You've got a debt problem

You do don't you? It's time to admit it - and start your rehab

There are more than 8 million people who have debts that cause them varying degrees of grief or worry.

Not all of the debts are what we'd call serious, because most of us can afford the repayments. However, the debts are impacting quality of life.

Most of you wouldn't dream of getting advice unless you had a serious problem and as a result you fail to contain and reduce your debts or to learn the best way for your particular situation to get rid of your debts in the shortest time.

A large minority have more serious problems, but most of you don't admit it for a long time, and end up regretting it.

'I don't need any help!'

Basically, most people just don't want advice at all, nor to admit that they could use some.

I've read thousands of messages from debtors over the years in emails and on discussion boards, so I've become very familiar with the reasons that people don't seek help. They normally are:

  • The debts aren't serious yet (although too often they become serious and pre-emptive debt and money-management advice would have helped).
  • They think they have only themselves to blame, so they should get out of the problem by themselves. However, the quicker you're out of difficulty the better it is for our society, so this is actually less helpful.
  • The debts are serious but you hide from them and try not to think about them. Does walking to your letterbox make you feel anxious? Can you walk to your post and open letters from your bank with total indifference? These questions can help you ascertain whether you're tricking yourself.
  • You're too ashamed to admit to family and friends that you have debts that eat noticeably into your spare income each month or, in severe cases, that your debts have grown out of control.
  • You don't think your debts are serious enough to warrant advice, but anyone with debt who is not managing to reduce it regularly and for at least a whole year should get some free advice.

Be honest, which way have your debts gone for the past few years, despite your efforts, up or down? If you still think that no one could help you reduce your debts faster, think to yourself: 'Am I just trying to fit the facts into my reality?' Also ask 'Do I feel comfortable talking to my family about my debts?'

Your debt solution

It may be that you can handle your debts yourself, but professional, independent advice can help you reduce your debts faster. If you're unable to handle your debts, you'll of course need help to tell you your best solution.

Depending on our individual circumstances, we have different solutions that are suitable for us which may be one more of the following:

Those of you whose debts aren't serious are probably yawning. You know that the main suggestion from an impartial advisor would be to budget better. Perhaps you think you can budget already?

OK then, how much income do you have spare each month, and each year? What is snowballing? How are you saving for your next holiday, for Christmas and for your next car service? You don't know, do you? You could use some tips on budgeting.

As for those of you who are very stressed about your debts, you're concerned that you'll be advised to take more drastic measures, such as contacting your creditors, cutting right back on spending or even bankruptcy.

This may be the case. However, the longer you leave it to seek advice the more extreme the solution will probably be. Be strong! Face your problems now and you will be happier again sooner.

This is your chance. Gather together all the financial paperwork you have with you and get advice now.

Why it pays to get out of debt sooner

A lot of people say that borrowing money is like borrowing from your future self. I invented my own version of this that I think is much clearer:

The more you borrow and the longer you borrow for, the less stuff you will be able to buy in your lifetime.

More specifically, the more debt interest you pay, the less stuff you'll be able to buy. If you have debts that just won't go down and you want to buy more stuff in your lifetime, get some advice.

Where to get advice

I've read a lot of feedback on the many different sources of debt advice, so I have a good handle on which are best. My favourite two resources are:

National Debtline, a charity that has a branch for Scotland and another for England and Wales, and which has given the best advice of any professional organisation that I've seen, commercial or otherwise.

The Motley Fool's Dealing with Debt discussion board, an informal resource where debt experts and former debtors debate your situation online (but anonymously) until they have come up with your best solution.

If you are in Northern Ireland, then you might like to try Debtline NI. It's part of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, which gets mostly good feedback in Britain. If you choose to use it, please let us at know how it went, as we'd like more feedback on Northern Ireland's debt services.

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