My debt hell

posted by in Budgeting

If you need help with your debt problems visit the debt advice section of the StepChange Debt Charity website.

Hurt cash

Feeling battered and bruised

This is a an opinion article by one of our clients known on the MSE forum as “Sickasachip”

My partner and I had accumulated debt over our adult lives mainly due to poor financial management and the lure of ever available credit.

Access to that pot of credit meant that we never really questioned our spending. If we wanted something, or were running short of money, we’d just use one of the cards.

This pattern went on for years and years and when I was made redundant and the small redundancy payment was spent we relied on our learned behaviour of using overdrafts and credit cards, extending the credit further on each of them.

We were using the cards to pay for groceries, petrol and the withdraw cash to pay the monthly credit card bills. This continued for a year, until the credit ran out.

The stress of debt

This situation caused high levels of stress that was really destructive; I felt utterly useless and my partner was frustrated and angry that he couldn’t just ‘solve’ the problem. There were so many disturbed nights, panic attacks and I spent much of my time alone, in tears and scared.

We hadn’t missed any of our payments but we both knew the final month in which there was credit to rob Peter to pay Paul was rapidly approaching. I was sick with worry – I couldn’t begin to imagine how we’d tell our teenage son or our friends about our shameful situation. It felt like a dirty, shocking secret.

The tipping point

One day we locked the front door and gathered up all our bank statements.

I opened up a spreadsheet on the computer and started entering the monthly payments and the total debt owed. We had thought we owed about £20,000, as I typed in the numbers it became clear that we were way off in our estimations – the actual amount was £43,000 and it was owed to 20 creditors.

It felt like the floor dropped away that day. For two days afterwards we didn’t sleep or speak about it. We were both genuinely in shock and sickened, and shut each other out.

We thought we were days away from having the house emptied by scary people; I decided I needed some facts about courts and bailiffs. I went to several websites and landed up on MoneySavingExpert.

StepChange Debt Charity

I read that I might be able to try to negotiate with creditors, and although the thought made me terrified, I got myself a MoneySavingExpert forum log-in and asked the StepChange debt advisors (resident within the forum) how to negotiate when you’ve got so little to offer.

Being able to seek advice anonymously was really helpful and the advice I got back from one of the StepChange advisors signposted me to Debt Remedy. It was awful confronting to the reality of the situation but, at least we were facing up it instead of hoping it would just disappear one day.

As a result, we learned about debt management plans (DMPs); we’d never heard of these and it took a little bit of reading around to understand that they are not the same as bankruptcy and that, with the help of a debt charity, they could help us manage our situation.

Facing up to the fact that we’d got in so much debt that it could take well over a decade to clear was absolutely shocking, however the DMP gave us some structure and purpose to dealing with our debt. Until we embarked upon this path, the debt was quite unknown, unmanageable and had, we felt, the potential to absolutely destroy our lives.

Starting on the DMP, we filled in the ‘financial stuff’ online, chatted with one of the StepChange advisors on the phone, and were amazed – literally amazed – to find that they were friendly, non-judgmental and offered straightforward advice.

We got a pack of paperwork through from StepChange Debt Charity within a couple of days, photocopied our statements at the local Co-op, signed our agreement and returned it.

Act on the advice

We did as advised by StepChange Debt Charity and set up a new basic bank account (as our old current account had an overdraft and so became part of the DMP), set up necessary direct debits in the new account (electric, rent, water etc) and we sent off a letter to each creditor explaining what was happening and included a £1 postal order token payment.

At this stage, we did several things which helped in the next couple of months:

  • We extended our own spreadsheet (excel) to include a column in which to note when we had contact with a creditor and what it entailed
  • We bought a new concertina file (about £3 in Tesco’s) and gave each creditor a section, with a section for the StepChange Debt Charity paperwork
  • We also noted down, on a pad next to the phone, our StepChange reference and the phone number for StepChange

Being able to carry out some actions and talking about it to each other in terms of “this is what we need to do” instead of “what in the world are we going to do?” helped enormously and made the situation much more manageable and less frightening. Our debt payments, via the DMP, had reduced from nearly £900 per month to £198.

We then waited for the chaos to ensue…

Read part 2 of the story here

sickasachip13 is a regular contributor to the Debt-Free Wannabe forum. She’s currently paying off her debts with a DMP

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  • Peter

    That could have been my story. We were in exactly the same position, pushing money around to service interest charges and late fees without ever paying off the principal. Then redundancy hit and we had four months without a wage packet. I used my redundancy to pay off an amount of debt rather than holding some back to survive on. A bit silly in retrospect.

    I telephoned one of the building societies and explained that I simply could not make the repayment that month. The chap at the other end asked me if I had ever heard of the CCCS. I got in touch and it was was a complete game changer.
    I can echo the statement of sicjasachip about the non-judgemental attitude of the advisor. I’m a 50 year old 6’3″ man and I was in tears with the relief of having someone on my side.

    We are well into our second year now and, although there are a good many years to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel, we now live a frugal, but relatively stress free life. All thanks to the amazing people at CCCS.

    • Hi Peter and thanks for your comment.

      We’re glad we could help.

      Our helpline advisors and counsellors often have to deal with people moved to tears when realise there is help and support available.

      We’re glad to hear you’re back on track now and wish you the best with your debt free journey.

  • Helen

    Thank you for posting stories like this – makes others feel less alone and gives them the strength to carry on and do somehting about the situation

    • Hi Helen and thanks for your comment,

      We try and post as many client stories as we can as we know it can help to read about other people coping with similar issues.

      You’re certainly not alone and we’ll continue to try and offer as much support as we can.

  • Michelle

    After years of mis managing money, 28 months ago my husband and I decided to take a reality check. Whilst we could afford the repayments to our creditors (just about), the interest charges being applied were crippling and we realised it would take over 30 years to clear our debt paying the minimum payments requested. We thought we owed around £30,000 to numerous credit card and loan companies but were shocked to realise the true figure was actually £54,000! Lack of sleep, worry and stress were only a few of the emotions we were experiencing. We contacted the CCCS who advised we could pay this debt off in just over 4 years with careful budgeting and control. The first year was tough but knowing that each month the debt was reducing was more than enough to keep us on track. We pay just over £1,000 a month and are planning to enjoy our hard earned money when we are free from debt in two years time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we know we will never get into debt again. The CCCS have helped us to budget and plan ahead and for that we are forever thankful.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment.

      It’s good to hear you’ve got back in control of your finances and we’re pleased we’ve helped you cope with the stress. Budgeting and planning ahead are very important and as you suggest they are vital tools to learn.

  • linda grimshaw

    I am so glad i sought help with my debt problems, redundancy and ill health caused our debts to spiral out of control. I have been on a DMP for 6 years now and can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, my payments went from £956 per month to £73 per month, if it was’nt for the CCCS i dont think i’d be here to tell the story, they genuinely care for people, have a sympathetic ear and most of all are non judgemental..thank you so much for all your support.

    • Hi Linda and thanks for your kind message.

      We’re happy things are looking better for you now and we’re glad we could help. Hearing feedback like yours always encourages us in the work that we do.

  • David

    I have been with cccs for just over 5years now and have read with interest other peoples problems. Credit was just to easy a few years ago,and me like many had several credit cards and didnt budget for anything{just use or apply for another card} always got one then as read with others stories used peter to pay paul. My home was on the line contacted CCCS … then changed, owed £30,000+ but when you put all the cards together its another story,called hell. CCCS didnt judge me they just helped in a very positive way. I now owe £12000 with light at the end of the tunnel and about 4 years to go. with out CCCS help i dont think i would be hear today 100% more relaxed and less stressed.enjoy life again,just budjet,hard at first but soon find it second nature. Thankyou CCCS

  • Stephanie

    I am 24 years and have accumulated about £7000 of debt between 2 credit cards. I also have an interest free overdraft of £1,800 which I would like to get rid of. I am at a loss as to how to shift this debt as I earn about £912 a month after tax and have other direct debits coming out as well as the approx £120 a month I pay each month from my two credit cards (this is the minimum payment and is mostly interest) I dont want to be on this slippery slop but dont know how to get myself out of it and cant afford to increase my monthly payments. I thought about a DMP but doesnt this affect your likelihood of getting a mortgage and doesnt it affect your credit rating badly?

    Any advice would be much appreciated

    • Hi Stephanie and thanks for your comment.

      A DMP or other formal debt solutions would have an effect on your credit rating and this could restrict your access to certain credit products for a period of time.

      The first thing that we would do is help you put together an accurate income and expenditure budget so that we could see what the best advice is.

      I’d recommend that you try our online debt advice tool Debt Remedy (

      Debt Remedy will help you put a budget together and offer a solution based on your circumstances. It’s confidential as well as impartial and will offer the best advice based on your own individual circumstances.

      In regards credit ratings it’s have a read of our blogpost on this subject

      If you’d prefer to speak to us by phone you can call free on 0800 138 1111. We’re open Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm and Saturday 9am until 3.00pm.

      If you phone us it may be possible to refer you directly to a counsellor for immediate advice. Alternatively, we will arrange for an appointment to be booked at a time convenient for you.

      I hope this helps.

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  • Craig Grant

    I’ve got just £450 debts with £400 of charges from Cabot finance and they are a nightmare. They keep changing my credit report and have even taken me to court despite me offering to make payments and they refuse it. Nasty company. I can’t get credit for anything and have been treated like a criminal for over 4 years. I can’t get on of the government green deals because of this yet terrorist get everything.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Craig,

      If you’d like some help dealing with this debt then I’d recommend giving our Helpline a call. Here’s the details:

      We can give you advice about dealing with debts that have gone to court and let you know what your creditors can and can’t do.

      Kind regards