepchildren, and relatives-in-law.

# 08.00
D&O, E&O and Fidelity Insurance

International affiliate agencies must carry adequate insurance and/or bonding on all employees with any access to agency and/or client funds.
International affiliate agencies must provide proof of insurance and/or bonding to the NFCC on an annual basis.

Official Comment:

Evidence of compliance must be provided to NFCC annually.

# 09.00
Fair Fees Guideline

International affiliate agencies should keep fees charged to customers or clients as low as possible. International affiliate agencies may not refuse to provide counseling due to a client’s inability to pay.

Official Comment:
As a non-profit, charitable or similarly designated human service agency that serves individuals and families in financial distress, international affiliate agencies should strive to make their services available to as broad a population as possible and not limit access to services due to an inability to pay.

International affiliate agencies may not receive fees in advance of service.

International affiliate agencies who offer a DMP or similar program must disclose within the DMP or similar program an estimate of the total fees to be paid to the organization by the client and/or the creditor over the term of the agreement.

# 10.00
Ethical Practices and Conduct

International affiliate agencies will follow the highest ethical standards in governing their organizations and conducting all activities to avoid harming, misleading, confusing, or undermining consumers, clients, volunteers, employees, media, other NFCC international affiliates or members, and the NFCC.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies are prohibited from providing false or misleading information about an organization or individual to the public; this prohibition precludes using NFCC’s communication tools and systems to provide information to NFCC international affiliates that cannot be substantiated.
International affiliate agencies must maintain the confidentiality of information entrusted to them or known to them because of their professional activities.
International affiliate agencies must manage all financial activities honestly following policies and procedures established to ensure financial honesty and prevent individual gain at the expense of an international affiliate organization or the NFCC.
International affiliate agencies must assume responsibility for remediating errors caused by any of their employees.

# 11.00

International affiliate agencies shall not engage in deceptive, misleading or false advertising, and shall adhere to the highest standards of honesty and fairness. International affiliate agencies must have the ability to prove any stated claim made within an advertisement.

Official Comment:

International affiliate agencies must accurately describe advertised services.

International affiliate agencies must list their name, corporate address, and phone number on their website homepage and other nationally publicly distributed or available materials.

On locally distributed or available printed materials and printed advertisements, international affiliate agencies must list their corporate name, corporate address, and corporate phone number or the applicable, authorized local branch name(s), local address(es), and local phone number(s).

International affiliate agencies are prohibited from referring to themselves as “Local” in any communication in a community if they do not have a brick and mortar office in the community in question.

International affiliate agencies are prohibited from publishing a phone number with an area code and local exchange in any geographic area where they do not have a brick and mortar office. “Brick and mortar office” means a defined location at which face-to face counseling is delivered. Advertising or public information about your services cannot give the appearance of a larger or more local office if that is not the case.

International affiliate agencies are expected to abide by all applicable requirements of trademark use set forth in any published NFCC policy, guideline, or license.

International affiliate agencies are required to identify their NFCC affiliation on their website homepage, and encouraged to identify themselves as an NFCC international affiliate in other promotional and advertising material.

# 12.00
Compliance with Federal, State, and Local Laws

International affiliate agencies are responsible for understanding and complying with all federal, regional, and local laws. International affiliate agencies must be appropriately licensed and/or registered as required by law.

Official Comment:

International affiliate agencies must notify the NFCC of any notice of investigation or actual investigation by a federal, regional or local regulatory entity within five business days of receipt.

# 13.0

International affiliate agencies must establish written procedures to provide consumers and clients with a formal mechanism for expressing and resolving complaints and grievances.

Official Comment:

International affiliate agencies must provide consumers a grievance procedure at the time of initial application, and to clients upon request or at the initiation of a grievance.

International affiliate agencies must include an appeal process and ensure the timely resolution of issues. At the conclusion of the process, written documentation of final resolution must be included in client files.

International affiliate agencies must provide all clients access to their individual files as long as the client’s review is done on site and in the presence of agency personnel. Clients have the right to include statements in their files regarding the services they have or wish to receive.

International affiliate agencies must provide NFCC with their grievance policy and procedures if requested.

# 14.0
Private Inurement and Private Benefit

International affiliate agencies must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals, or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests. No part of the net earnings of a nonprofit, charitable or similarly designated organization may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. A private shareholder or individual is a person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies are prohibited from transferring property to employees and/or their families and/or other closely related parties such as board members or vendors for less than market value.

International affiliate agencies are prohibited from signing above market value contracts with any individual or organization.

International affiliate agencies must be able to justify employee salaries within local, regional, or national employment markets as appropriate.

International affiliate agencies are prohibited from paying unreasonable compensation to employees. International affiliate agencies must review salary structure with their Board at least bi-annually and such discussion should be noted in the minutes of said board meeting.

# 15.0

When requested and approved by the Board, international affiliate agencies must submit accurate data to NFCC by stated deadline.

Official Comment:
NFCC will require specific data on a quarterly basis and may on an annual basis require additional information. Additional requests will state the need to comply with this standard when information is necessary.

International affiliate agencies needing clarification on requested information must send to NFCC a clarification request in writing at least seven days prior to submission deadline.

# 16.0

International affiliate agencies shall maintain policies and procedures that prohibit nepotism and specify:
a. conditions for employing and retaining relatives of advisory board members;
b. conditions for employing and retaining relatives of employees; and
c. protection against favoritism in supervision and employment decisions.

Official Comment:
NFCC defines “nepotism” as favoritism based on a personal relationship.

International affiliate agencies must have nepotism policies and procedures in place that:

  • allow non-family and family members to file grievances to an independent individual;
  • require independent review, verification, and justification of salary increases or bonuses.

# 17.0
Technology Requirements for Delivering Quality Programs

International affiliate agencies must have the technical systems and capability to assure the timely, accurate and effective delivery of quality programs.

Official Comment:
International affiliate agencies shall possess an adequate technical infrastructure to address all communications with clients; specifically, they must have sufficient phone lines and Internet capabilities if they provide services by phone or Internet.
International affiliate agencies must have unique email addresses for senior staff.

International affiliate agencies must have a web site that identifies the products and services that they deliver to the public.

International affiliate agencies must disburse client payments within government legislated guidelines.
International affiliate agencies are encouraged to have the ability to have ready access to credit reports.

International affiliate agencies must have the ability to electronically transmit non-client-specific data in a prescribed format as set by the NFCC Board of Trustees.

# 18.0
Data Security

International affiliate agencies (a) maintain sufficient security and privacy controls to protect client and employee data, including but not limited to clients’ names, social security numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, credit card account numbers, bank account numbers and other
identifying information, and (b) maintain sufficient records and written procedures to verify compliance with this standard.

Official Comment:

The international affiliate agency has a business continuity plan in the event of a system outage or disaster.

All agency representatives are trained in the policy and proper procedures for handling personally identifiable client data and for protecting its security and confidentiality. Those policies and procedures are codified and evaluated or updated at least annually.

The agency uses antivirus software, firewalls, passwords and encryption software to protect client data which is passed electronically or stored in a Client Management System. The agency has fireproof, locking file cabinets or a system to scan and encrypt to manage hardcopy client records. These “security tools” are updated regularly and an annual penetration test is conducted to evaluate their efficacy.

The agency creates and stores daily data backups at offsite facilities. Those facilities are secure and equipped to properly handle this sort of information. “Offsite” does not include an individual’s private home, an unsecure PC or similar ad hoc arrangement.

The agency has a procedure for reporting system issues and security incidents/compromises.
The agency has measures in place that restricts access to client or employee data and information. In addition to assigning access to client information on a “need to know” basis, the agency also ensures that faxes, computer monitors, mail bins and the like are placed outside the flow of non-essential traffic. Telecommuting policies and procedures also require review to ensure confidential information is protected.

The agency has identified staff and vendors with access to sensitive data and has completed confidentiality agreements with these people/entities. Where appropriate, the Agency has conducted its own security audit or, at a minimum, has received copies of the vendors’ third party audits to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their security practices.

The agency has a procedure for the destruction of data when no longer needed.