Citizens Advice Plymouth have answered nearly 104,000 enquiries about debt in 2022. In these difficult times, when the money coming in does not cover the money going out on bills, it is very easy to slip into debt and get out again. In this article, we want to share some steps you take to get back in control.
Many of us will have some form of debt in our lifetimes, such as a mortgage on the property, credit cards or an overdraft. If we treat it with care, debt can be useful. But if it gets out of control, it can create other problems. If your total debts (excluding mortgage) add up to more than you earn in a year and you’re struggling to repay them, then you may have a debt problem.
Know your budget
Count up all the money coming into your household to find your total income, including child benefit, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance and all benefits and wages. Make sure you know exactly how much you must manage on. Check that you are receiving all benefits you are entitled to. You can use a benefits calculator on our website https://citizensadviceplymouth.entitledto.co.uk/home/start. If you don’t have internet, you can speak to us over the telephone.
Lay out all your bills and other debts
Include food and essentials bills and see if your household income covers the amount going out. If your outgoings are higher than your income, then identify priority bills.
Priority bills are those that keep a roof over your head, like the rent/mortgage, council tax, court fines, TV licence, overpaid tax credits, etc. It is essential you pay for se first.
If you cannot pay the most important debts, contact your creditor urgently and explain your situation and budget. They may be able to offer you a deal that will make your payments more affordable.
Although some debts are treated as a lower priority, they will still need to be paid. Creditors will often contact you to ask for a payment. If you can’t pay, speak to someone about your situation. Many debt advice agencies that can help you to find a way forward. Citizens Advice web page has a lot of information about dealing with debt https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/.
Check for old direct debits and standing orders
Sometimes you may forget that you’re paying for unused services such as a gym membership or a paid TV subscription. Go through your bank statements and look for any payments that don’t look familiar. Then check your contract and see if you can cancel them.
Avoid payday loans and loan sharks
Having an instant lump sum may sound useful and an answer to your immediate problem. But the interest you get will be much higher than you think.
Payday loans usually must be paid within 2 to 3 weeks. From January 2015, there is an interest cap on payday loans of 0.8% per day with an APR (Annual Percentage Rate) of around 1,250%. A different type of loan can be more affordable.
Loan sharks are illegal money lenders who charge high rates of interest and don’t have permission from FCA to lend money. They might not give you any paperwork and can become very aggressive when you’re unable to pay.
If you owe money to a loan shark, you can speak to the Illegal Money Lending Hotline on 0300 555 2222 and report the loan shark anonymously. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or text loan shark and your message to 60003.
Don’t be ashamed to seek advice
Don’t wait for the bills to mount up, get help as soon as you can. Doing nothing will just allow matters to get worse.
Advice agencies may be able to advise on your situation, refer you for further advice, issue a foodbank voucher if you can’t afford to pay for food, and also find other grants and schemes that could help with your situation.