Becoming caught in the vicious cycle of serious debt is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Pride becomes dented, relationships sour, work becomes ever more stressful, and it can lead to mounting health and mental problems. And unfortunately there’s no shortage of ways of getting into that situation!
Invitations to take new credit cards are frequently sent to regular borrowers; major purchases such as cars or electronics often come with ‘buy now, pay later’ offers, and then of course there is the rise of the payday lender – short term loans for those who need some quick money to tide them over until the end of the month, with staggeringly high interest rates for anyone who misses a payment.
On the other side, often fighting a losing battle it seems, are government-sponsored schemes such as the Money Advice Service and various charitable organisations, trying to help people avoid falling into debt, or to get themselves out of it.
Economic recovery may be on the cards in the UK, but wages are stubbornly refusing to go up, and as the prospect of an interest rate rise looms on the horizon, for many borrowers their mortgage and credit card repayments may be about to get much more cumbersome. A lot of people may soon be forced into debt whether they like it or not, just to keep a roof over their heads.
How, then, to escape that situation? How to fight back against debt?
Firstly – try to avoid any kind of debt that carries with it a high interest rate. Payday lenders are to be avoided at all costs – there are always alternatives, they just may not have a high street presence or frequent ads on the television. Existing credit cards should be paid off in the order of highest interest first.
Next, consolidation. The trick with managing debt is always to know exactly what is going out from your account, when, and to whom. That is the key to avoiding missed payments, overdraft penalties, and paying for things you don’t need. Draw up a spreadsheet, study your bank statements, and get a detailed idea of your debt situation. And then look at consolidation.
Try to get one big loan, preferably from a bank or credit union, that will be large enough to pay off all your smaller debts, or at least those with steep interest rates. That way you only have one predictable payment to worry about every month. This stage is also good for checking if you are paying for anything you no longer need, such as for insurance on white goods.
Keep in mind the various professional services that exist to provide advice for people who have fallen into debt. Many private companies advertise, but will usually charge for information you can get free of charge elsewhere. If you have debt worries then the best place to start is with a friendly ear.
Managing debt involves prioritisation. If you have any high-interest loans outstanding, get them cleared first. Then the most important thing is mortgage payments. Missing just one or two can lead to your home being repossessed. If an interest rate is going to seriously hinder your ability to pay, you need to discuss it with your mortgage provider immediately.
As rumours circulate that an interest rate rise may be on the way, many people will be trying to move from a tracker mortgage to a fixed-rate. This involves a higher, but more predictable monthly payment. All other debts fall into line behind the mortgage – keeping hold of your home is vital.
Credit cards should be paid off next, as well as any other large debts such as car financing. Essentially what you need to do is limit your exposure. It takes time and effort to escape debt, but with the foreknowledge that interest rates will have to rise at some point, and that the increase will probably be gradual, it’s possible to keep the impact to a minimum.