People in the UK owe more money than ever before. As it becomes easier and easier to borrow, whether in the form of credit cards, loans or countless other personal finance options, we are lured deeper and deeper into the debt trap, often to the point where we face an overwhelming financial burden that we have no means of repaying. Figures from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service reveal the extent of this problem - the number of service users in 'extreme' debt (owing more than £100,000) rose from 1.4% to 2.7% in just one year from 2004 to 2005.
Such debt problems are often compounded by a lack of understanding of financial matters, leading to poor decisions that send debt levels soaring even further out of control. Many individuals, for example, attempt to juggle their borrowing by taking on new loans or credit cards to repay others, thereby creating an even more tangled web of debt and often paying even more interest on top of that already owed.
Worse still, a great number of people find themselves spiralling more and more towards financial insolvency by failing to admit that they have a debt problem in the first place. Debt is very easy to get into but very difficult to get out of unless it is tackled quickly. Ignoring payment notices and credit card bills may sweep the issue under the carpet for a short while, but in the long term it serves only to exacerbate the situation as the interest mounts up and the payment notices become ever more demanding.
So if you've fallen behind in paying your bills it's important to confront the problem before it escalates out of control. The first step is to analyse your finances. Work out your monthly income and expenditure to identify how much money you have left for debt repayment.
Then make a list of all your debtors, dividing them into priority and non-priority debts. Priority debts are debts that could lead to legal proceedings against you and could have serious consequences. For example, you could lose or be evicted from your home for mortgage or rent arrears, your gas or electricity supply could be cut off as a result of outstanding fuel bills, you could face bankruptcy or imprisonment for non-payment of income tax or VAT, or you may have goods repossessed by bailiffs for unpaid child support or council tax
bills. Non-priority debts are not secured against your home or belongings and will not result in repossession of essential items. Examples of such debts are credit card or store card bills, catalogue account or hire purchase arrears, bank overdrafts or unsecured personal loans.
The next step is to contact your creditors to explain your financial circumstances, outline your budget and negotiate a repayment plan. You
should be able to come to an arrangement that is realistic and manageable for you, although you may end up having to pay more interest over the long term to account for smaller repayment instalments. It's best to make some kind of regular payment to each debtor, but if this is not possible, ensure that you make payments towards the priority debts first.
Above all, don't panic and don't feel ashamed. You're not alone in being in debt - it's a problem that's faced by more and more people in the UK and there are several charitable organisations who can help you. Both the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service publish practical information guides and provide free, confidential and independent advice in locations across the country to help people sort out their finances.
Furthermore, financial organisations now offer a wide variety of effective debt repayment solutions to suit individual needs. Good professional advice coupled with an appropriately tailored product can help eradicate debt for good.
One possibility is to combine all debts into a single 'debt consolidation' loan. This has the advantage of making personal finances easier to manage, with only one monthly repayment to worry about. However, some such loans have very high interest rates and longer repayment terms and you could end up paying back a great deal more than your original debts.
A more and more popular solution is remortgaging, and there are now some very competitive and flexible products being offered in the UK market. Even with a poor credit rating, it's still possible to obtain a remortgage product to suit your needs and help you get your finances back on track.
Remortgage to raise extra cash: a great number of homeowners in the UK have large amounts of capital in their homes that they could easily access to solve their money problems. If you have equity in your home (i.e. excess value above the amount of any loans secured on it), remortgaging is a simple way to tap into the value of your home and convert it into cash without having to sell or move house, and it can often be cheaper than a personal loan. Think of the possibilities - as well as using it to completely clear all your debts, there are numerous other options: make
that big purchase that you've always wanted - a new car or luxury holiday. Alternatively, use it to supplement your pension to make yourretirement more comfortable, or make some home improvements - it's cheaper than moving and will increase the value of your house.
Remortgage to consolidate debt: bring all of your debts together into one regular repayment as part of your mortgage to make it easy to manage. If you look around, you will be able to find a good deal offering lower interest rates and you could end up saving a great deal of money on both your mortgage and debt payments. You might even be able to reduce the term of your mortgage.
A few words of caution though: before you do anything about remortgaging, check the terms of your current mortgage to see whether there are any redemption penalties or administration fees. You should also weigh up the risks and benefits of transferring your borrowing to secured debt.
On the whole, remortgaging can be an effective solution for clearing debt problems, enabling you to make a fresh start towards a healthy financial future. If you're a homeowner and you're looking for a way to manage your finances more effectively, speak to a mortgage expert soon to find the best package for you.