My small business has effectively failed. I have found new employment on a reasonable salary and would like to pay off the business debts, but I need time. I am under a lot of pressure from creditors. I have a house that is jointly owned, but the mortgage exceeds the value of the house. Can I avoid bankruptcy?

A licensed insolvency practitioner will spend an hour or so with you without obligation to see whether you can put together a proposal for an individual voluntary arrangement. This is a deal between you and your creditors which could, for example, involve you making monthly contributions into the scheme until the debts are paid. If 75 per cent of your creditors (in value) approve the scheme, bankruptcy will be avoided.

The process is fairly informal. There are some costs involved, however these are usually lower than the costs of a bankruptcy. Bear in mind that an IVA is a one-shot weapon: if the creditors vote it down, bankruptcy will almost certainly follow.

Ask the insolvency practitioner some searching questions about his experience of IVAs and how many of them have succeeded. Not all insolvency practioners specialise in this area, nor is the cheapest necessarily your best bet.

Iam not in a company pension scheme. I have read that more than five million people have contracted out of the state scheme. Should I?

You have to choose between the state earnings-related pension scheme and a personal pension. This is a choice between a scheme giving an inflation- proof pension regardless of stock market performance (Serps) and a scheme where the eventual pension depends on future investment performance.

Contracting out of Serps only makes sense if , on the balance of probabilities, the personal pension is likely to produce a higher benefit. Even then, people should consider this move carefully. Given commission and insurance company charges, contracting out is only likely to significantly benefit higher paid people in their twenties and thirties who are prepared to take some risk.

My company owns a fleet of 50 cars. I gather that the VAT rules have changed and that leasing costs are being cut. Should I lease my cars and not buy them?

Quite possibly, especially for the cheaper cars (costing up to pounds 16,000- pounds 20,000). But VAT is not the only consideration. You need to think about corporation tax, interest costs, the service your suppliers give (in buying and maintaining the cars) and who takes the risk on the value of the car on resale.

There are many packages offered by the car industry to fit different circumstances.