Being in debt can be really stressful. But the sooner you do something about it, the easier it will be to take care of. And you might start to feel better about it, too.
The first thing to do is make a list of all your unpaid bills, including any money you owe to friends and family. Include bills that you’re not behind on yet but are struggling with. Especially if trying to pay them is leaving you short of money for other essentials.
If you’re not sure what debts you have, you can get a free credit history report. This will list all the money you’ve borrowed and paid back, including joint debts. It shows whether you paid the money back on time and in full.
These companies offer credit history reports:
Basic credit reports are free. You don’t have to take the paid-for version you’ll probably be offered. It’s worth getting a copy of your report from all 3, as they might hold different information from different places.
Which debts will you have to pay?
Generally, it’s up to you to pay all the bills that are in your name. But there are some exceptions to this – you might not always have to pay them back. This can be the case if, when you took on the debt:
- You were under 18
- You were experiencing mental health problems
- Someone else pressured you to do it
- No one checked that you could afford the repayments
- The agreement wasn’t clear
You should also get advice if it’s been more than 6 years since you made a payment or wrote to the person you owe the money to. There’s no need to pay for advice about debt. This area of law is complicated and there’s good free, impartial advice and support out there.
You can speak to an adviser at StepChange or National Debtline. You can also find one through MoneyHelper.
You won’t be judged or told off. Most people feel relieved and less stressed after speaking to someone and making a plan.
Joint debts are when you owe money with another person – they tend to be things like rent, mortgage, Council Tax, loans, bank accounts or credit agreements. If a bill is in more than one name, you and the other named person are both responsible for paying it. This means that either one of you can be asked to pay back the full amount. If the other person named on the bill can’t or won’t pay the debt, you can be asked to pay all of it. If this is the case, make sure you give the contact details of the other person to the company you owe money to (the creditor) so that they can be asked for payments too.
There might be debts that you still have to deal with, even if you don’t see them as yours. For example, you might need to pay your rent or mortgage to make sure you can stay in your home. If your mortgage or rent agreement is in joint names or only in someone else’s name, get advice about your right to stay in the property.
For free housing advice, speak to organisations like Shelter and Citizens Advice.