This is part 1 of the “Dig Yourself Out of Debt” Series, published every Thursday. Surfing old posts? You can access every post in this series by clicking here.
I’m a regular over on the Money Saving Expert forums, particularly the ‘Debt-Free Wannabe’ area. On a daily basis, people post that they owe money, but they’ve no idea to whom, how much for, or at what rate. Before you can even begin to cut your debt, you have to know what you owe.
Priority Debts – First things first. Do you have any Priority Debts? These generally are:
- Council Tax
- Mortgage / Secured Loan / Rent
- Child Support
- Court Fines
Falling behind on these can see you homeless, sent to prison or both, hence the term ‘priority debts’. Either is unlikely though, if you make a best effort to pay back what you owe with what you have available to you. In terms of council tax, the minimum arrears payment for someone on a low income can be as little as £2.65 a week.
Once you have got your priority debts under control, it’s time to attack ‘everything else’.
Find your loan agreements – Hopefully you’ve kept them safe and accessible. These will show what you’re paying, at what rate, and when it ends. If you can’t find this then check your bank statements to at least get some idea of the monthly figure. We’ll see in a little while how to find the remaining missing information.
Find your credit card statements – or access them online. Credit cards with revolving balances are usually one of the most expensive ways to borrow money longterm, with perhaps the exception of the payday loan sharks. Interest rates vary wildly from a very good 6% up to a wild 55% and beyond, depending on your own personal circumstances and payment history.
Are you in arrears with utilities? Don’t forget to take into account any arrears with your electricity, water, gas, or telephone suppliers. These generally won’t affect your credit rating but can have much more direct consequences, i.e. disconnection.
Are you in arrears with credit companies? You need to take action right here. These will affect your credit rating, and can and will end up costing you a fortune for up to 6 years after the fact. Talk to your lenders and come to an arrangement to pay what you owe, including arrears. Ask them if they can freeze your interest, effectively turning the credit product into a fixed-term loan. Don’t bury your head in the sand over the issue, as it’ll only get worse the longer you leave it. You’ll also probably start to get harassing telephone calls hourly or daily around this point, demanding you make payments you probably cannot afford. You don’t have to take this though: demand all contact by written form in future and advise them that further telephone calls will be dealt with as harassment. Speak to one of the debt charities (CCCS are very good) or Citizens Advice as a matter of urgency.
Defaulted. Debt sold. Now who do I owe? – This is where it gets murky. If you know who you owed prior to this point, contact your old lender. They may be able to tell you who they sold the debt onto.Alternatively pull your credit reports and see where the defaults are, and who they are from. This will also give you some idea of the amounts. If it has got to this point, your credit rating has already likely taken all the battering it’s going to for this debt, so it gives you the upper hand. Your debt would have been purchased likely for pennies in the pound, so you may be able to make a vastly reduced payment to the Debt Collection Agency. They would get their ‘profit’, even though you pay far less than you originally owed. It won’t fix your credit report though, but neither would paying back the full amount.
Get Your Credit Reports – There are three Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs) in the UK: Equifax, Experian and CallCredit. These folks compile your financial history in terms of your borrowing and more importantly, your reliability in paying back. Other lenders then use this historical information to credit score your future suitability for a particular product.
The information on the files remains for 6 years from the point of settlement, so if you had a bumpy credit card ride when you were 18 and finally closed the account when you were 20 it can still affect you when you try and get a mortgage at 25! Check their respective websites for a 30 day free trial, but remember to cancel before the period is up to save paying anything. Right now (at the time of writing) Experian and Equifax offer free trials. CallCredit charge £12 for 3 months of access.
One benefit of accessing your reports is they can help fill the gaps in your lending knowledge. The CRAs will know what you owe, to whom, when the agreement started, how much you should be paying, and when those payments are due!
Knowledge is power, and once you know what you owe, you are very knowledgeable indeed.
Continue reading the Dig Yourself Out of Debt Series – Part 2 is here.
Tags: Arrears, bank statements, Callcredit, Collection agency, Credit, Credit card, Credit history, Credit rating, Credit Report, Credit score, Debt, Debt Collection Agency, Equifax, Experian PLC, Loan shark, MoneySavingExpert.com, Payday loan
Category Debt, Dig Yourself Out of Debt, Financial Guides, Strategy
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