How to deal with debt
If you have to borrow money to cover your debts, some options are better than others, says Paul Lewis
One in five people asking for help with their finances from StepChange, the UK’s largest debt charity, have borrowed money just to meet their bills. That revelation is not surprising, but it is very worrying – and with Christmas looming, the situation is likely to get worse.
If you find you have to borrow, there are good and bad ways of doing it. But remember, even good borrowing only pushes the debts down the road. So before you consider it, make sure you will have the income to pay them when they fall due.
One of the better ways to borrow is from a credit union. These are not-for-profit organisations set up by members with something in common, such as living in the same town, working in the same sector (eg the police, fire service, NHS and teachers) or belonging to a particular trade union.
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The interest rate charged by a credit union is capped at 3% a month (42.6% APR), but many charge as little as 1% a month (and that is the maximum in Northern Ireland). Search for one that will help you at Find Your Credit Union (findyourcreditunion.co.uk). If you are well organised, then it may be worth considering a 0% credit card. These cards charge no interest for a set period, some for more than two years. However, you will still have to make minimum repayments every month and you should never exceed your credit limit.
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If you do not repay it in full before the 0% offer ends, normal interest will be due on any debt that is left. That will be more than 21% a year and can be over 30% if you have a poor credit rating.
One more word of warning – never search for loans online. You will be offered expensive deals that can charge up to 1700%. And if you have debts that worry you, StepChange (stepchange.org; 0800 138 1111) or National Debtline (nationaldebtline.org; 0808 808 4000) are the best places to seek help. Go online for chat or advice, or call them if debt is keeping you awake at night.
QUESTIONS? Send any questions to Paul.Lewis@radiotimes.com. Paul cannot answer you personally, but will reflect them in his column.