I’m in debt and struggling - what do I do?

There are two different ways to deal with debt problems. Which one is right for you depends on whether you’re in what’s called a debt crisis, or if you just have large debts.

Read the answers below to see which of the above applies to you.

How do I know if I in debt crisis?

Different people have different definitions of a debt crisis. The Money Saving Expert says that a good indication that you might be is if you answer yes to either of the questions below:

Are you struggling to pay all basic outgoings, e.g. mortgage, rent, energy bills, and credit card minimums?

– or –

Are your debts (excluding your mortgage) bigger than a year’s after-tax income?

I am not in debt crisis, but am concerned. What do I do?

Even if you have large debts and they make you feel stressed, if you can service them (even at the minimum level), you’re not in debt crisis and a different solution applies. You should not visit a debt counselling agency – their solution is not applicable to you. Their solutions are serious measures that are meant for people with no other alternative.

Citizens Advice Bureau has set out a Five-Step Plan you can follow to work through your debt more easily.

They recommend gathering together all of the information you have on each of your debts and putting them all in order of priority.

Then, work out how much you can afford to pay. Once you’ve done this you can start contacting your creditors to set up payment plans for your ‘priority’ debts. You can do the same with your ‘non-priority’ debts.

When you have a plan in place, it will all feel more manageable.

  • Step 1 – Gather information for each debt
  • Step 2 – Check which ones are ‘priority’ debts
  • Step 3 – Work out what you can afford to pay
  • Step 4 – Negotiate with your creditors for priority debts
  • Step 5 – Negotiate with your creditors for non-priority debts. A priority debt would be mortgage, rent or bills that enable you to live. A non-priority debt might be a gym membership, phone or store card.

I am in debt crisis. What do I do?

There are various options that exist to help you deal with your debt problems. These include things like bankruptcy, debt relief orders, debt management plans, and individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs). Read more about them from Citizens Advice to see if any are appropriate to you. There’s lots of great organisations that will give you tailored, one-to-one help. You are not alone and your money problems are not unsolveable.

What if I am vulnerable (e.g. disabled, or have mental health problems)?

Whether you are vulnerable, disabled or have mental health problems you should tell the company you are in debt with as soon as you can so they can advise you on how they can help. Most companies will work with you to try and find a way to help you until you are in a better position. The sooner you advise them the sooner they can advise you of the next steps. Remember, its not in yours or the companies interest to ignore you.

If it has reached a point of debt enforcement (bailiffs) tell them as soon as you can if you are in a situation that makes it difficult for you to deal with them, e.g. disability, seriously ill or mental illness.

If your vulnerable bailiffs have to treat you with greater care. For example, they shouldn’t do things like enter your home if you are home alone, should give you more time to make payments, and should never threaten to take anything that helps your health.

You should tell the bailiffs and your creditor (the person/place you owe money to) if you believe you may be vulnerable.

For more information on this, please visit: Citizens Advice/Debt & Money

Where can I go to get more support?

There are many organisations who can provide financial information and support (some free/some may charge):

I feel alone and scared. Is there a way out of debt for me?

Debt can be a terrifying thought and it can make you feel isolated and ashamed but no matter how much you owe do not let your debt own you.

However, it is important to remember that no matter what your current situation is, there is a solution to every level.

Whether it is just a case of organising your expenditures into manageable amounts or seeking professional help, there is always a way out.

There are many other people out there who have gone through what you have, and have come out of the other side. There are also lots of professionals who can help you (see above tab).

The most important thing to remember is not to bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away.

I feel suicidal - what should I do?

Debt can be a terrifying thought and it can make you feel suicidal. Suicide is considered by almost 50% of people struggling with debt in the UK.

Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn’t mean that you are crazy, or weak, or flawed. It only means that you have more pain than you can cope with right now. This pain seems overwhelming and permanent at the moment. But with time and support, you can overcome your problems and the pain and suicidal feelings will pass.

It’s important that you, or those close to you, are aware that there are other options and that people can seek help and become debt free.

If you need help the following organisations are there to help.

Samaritans 116 123

MindInfoline 0300 123 3393

The Calm Zone 0800 58 58 58

Papyrus 0800 068 4141

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