Struggling with debt?
If you have read my introductory blog then you will be aware that I have spent a lot of time over the last 15 years struggling with debt. Now I do not mean a couple of grand on a credit card or a small loan for some home improvements, I am talking substantial debt with no obvious way out.
There are a lot of blogs and articles out there taking you through all the ways you can save money and pay off your debts so I will avoid this as much as I can, although there are a few of my own experiences which I would like to share.
What I want to share with you is what I realized, how I went about getting debt-free and a few lessons that I learned along the way.
First things first, and this is quite possibly the hardest thing to do, is to admit to yourself that you have a problem. Not like I did with gambling, but a problem with your finances.
It sounds silly I know, you’re going to know that you are in a tough place financially, however, knowing you’re in a tough place and actually admitting to yourself that there is an issue which you need to resolve can be two very different things.
Get yourself some paper and a pen, or get on the computer, whichever you prefer and make a comprehensive list, and I mean comprehensive, right down to how much your morning lattes cost you every month and start tracking your expenses.
If you’re anything like I was, you will find a number of things on there that you did not realize were costing you so much every month. Also, and this may be hard, you may find that your outgoings are actually more than your income, this is the situation I found myself in.
If you find yourself in a similar situation as I did, then the most important thing you need to do is take action. Hiding from the problem, as obvious as it sounds, will not solve it and you may well find yourself slipping further and further into debt.
Now as much as this post may be conceived as quite negative up to this point, just remember that the whole point so far has been to:
Recognize that you have an issue
Assess the scope of the problem
Accept the fact that you need to take action
Once you have reached this point then don’t worry. As daunting as it can feel, having all of the information in front of you, and trust me I know, it can feel like there is no way out, saying it can feel like you’re drowning in debt really doesn’t do it justice, however, there IS help out there, all you need to do is ask for it.
Congratulations, you are now on the road to freedom from debt and a whole new financial future.
Now you know where you are, it is time to start looking at your options. We’ll now look at a few of the ways you can move forward to hopefully give you a good idea which option may be best for you.
Time for action.
At this point, I would seriously recommend talking to someone. I mentioned in my previous Blog that I spoke to Stepchange, a UK based debt charity.
If you are in the UK, I cannot recommend them enough, no judgment just good honest advice from people who frankly know a lot more than me. If you’re not in the UK, then my best advice is to search for any debt charity in your country, you will ordinarily find plenty of options.
The best and main reason for this recommendation is that being a charity, they do not charge. There will be no selling, no trying to get you to take out a particular “plan”, they will look at your situation with unbiased eyes and give you their honest opinion on the best way forward.
If you’re not inclined to speak to anyone, then you really need to have a good look at your financial sheet that you’ve created and start listing creditors.
The first thing you need to do is to speak to all of them and explain your situation.
A lot of creditors now will assist you where they can in arranging some sort of payment plan. The gold standard result is that they will freeze any future interest and close the account. Not all creditors will do this but it’ worth asking, if you are able to do it then this will save you a fortune in interest payments in the future.
Debt Consolidation Loans
One option for those of you who have caught this early and/or are not in the position of seeking advise, is to look at a debt consolidation loan.
These are generally a higher APR than a normal personal loan and will vary depending on your credit score. If you are seriously considering a loan then be careful and make sure you understand exactly what you are signing up for.
Shop around and ensure that your consolidation loan will actually reduce your payments sufficiently enough that you will not put yourself back in the same position.
The majority of the time you will find that your overall debt will increase due to the elongated term of the debt, however, a consolidation loan is a good way to go if you are looking to reduce your monthly outgoings.
One of the key factors when considering a consolidation loan is committing to using the loan to pay off ALL of your outstanding debt so that your loan payment is your only outgoing, debt-wise at least.
DO NOT do what I did. Once you have paid off your debts close your accounts. I made the mistake of paying off but keeping my credit cards and perhaps expectedly, ended up racking them back up. This left me in the position where I was paying for my debt consolidation loan every month, along with multiple credit cards which shouldn’t have even been a factor anymore.
Overall, if you are considering this then:
Create a plan to pay off all outstanding debts.
Shop around for the best loan rate you can get. This could be either a debt consolidation loan or a personal loan depending on your credit score.
Once you have the money in your account, pay off ALL of your debts and CANCEL your accounts. You want to be in the position where the only outstanding thing you have is your loan repayment.
Debt Management Plan (DMP)
A Debt management plan is an agreement between you and your creditors. It is generally something to be considered if you are dealing with a higher amount of personal debt as a DMP is one of the options in which you may be able to agree on terms with the creditors, such as freezing the interest on your account along with reduced/elongated payments and possibly a reduction in the overall amount owed.
DMPs are generally arranged through a credit counseling agency or charity and will normally involve providing them with a comprehensive list of all of your income and expenditures so that they can approach the creditors with a plan of action. Ordinarily, you will pay the Debt charity or Credit counseling agency directly. They will then separate your payment into the agreed amounts and pay the Creditors on your behalf.
A massive bonus of a DMP is that all communications with your Creditors will be via the company you decide to use. This will generally mean that you see a reduction in the amount of letters/phone calls from the Creditors, a big bonus if they have been causing you any degree of stress.
More details can be found in my article (What is a Debt Management Plan (DMP) and how do I get one)
Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA)
In England and Wales, an IVA is a formal alternative to Bankruptcy. These are a step up from a DMP and generally reserved for those with higher unsecured debt, both in terms of monetary value and their own ability to pay. As with a DMP, an IVA can be arranged via a credit counseling agency or charity who will act as the primary point of contact between yourself and the creditors.
Be aware, you will not automatically be able to set up an IVA, whichever agency you speak to, they will take a look at your income and expenditures and guide you towards the best course of action. In addition, an IVA will adversely affect your credit score more than a DMP, but less than Bankruptcy, this is something that MUST be taken into consideration when deciding which way to go.
Once an IVA is identified as the best way forward, then a meeting with the majority of your creditors will be made. At this meeting, a proposal regarding your future repayments will be made. This can include discussing a reduction in the overall amount of debt, the interest rate or a freeze thereof and the percentage that each creditor will receive.
This is not a chance for you to reduce your overall debt, this will be directed and proposed for you and all worked out from your income and essential bills. What is left will be split between your creditors to pay off as much debt as possible.
Although it may seem odd that creditors are willing to accept a reduced return from the money you owe, just remember that to them, accepting an IVA and obtaining a percentage of the debt back is better than receiving nothing, which may well be the case if you declare Bankruptcy.
More details can be found in my article (What is an IVA?)
Debt Relief Orders
For those of you who are just struggling to make ends meet. Working to pay the bills with little or no money left to get yourself through the month, then a Debt Relief Order (DRO) may be for you.
DROs are a form of insolvency, although not to the same level as Bankruptcy. If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can apply for a DRO via a DRO advisor.
If approved, you will stop making payments to your creditors for 12 months, after which time your debts are written off.
Sound great, but be aware that there are a number of restrictions that come with a DRO so they are not something to be taken lightly.
For more details on DROs, what the pros and cons are and what the process is, check out my article ‘What is a Debt Relief Order (DRO)‘
The last and most extreme way of dealing with your debts is by way of declaring bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy is reserved for those who physically cannot repay some of if not all the debts that they owe to their creditors. This is a legal procedure and must go through the court process, ultimately resulting in a court order releasing the Debtor from the debts and ending the process. There are upfront fees and large red strikes on your credit report for bankruptcy so before you even consider this, ensure that there is no other way of paying off your debts.
Ultimately, if there is no way in which you can satisfy your debts either on your own, through a DMP or even partially via an IVA then bankruptcy can be applied for online, in the UK at least. If this is the only option then bare in mind that you may find it very hard to get credit in all forms for a number of years.
In summary, to close this Blog, the main thing you need to do if you are in a position where you are struggling financially is to accept the fact, set out and identify your income and expenditures and make a plan. If this means speaking to someone and getting professional advice then so be it, that is what they are there for and they are the experts in their fields for a reason, finances, and debt can be a minefield of options and worries so let someone help.
If there is one thing you take away from this then just know, from personal experience, that once you have a plan in place and you start moving forward with your life and finances, the weight lifted is immense and really can set you back on the right path.
In the future of this Blog, we will look in more depth at:
Debt Management Plans
Individual Voluntary Arrangements
Bankruptcy and is it really an option?
Your Credit Score
How you can improve your credit score
As always, Please share this blog with anyone it may help. Ultimately, I’m sharing my experiences and hoping that someone out there will benefit from what I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made.
If you have any feedback or anything you would like me to cover then please leave a comment below.
Here’s to a more controlled and fulfilling financial future.