Most people these days have used credit in one form or another and there are a few things to think about before taking out any finance deals.
If you are experiencing problems with debt, the Office of Fair Trade has a Debt Counselling Service with fully trained staff who will discuss your problems with you and guide you in sorting them out in confidence.
We have a guide that has advice on Helping Yourself to sort out your debts which includes a sample budget sheet and draft letter to creditors.
What to do
It is important to deal with certain debts first. These are called priority debts because the consequences of not dealing with them can be very serious.
When you contact your priority creditors, give them your budget sheet so they know your financial situation. You may be able to pay an extra bit each month until the arrears are cleared.
If you can’t afford to pay anything to your priority creditors and your situation isn’t likely to get better, the outcome may be very serious. Get advice straightaway.
You can then deal with your non-priority debts.
- credit cards
- store cards
- Don't panic - Don't borrow any more money without getting independent advice.
- Don't ignore letters - make sure you contact all the people you owe money to (your creditors) and explain you payment difficulties and the steps you are taking to sort it out. If you ask them, creditors may agree to freeze interest and charges, although they don't have to.
- Make a list of all your debts - Keep all paperwork relating to your debts in one place. If you are not sure how much you owe, write or telephone your creditors to ask for the outstanding balances. Keep copies of your letters and make a note of any telephone conversations you have with your creditors. If any of your creditors have started court action or you don’t think you owe the money, get advice from our office.
- Work out a budget - Don’t commit to any repayments until you have completed a budget and established how much money you have got left each month after paying for essentials e.g. food, gas, rent, etc. The amount left once your expenses are deducted from your income is the amount you have left to pay towards your debts. Use a budget sheet.
- What offers to make - To make sure you treat all creditors equally and fairly, offer each creditor a share of the money you have left according to how much you owe. (These are called pro rata offers). Write to each of your creditors with your offer along with a copy of your budget. Whilst you are waiting for a reply, start paying what you have offered. Use the letter enclosed to assist you when writing to your creditors. If you have no money left in your budget, check you are not missing out on any benefits and get advice from our office.
- Don't give up if a creditor refuses - Keep paying what you have offered to pay and contact our office.
- Keep to the agreed payment plan - If your circumstances change, contact your creditors to explain or change your agreement. After a period of time, your creditors might want to look at your situation again. Don’t worry, just work out your offer again and send it to them. If your situation has not changed, they should let you keep to your agreement.
- Don't ignore and do reply to letters from your creditors - Calculate what you can afford to pay them using the budget sheet and keep paying what you have offered.
- Don't just give your house keys back - if your mortgage arrears, talk to your mortgage lender and talk to the Office of Fair Trading.
For further help and to make an appointment contact the:
Debt Counselling Service
Office of Fair Trading
Dedicated confidential phone line +44 1624 686510