Simon Read: Why it never pays to hide your debts from your family

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The Independent Online

Do you lie to your family about how much you owe? One in five of us does, according to research published this week by the Post Office. Apart from the problems that lying can bring to a relationship, there is the pressure that people in debt bring on themselves by not opening up to those close to them.

Covering up debt has serious physical and emotional consequences. At a simple level, that can mean sleepless nights and irritability, but worries can quickly spiral out of control, leading to depression and disaster.

"The more depressed a person becomes as a result of their money worries, the harder it is for them to deal with them," says Malcolm Hurlston, chairman of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service charity (CCCS).

Donna Dawson, a psychologist specialising in personality, behaviour and relationships, warns: "Hiding the extent of debt from a partner or family member may give us a false illusion of control or independence, but the reality is that our mental and physical health suffers – and once uncovered, the health of our loved ones suffers as well. The irony is that the very things we are trying to protect – our trustworthiness and our good self-image – are lost anyway when all is revealed. It is far better to operate as openly and honestly as possible from the start, and to take loved ones into your confidence at a much earlier stage – that way, debtors can get the help, support and advice they really need."

A key issue about covering up debt is that it often means not dealing with it. According to the Post Office, the average person now owes £9,731.51 but will only admit to half of what they owe when talking to a partner or family member.

There are a lot of reasons why people are tempted to lie about the amount of financial trouble they may be in, not least embarrassment. But facing up to money troubles is usually the first step in resolving them. "Anyone who is finding it difficult to make ends meet should seek help as soon as possible," says Malcolm Hurlston. "The sooner you get help, the better the outcome."

I couldn't agree more – and I'm happy to point you towards the free debt advice available from the CCCS helpline on 0800 138 1111 or online from its website at

I have had an interesting email from a reader taking me to task for suggesting that contactless credit cards are a good thing. My correspondent expressed concern that just flashing the plastic is a lot less secure than swiping a card into a payment terminal and putting in a Pin. It's a good point. I'm all for progress and increased convenience and therefore the idea of contactless cards is one that appeals to me. I know from experience that if a card is cloned and used to steal cash, my money should be refunded by my card company, as long as it doesn't suspect me of being involved in the fraud.

But I also know from experience that banks spent years denying the possibility of card cloning and simply accused people who had money taken out of their accounts through ATMs of being careless with their cards and Pins. With that in mind, I plan to look at the whole subject of paying by plastic and security. I'm going to find out from banks just how they plan to ensure the new contactless cards are safe. But at the same time, I'd love to hear what you think about the increasing use of plastic. Are you embracing progress or are you held back by worries over security risks?

Pensions policies are damaging

political parties will damage your retirement plans, the Association of Consulting Actuaries has warned. The three main parties' manifestos pledge to improve the Basic State Pension are similar, but the ACA says the parties' policies for pensions and elderly care are "threadbare at best", often "piecemeal" and positively "damaging at worst".

Keith Barton, the chairman of the ACA, says: "The most depressing aspect of the parties' manifestos is their weak commitments in respect of reinvigorating private pension arrangements."

He wants the next government to focus its retirement policy on the promotion of a wide range of flexible retirement arrangements as part of a holistic approach to encouraging lifetime savings.

"Private pensions have done the most to improve pensioner incomes significantly over the last two generations, yet it is this sector that is now in a parlous state," says Barton. Financial incentives should be bigger to encourage saving for retirement, he adds.

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