How can I get out of debt?

More people than you think are struggling with debt – it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But how do you get out of it once you’re already in too deep?

The short and simple answer is to balance the books. Try and live below your means so that your income exceeds your outgoings and you’ll gradually get yourself back in the black. But that’s easier said than done and there are many potential unforeseen stumbling blocks, such as a big car or home repair bill, for example, which may be unavoidable.

So always try to face up to your situation in a realistic way. A good tactic is to discuss the situation openly and rationally with your partner or a friend to take a close look at your income and expenditure. You’ll be surprised just how much strict budgeting will help. This may take more self-discipline than you’ve had to use in the past as you watch the spending each day on everything. It’s also essential to search for the best possible deals on credit cards, mortgages, your banking facilities, utility suppliers and insurance policies.

When you’ve done all you can yourself to turn things around, take expert advice from reputable and completely objective sources such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

A debt management plan from somewhere like Step Change can be a great way of limiting the interest you pay to creditors and getting them to accept a lesser figure than the total owed. This will help you gradually claw your way back.

If you’re simply in too deep, however, and have no hope of ever paying back what you owe – then the last resorts are an individual voluntary agreement or IVA or bankruptcy – and usually in that order.

IVAs are designed to help people who are in debt but wish to avoid bankruptcy. They’re contractual arrangements with your creditors which can be as flexible as your individual circumstances. They offer the simplicity of a repayment arrangement between yourself and your creditors which is legally backed and which doesn’t involve the high costs associated with a bankruptcy.

An IVA is not the same as bankruptcy – but it is governed by the court and is a legal process. Your details don’t need to be made public (unlike bankruptcy) you don’t need to sell your assets, and it doesn’t affect your professional status.

Your lenders will usually prefer an IVA as bankruptcy is costly, takes time, and a large amount of the money raised will be used to cover professional fees. They’ll also usually accept less than what you owe. They last for a maximum of five years and you can include debt to banks, finance companies, credit cards, HM Customs & Excise (VAT), Inland Revenue, and loans made by your friends or family. Debts that can’t be included are mortgages, hire purchase, student loans, fines, debt incurred through fraud, maintenance and child support arrears.

IVAs are mainly aimed at working people who have total debts over £15,000 owed to three or more creditors.  But each individual case is different – so always seek advice from a specialist.

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