Seven tips for dealing with debt

Struggling with debt is one of life's most stressful experiences but the situation will only get worse unless you take positive steps. Here are seven tips for those dealing with debt.

Katy Ward
Friday 22 January 2010 14:28 GMT

If you are in debt, you are not alone. According to financial education charity Credit Action, the average UK household debt is £57,888, including mortgages.

Living in denial will only increase your money woes – as well as your anxiety. As soon as you face up to the situation, paying off your debts may be simpler than you realize.

1. Face facts

Your first step is to discover the extent of your financial problems. Begin by collating your latest bank statements, tracking down any misplaced pieces of paperwork and opening those bills you have been ignoring. Next make a list of how much you owe each company and the rates of interest. Once you have this information, you can prioritise your debts.

2. Draw up a budget

Next, work out how much you can afford to spend on debt repayment each month. The Financial Services Authority's online budget calculator should help with this by tallying your total income against your expenses and calculating how much is left over. You can then put this amount towards your debt repayment every month.

Once you know exactly how much you can afford to allocate to paying off your debts you will be able to devise a repayment plan to suit you.

This is also a good opportunity to assess your spending habits and see if you can cut back on luxuries you could really do without. Simple steps such as taking a packed lunch to work and giving up your morning latte could make a significant difference to your bank balance.

3. Switch to 0%

If you owe money on expensive credit cards, find out if you can transfer your debt onto a 0 per cent balance transfer credit card. These clever cards eliminate interest charges for an introductory period, ensuring that every penny you repay goes towards beating down your balance. However, to make the most of this type of deal you must ensure you repay your debt within the offer period.

Alternatively, if you need longer to repay your debt you may be better off opting for a long term, low rate credit card. Although you will still pay some interest each month, it will probably be at a much lower rate.

Be aware that these cards require an almost unblemished credit rating. Therefore before you apply it is a good idea to obtain a copy of your credit history from one of the UK’s three main credit referencing agencies – Experian, Equifax and Callcredit.

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4. Explore overdraft options

Paying too much interest on your overdraft can easily exacerbate your debt problems.

If you think you're paying over the odds for your overdraft service, find out if you can switch to a current account with a 0 per cent overdraft. Right now, the Alliance & Leicester Premier Current Account is offering an interest free overdraft of up to £2,000 fixed for 12 months.

What's more, Alliance and Leicester is also offering £100 cashback bonus when you switch. However, keep in mind it is likely you will need to undergo a credit check before you are accepted.

5. Consider a personal loan

There are times when taking out a personal loan can be an effective strategy for debt management.

If you can get a market leading rate, the APR may well be lower than you are paying with your current credit card. If you really shop around, it is possible to get a rate below 8 per cent. This is much more favourable than the standard 16-17 per cent APR charged by the typical credit card.

It could also make sense to take out a personal loan if you would like to borrow a large amount of money. As a general rule of thumb, loans for more than £7,000 are likely to come with lower APRs than those for smaller amounts. However, be careful not to borrow more money than you need as this could increase the temptation to get into more debt.

As with any financial product, you should always shop around. You're unlikely to get the most competitive rate by approaching your existing lender and accepting their first offer.

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6. Snowball your debts

Rather than tacking all your debts simultaneously, you might want to think about a debt-busting technique called "snowballing". This is where you single out one of your debts and then concentrate all your efforts on paying this debt off, while making the minimum repayments on everything else.

Then, as soon as you have paid your first debt off, you get to work on the next debt and continue until you have cleared them all. Psychologically, it can be rewarding to see your creditors become fewer and fewer.

7. Seek advice

If, despite your best efforts, you cannot see a way out of your financial predicament, it's important to get professional advice immediately. Independent organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and National Debtline offer free guidance for people who are overwhelmed by their financial problems. The CAB currently deals with 9,300 new debt problems per day.

If you are struggling to meet your financial commitments, it is also worth approaching your creditors to explain the situation and suggest a more feasible repayment plan.

Start saving

Once you feel as though you have gotten on top of your debts, it's vital to take steps to ensure you don’t end up in the same position again. Try to set aside some of your salary each month so you have an emergency fund to fall back on should something unexpected happen in the future.

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Katy Ward writes for

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