Welcome to ‘Ask Jenni’, a new blog series where I try to help you resolve your big money dilemmas. This week, let’s have a chat with Claire who made a nightmare discovery when having a spring cleaning session…
My girlfriend (28) and I have been together for 2 years and we recently started renting a small flat together in London. Over the weekend I decided to have a huge sort out while my girlfriend was at work. While tiding the wardrobe, I found a handful of bills that showed she’s in over £30,000 worth of debt from credit cards, store cards and payday loans. When she came home, I confronted her about the debts. It didn’t go well. She’s mad at me for looking through her stuff and refuses to talk about the debt. She says there’s nothing she can do about it right now because she’s living pay cheque to pay cheque as it is. Since we first got together, she’s always found enough money to go on nights out and treat herself to new clothes though.
I’ve always been sensible with my money and aside from my student loan, I don’t have any debts at all. I don’t want her finances to ruin mine, but I also don’t feel right breaking up with her over money. Every other aspect of our relationship is perfect so I feel like I should help her. But I’m annoyed that she kept this from me for so long and I don’t know how to fix the problem. From looking at the statements, it seems like most of the debt was accumulated before she and I met.
Hands up if at some point in your life you’ve tried to ignore a financial problem rather than address it.
My hand is up right now.
I bet the vast majority of us are guilty of sticking our heads in the sand at one time or another.
Sometimes it may seem easier to just act like the issue will go away on its own. Even though, deep down, you know it won’t.
If you’re in debt, you probably know this feeling well. Whether you’re guilty of leaving bills unopened or refusing to add up the full total of your debts, the thought of actually trying to tackle the problem head on may seem terrifying.
But guess what? You can fix this. You may need help, you may need to make drastic life changes, but you can and will get out of debt.
This is what Martin Lewis has to say:
“Millions of the people in the UK are in debt, many of them are worried about their debt and don’t know what to do. And yet with all those different cases, as long as I’ve been doing this, I have never yet heard of one that isn’t solvable somehow”
Isn’t that reassuring? Now, the first thing you have to do is get your head out the sand and weigh up the ‘damage’.
The sooner you have a good idea of how much you owe, the sooner you can find the most suitable help for you.
If you’re in debt and unsure where to start, here’s a quick guide to help you on your way:
Once you’ve got an idea how much you owe, it’s worth seeking help. There are tons of debt management companies that will charge you for their help, but there are plenty of services out there that offer free, impartial advice to help you get out of this mess. Most debt experts recommend making use of these free services.
Here are just a few to consider:
Money Advice Service
It’s up to you whether you want to call the above services or simply read what they have to say on their websites. I do think that if you’re seriously struggling with your debt, it’s worth giving them a call and having a chat.
The people you speak to will have a thorough understanding of debt problems and they’ll know all the possible solutions like the back of their hand. Rather than you picking the right solution alone, they’ll be able to help you find the best option for you, using their extensive wisdom.
Once you’ve spoken to the experts, they may help you draw up a budget. Budgeting is a fantastic way of creating more disposable income for yourself that can then be used to tackle your debts and get them cleared quicker.
Whether you write your budget down on a piece of paper, create a spreadsheet in Google or Excel, or even get a budgeting app such as Mint or You Need A Budget, there are plenty of ways to draw up a budget.
You may find it useful to start by tracking everything you spend. I did this throughout April and was horrified to see how much I wasted on unnecessary things. But even if you’re already pretty savvy with your shopping and avoid spending money on random purchases, it can be interesting to see exactly where you cash is being spent.
You may find that you’re spending way more on electricity than necessary. You may find that a hefty chunk of your income goes on food. Once you know where you cash is going, you can find better ways to manage your money. And once you’ve given your budget a re-jig, you can use the leftover cash to make a dent in your debt. payments.
Debt Management Plan
If you need a more serious plan of action, then a debt management plan (DMP) might be a solution for you.
Some debt companies will charge you for a DMP, so you’re probably best off looking for a free one. That way, all the money you can afford to pay will go straight towards slashing your debt, rather than paying a free.
Although this may sound like a completely innocent option free from catches, it’s important to be aware that in some cases a DMP could seriously affect your credit rating. Of course, if your credit rating is already very poor having struggled with debt repayments, this might not seem like the end of the world.
Perhaps one of the best things about a DMP compared to other options is that it’s not legally binding. This means that if your circumstances change, you aren’t legally compelled to stick to the original plan. You can arrange a new structure that suits you better. However, on the downside, your creditors could also change terms too.
If you have numerous debts with various creditors, debt consolidation may be an option. This usually involves merging all your debts into one so that you have just one repayment each month.
However, although this may sound like a magical solution, it’s certainly not something that you just jump into. Drawbacks can include variable and unpredictable interest rates and a severely damaged credit rating.
For some people, debt consolidation really is the best option and one that (eventually) frees them from their money woes. But for most people in debt, there are better ways to fix the problem.
If the above options aren’t appropriate, then an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) could be the next step. But you should never make the decision to do this alone, nor should you go to a profitable debt company that charges you for such a service. Their job is to make money out of you and so they won’t necessarily help you find the right option for your circumstances. Go to Payplan, StepChange or Citizens Advice instead!
An IVA takes all of your debts, freezes them and consolidates them into one easy to manage monthly repayment. An IVA usually takes around five years to clear and your credit rating will be affected but there is no need to put your most valuable assets – such as your house or car – as equity for the loan.
Find others in the same boat
It can really help to know that you’re not alone. Whether you’re at the very start of your debt repayment journey or you’re already making good progress, it can be wise to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
Skint Dad – Ricky & Naomi Willis are working hard to pay off their debt & they’re sharing their journey along the way. Follow them for plenty of relatable debt stories and money saving tips.
Money Saving Expert’s Debt-Free Wannabe forum – a great place to share tips and cheer each other on
Dave Ramsey’s podcasts – definitely worth a listen, even though his debt views do differ greatly from Martin Lewis’ approach
Whatever your debt situation, there is always a lifeline out there for you, don’t bury your head in the sand, tackle your financial situation today and ensure your future is not plagued by worry and debt problems.