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Spend & Save

Simon Read: The pressures are beginning to ease

Mortgage payments have fallen to their second lowest level on record, according to figures published this week by the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Borrowers who bought a new home in November spent an average of less than 11 per cent of their income on paying the interest element of their mortgage, the lowest level for 13 years and the second lowest since records began in 1974.

It's a pleasing sign that the financial pressures are beginning to ease, and is backed up by indications that we have finally crawled out of recession and back into growth. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said the economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the last three months of 2009, the first quarter of growth since the beginning of 2008. They're not official figures – they will be published by the Office of National Statistics at the end of the month. But they are a sign that the financial chill is beginning to thaw.

But the further good news from the mortgage industry is that the credit crunch has forced a massive retreat from the trend of buying properties as investments back to the traditional idea of buying properties as homes. This is as it should be, I believe. Investors snapping up properties to build up a buy-to-let portfolio were one of the key reasons that led us to the position we're in today, where people hoping to buy their first property have been frozen out of the market by high prices. Once the market has settled down and banks and building societies start lending again and not demanding massive deposits, the prospects for first-timers should look more positive.

Meanwhile the beginning of next week has been dubbed Blue Monday – the most miserable day of the year. The date was calculated by using a variety of factors, including: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), the length of time since Christmas, the length of time since failing our new year's resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action. Does it sound credible? It's not. It was a PR campaign originally created to encourage people to book a holiday in the quiet January period.

Now some debt firms have been taking it up as an excuse to encourage people to do something about their debts. It just goes to show that even from the most cynical of beginnings, good can come. It gives me an excuse to list the free sources of debt advice available to anyone worried about money.

The arrival of Christmas bills and credit card statements can cause panic and problems in struggling households. But if they know there is advice at hand and ways out of their nightmare because of the Blue Monday PR campaign, then it's likely that some of them will seek help. By the time next year's most miserable day arrives, many of them may have even sorted out their debt problems.

Where can you get free advice? At any Citizens Advice Bureau or by phone or online from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (0800 138 1111: www.cccs.co.uk); National Debt Line (0808 808 4000: www,nationaldebtline.co.uk); or Payplan (0800 280 2816: www.payplan.com).