The most vicious circle of all: borrowing to pay the bills

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The Independent Online

Richard Cullen took his life last year after running up more than £130,000 in credit card debts.

As Christmas approached, in 2004 he was receiving up to 20 phone calls a day from debt-collection agencies. The self-employed mechanic, who was 65 when he died, borrowed money over six years using 23 cards.

In 1998, his wife, Wendy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and he took six weeks off to care for her. He borrowed money to cover their living expenses.

With rising interest charges, he was forced to borrow more money to make the minimum repayments, and found himself in an inescapable loop.

In January last year, he was found dead in his car outside his home in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, with the engine running. He left his wife a note: "I just can't take this any more and you'll be better off without me."

Mrs Cullen holds the credit card companies responsible for her husband's death. "These credit card companies are just greedy and don't care about the effect they have on people's lives," she said.

"I knew he had credit card debts because he confessed a few days before he died, but I had no idea he owed as much as this. He was such a proud man, he didn't tell anyone the trouble he was in. If only he'd told me, we could have sorted it out together."

Mr Cullen borrowed from companies including MasterCard, Visa and American Express. He borrowed £10,000 on a Tesco credit card and had four cards with Barclays Bank, where he was a customer.

How to tackle the problem

* Do not ignore the problem - it will get worse if ignored.

* Do not borrow more money to pay off existing debts.

* Do not despair. Stay calm, do not feel guilty or afraid. Contact the National Debtline or Consumer Credit Counselling Service.

* Claim all the allowances, tax credits and benefits to which you are entitled.

* Seek professional help for health, emotional and family problems arising from the stress of debt problems.

* Consider telling family and friends. Their support will help and they may be able to work with you towards a solution.

* Get in touch with all creditors to explain the problems.

* Tackle priority debts first: those that could lead to you losing your home or your gas being cut off.