Guide to tackling debt

If you’re in debt and finding it hard to cope, it’s important to deal with the problem straight away – the longer you ignore your debts, the worse the situation becomes. Find out what you can do about your debt problem and where to get free help and advice.

Basic steps to help you deal with a debt

Dealing with debt

The basic steps to help you deal with a debt problem are shown below. However, you should get independent advice to help you find the best way to deal with your debt problem. You can get free and independent advice from organisations like Citizens Advice and the National Debtline.

Step one – make a list of everything you owe

You should sort out exactly what you owe and who you owe it to. The people you owe money to are known as your creditors. If you owe money, you are known as a debtor.

Step two – put your debts in order of importance

The most important debts are known as ‘priority debts’ and they aren’t always the biggest ones. Priority debts are ones where serious action can be taken against you if you don’t pay what you owe. For example, you could lose your home, be disconnected from a service or even go to prison.

Prioity debts usually include things like:

  • mortgage repayments
  • secured loans
  • rent
  • Council Tax
  • utility bills
  • taxes
  • court fines
 You need to sort out payments on your priority debts first.

Non-priority debts include things like:

  • credit card and store card payments
  • bank loans
  • overdrafts
  • home-collected credit – like a Provident loan where the agent collects payments weekly
  • catalogue repayments
  • money you’ve borrowed from family or friends
 

You can’t ignore these, but you don’t need to deal with them as a first priority.

You can get help sorting out your priority and non-priority debts for free from organisations like Citizens Advice and the National Debtline.

Step three – work out a personal budget

Work out a weekly or monthly budget to see what your income and expenses are, it can also show you where you can save money. A budget will help you decide what you can reasonably afford to repay your creditors, so it’s important to be realistic.

You can get free and independent help working out your personal budget from organisations like Citizens Advice and the National Debtline.

Step four – get advice on the different ways to deal with your debts

There are lots of options for dealing with debts. For example, arrangements you can make with your crediors or more formal ones that debt specialists can organise for you. There are sometimes extra costs involved and conditions you have to agree to.

It’s important you get independent advice to help you find the best way to deal with your debts. Free and independent advice is available face to face or over the telephone from organisations like Citizens Advice and the National Debtline.

Step five – talk to your creditors

Once you know what you can afford to repay, you can talk to your creditors about your situation and what you’re going to do about it. You can also get a debt adviser to talk to your creditors for you. Some charge a fee for this, others can help you for free.

Be realistic about what you can afford to repay and don’t assume you’ll be able to pay back more in the future. It’s important to follow up a phone call with a letter confirming what you said and agreed.

Make sure you deal with your priority creditors first. You may have little or nothing left to offer your non-priority creditors, but you should still talk to them, explaining the situation. You may be able to tell them that you will pay them back at some point in the future – but don’t make promises you can’t keep.

www.direct.gov.uk

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