Debt Survival Kit

14 January 2011

Recent research revealed that consumers with debt issues wait around nine months before they actually go and get debt advice, then take a further five weeks before they act upon it.

So why wait so long? Is it because we don't know what to do when we first get a hint of money worries?

Anyone that has previously struggled with debts will agree that it is a struggle to get back in control, especially when dealing with often aggressive and demanding creditors or debt collectors.

Many borrowers complain of being bulldozed, bullied and intimidated into making payments they cannot afford, so why don't we wise up and take these bullies on at their own game? It's relatively easy to do; all you need is an hour or so of your time.

Start an action plan

All your lenders will ask what disposable income (DI) you have. DI is the amount of money you have left after deducting from your income all your reasonable and necessary living expenditure.
For example - if you have an income of £1,500 a month and your living expenses before you pay your debts are £1,300. Your DI is therefore £200 which is the correct amount you should be offering for your unsecured debts and not paying them in full if you do not have the funds to do so.

Next work out what type of debts you have, for example, establish whether they are secured, such as a mortgage, or unsecured, such as personal loans from the bank, bank overdrafts and/or credit and store cards. Make a list of whose names the debts are in: you, your partner, if applicable and joint ones.

Finally, list what assets you have, your home if you own it, the mortgage outstanding and what you think it is worth, then look at cars, jewellery etc.

Get a new 'parachute' bank account

Make sure any new account you open is not connected to any of the lenders to whom you owe money, for example Halifax and HBOS are under the same organisation.

So if you opened a bank account with the Halifax but owe money to the Bank of Scotland then you run a serious risk if you miss a debt repayment. Both banks come under the banking group HBOS and this means that either bank can take money out of the account to pay off the other one and it's called setting off.

Know who to pay first

You should pay your priority creditors before attempting to pay your unsecured ones. Basically, just think that if you stopped paying, can the lender take something away from you, or cut off the service they provide and if so, that's your priority creditor/lender.

For you to stay in control you need to tell the lender what you can afford and not what they want you to pay, which is why working out your DI as above is absolutely crucial to your survival.

Know your consumer rights!

The Office of Fair Trading has detailed debt collection guidelines that all UK lenders must observe and they also apply to debt collectors that are acting for the lender or have purchased the debt from your previous creditor.

Therefore it would be a good idea to swat up on your rights and recognise when they are abusing the rules. Just imagine that great feeling when you retort to an aggressive lender acting improperly that they are breaking the OFT debt collection guidelines.

Here are just a few of the most commonly flouted rules;

  • Contacting borrowers at unreasonable times and at unreasonable intervals
  • Pressurising borrowers to pay in full, in unreasonably large installments, or to increase payments when they are unable to do so
  • Contacting debtors directly and bypassing their appointed representatives like the CAB

Know when to contact your lenders

If you already contacted your lender then I would say you in pretty good shape for the fight. Many debt advisers say as soon as you experience debt issues and know you are about to miss a repayment then contact the lender.

I would advise getting professional help first before you contact your creditors/lenders as this will ensure your expenditure has been worked out correctly within the industry guidelines for housekeeping, food and clothing etc:

Also research what options are available to you, such as bankruptcy, debt relief order (DRO), Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), debt management plan or debt consolidation.

Know where to go for debt advice

You could try the CAB but they are under pressure at the moment, seeing close just under 10,000 NEW debt enquiries every day, so appointments and meeting times will be delayed and somewhat stretched.

National Debt Line is also available, government funded and compared to some others, independent as they do not rely on creditors to fund their organisation.

You could also look at the commercial sector of the industry which has greatly improved of late, the downside being that they will charge fees but for this you should get an improved level of service.

Stay positive and don't give up

If a creditor/lender refuses your offer of repayment or to stop the interest then reaffirm your efforts. Get them to give up and not you! Don't borrow more money to pay off your creditors unless you have taken professional advice to do so.

Don't be frightened to ask for specialist help and advice and ignore the problem. Hoping it will just go away is not the answer! Just remember: don't be intimidated, threatened or bullied into making offers or promises you know you cannot keep. It is not a crime to be in debt, insist you are treated fairly and with respect.

Useful links

Basic bank accounts -

OFT Debt Collection Guidelines -

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