Help with debt

Worrying about your finances can be lonely and frightening. You keep thinking you can find a way to fix things but as each day passes and interest payments grow, getting on top of debts can be a real struggle. Hoping your money problems will go away is the worst thing you can do. If you fail to pay your rent or mortgage then you are at risk of losing the very roof over your head. Ignoring bills and credit card debts will mean you end up owing more money and risk damaging your long term credit prospects with late or missed payments. The first step to financial recovery is admitting that you are in trouble. The next is seeking help. And the good news is that there is plenty of it around and it costs nothing.

There are several national organsations which provide counselling, advice or just a friendly ear if you have concerns about money.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service is a registered charity whose purpose is to assist people who are in financial difficulty by providing free, independent, impartial and realistic advice. You can speak with a freephone helpline counsellor who performs an immediate assessment of the situation ending in emergency help, self-help material or the offer of a counselling interview. The interview can take place over the phone or face to face in one of the centres and CCCS will send you information to read in advance. The interview consists of a full review of the credit and debt situation followed by a recommendation. The first priority wherever possible is to allow fully for your essential expenditure, priority debts and living expenses. Then the counsellor will assess whether you have enough left over to make an offer of repayment to other creditors. If you do, the CCCS asks creditors to freeze interest, stop penalties, accept a longer repayment period and sometimes a reduced sum. Many creditors now have such respect for the CCCS that they accept its repayment proposals without further checks. Call 0800 138 1111 or Open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday.

National Debtline is a national telephone helpline for people with debt problems in England, Wales and Scotland. Again, the service is free, confidential and independent. The organisation is committed to discussing your debt problems and the options available to you. The specialist advice given over the telephone is backed up with written self-help materials which are sent out to you for free. In certain circumstances, the organsation can assist in setting up a free debt management plan for you. Call 0808 808 4000 or Open 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and 9.30am to 1pm Saturday.

Payplan is one of the UK’s leading debt management companies, assisting individuals who have unmanageable debts and working closely with charities such as National Debtline. Unlike most debt management companies, Payplan provide a free debt management service and are an independent company whose aim is to help people set up and keep to a manageable repayment plan. Their services are paid for by the credit industry who believe people should have access to free help with their debt problems. Firstly they will carry out a full assessment of your financial situation. They will then approach your creditors and ask them to approve the offer of reduced payments.You then make one monthly payment to Payplan and they then send the (pro-rata) amounts directly to your creditors (usually by electronic bank transfer). All of this money goes directly towards reducing your debt. They will help and support you throughout the duration of your arrangement. You will be given an individual case officer who will be available to help you should you experience any problems. They undertake regular reviews of your circumstances to ensure that your Payplan arrangement is still working. The arrangement then continues until all of your debts are cleared. Call 0800 085 4298 or Open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday.

The Citizens Advice service helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free information and advice from over 3,200 locations, and by influencing policymakers. Citizens Advice and each Citizens Advice Bureau are registered charities reliant on over 20,000 volunteers. The majority of their advisers are trained volunteers, helping people to resolve over 5.6 million problems every year. Before seeing an adviser about debt, CA recommend that you gather together all your financial papers. These should include any court papers and letters, bills and credit agreements, and details of your income and expenditure and that of your spouse or partner. If you have to wait for an appointment with an advisor, it may be useful to tell creditors that you have contacted an adviser for help. Most creditors welcome the involvement of a specialist adviser. They may be willing to hold off action to enable an agreement to be reached. Consult your phone directory for your local office.

The Samaritans provide confidential emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. They are there for you if you're worried about something, feel upset or confused, or you just want to talk to someone. Call 08457 90 90 90 in the UK and Northern Ireland.

Don't wait until the bills arrive

'Over half of our clients say they waited too long - over a year after they knew they had a problem - before seeking help,' says CCCS Chairman Malclolm Hurlston. You might think that January would be a busy time for debt counselling services. But although the number of people seeking help with debt rises each year by at least 10%, the phones don't start ringing off the hook until February or March when the credit card bills have arrived and repayments are looking tricky. Then the staff can face nearly 1000 calls a day. Those contacting the Consumer Credit Counselling Service carry an average of £25,000 debt, but now many come to the counselling service owing more than £100,000, excluding mortgage debt.

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