After being ill in 2009 the first thing that I wanted to do was to get rid of all my debt. I had not realised how much it had impacted on my health and caused me stress. Studies have shown that high levels of debt are linked to poor mental health, in fact one study showed that 46% of those with debt problems suffered from mental health issues as well. Poor mental health can also cause debt as people are more likely to try to buy happiness and take out loans or bury their heads and not deal with creditors when things go wrong. The stress and worry when people find themselves in trouble often leads to mental health problems as well. Embarrassment seems to stop many people finding help. I found out just how much debt a friend was in when I visited him and saw a massive pile of unopened envelopes. He did not want me to know even though he was scared stiff and didn’t dare answer his door. Apparently those with problem amounts of debt are 3 times more likely to consider suicide and over 100,000 of them attempt it every year. I know he thought about it. The constant stress was leading to heart problems, he was comfort eating and became diabetic, and he was having breathing problems and panic attacks.
There are charities and apps that will help you manage your debt and behaviour. Some banks like Monzo can even block payments for things such as gambling. There are also apps that can help you budget and track spending. My friend got help from an organisation called Step Change in the UK and they contacted his creditors and got the interest frozen and worked out a budget of what he could afford to pay a month, and negotiated with his creditors. It took his stress away instantly. These payments stay as they are and are reviewed each year. The letters stopped. The knocks on the door stopped. The best thing is that this is a free organisation. There are other charities that will help in the UK as well, including National Dept line, Citizen’s Advice, Turn2us and The money Charity.
I was not in as much debt as he was and was able to deal with it myself as I was making the payments, but had been told I was losing my job. I went through my bank statements and identified where I was spending the money. I also identified direct debits that I could cancel and were not needed such as my washing machine insurance. I made a budget and worked out the minimum that I needed to spend each month and paid the rest off my credit cards, loans and mortgage. I changed everything to interest free credit cards and re-mortgaged my house, and luckily managed to get an Offset mortgage that was flexible, knocked off interest for any linked savings and let me pay more off it without incurring penalties. If I could not have got interest free credit cards I would have paid off the debt with the highest interest first (but not my mortgage as that is classed as good debt). I tried to make more than the minimum payments on my credit cards and focussed on the credit card with the lowest amount owed so that I could finish with that card. I made sure that I had the minimum payments set up by direct debit though, as if you miss a payment they charge interest for the lot on an interest free credit card. I also worked over time and found things that I could sell to reduce my debt. I reviewed my budget monthly and any monies left in my bank at the end of the month I would put into my savings or pay more off my credit card debt. I made sure that I had some savings for an emergency as at times when things went wrong, like my boiler breaking, I didn’t have to use my interest free credit cards. Many of the interest free credit cards charge you interest for later transactions if you use them after the initial balance has been transferred to them.
It took me about 5 years to become debt and mortgage free. I did do without things during that time, for instance expensive holidays, new clothes and other luxuries, but my health really improved, and because I was happier, I did not feel like I needed those things. I also worked a lot of extra hours. It actually became addictive seeing my debts go down each month. Previously I had shopped because I was depressed and stressed, and my self esteem was low. As the debts reduced my self esteem improved.
Times are hard at the moment and many people are getting into debt who have not been in debt before, and through no fault of their own. If you are struggling to keep up with debt, feel your heart race every time some one knocks on the door, or you just feel like you can not manage your money and are drowning, please ask for help from one of the organisations mentioned, or some thing similar if you are reading this in another country. There is no shame in asking for help. It will be so scary to make that call, but you will really thank yourself later, and you will feel as if a weight has been lifted. In the article ‘Get out of debt’ I give a step by step way that I did it without help if you would rather tackle it alone. Please don’t just leave it as stress impacts on your physical health as well as your mental health. Good luck and take care.