My debt help

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

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Happier now!

Read part 1, “My debt hell”, here

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

…I had visions of the creditors bombarding us with phone calls, telling us how useless and feckless we were, informing us that the bailiffs were coming.

This really wasn’t the case. One month into the DMP, the first payment had gone out of our bank to be divided up by StepChange Debt Charity among the creditors and we’d only had letters back from two of the 20 creditors.

After debt advice

These letters both said that they would only accept the DMP if we made additional payments (this turned out to be a very common feature in the first letters from creditors). When we got these letters we simply phoned or emailed StepChange Debt Charity and asked for their advice. They advised us to just keep making the DMP payment.

We also had letters from creditors simply saying that they wouldn’t accept the DMP; again we just held firm and kept making the payment.

We did get some phone calls, but not many and not unpleasant; to be honest, no-one we spoke to was nasty or unkind. Some of the creditors clearly had a script that they work through; these were a bit tedious as you felt like you were saying the same thing repeatedly.

Some creditors tried to apply a bit of pressure to pay more but knowing that we were paying an amount worked out by StepChange to be fair and reasonable in our circumstances made it easier to say no and to not feel guilty or uncomfortable.

Some creditors were actually quite pleasant, noting our involvement with a debt charity and acknowledging that we were trying to sort things out.

Living without credit

Living without the safety net of credit was very strange and daunting at first. But we realised quickly that a safety net provided by the banks and other organisations was never really a safety net – it was more like a trap. Having to budget was a whole new experience. We had never done it in our adult lives (one of the key reasons we got in this mess).

Both turned out to be strangely satisfying and actually quite empowering but required a complete turn-around in thinking. The stress levels in our house began dropped away when the DMP came into action and the sleeplessness became less of a problem.

Three months into the DMP I decided to phone around all the creditors to see just where everybody was standing. I actually spoke to some reasonably-pleasant people along the way and it turned out almost all the creditors did accept the DMP, although many hadn’t actually sent letters to that effect. While on the phone I got updated amounts owed on every account, re-jigged my spreadsheet and went to Step Change Debt Charity’s website to update our amounts in our OnlineDMP account.

Overall, the amount owed by us did rise in the first three months as creditors reacted to our not making the minimum payments by charging default fees. Also, the creditors hadn’t all stopped charging interest either.

However, we just needed to hang on in there and the StepChange Debt Charity team were very supportive. At this time while we had the gentle pressure of living to a budget and not having access to credit, the acute stress and all the other problems it had caused was really disappearing.

By five months in, all of our creditors were on board and all but two had stopped all interest charges. The two that hadn’t stopped were charging a tiny interest percentage. And, for the first time for probably over a decade the total debt owed by us started to drop. I can’t tell you what a relief that was and, instead of being something utterly shameful, it became something we were proud of.

At last, we were managing the debt. Yes, budgeting is hard, money is tight, but the worry simply isn’t a big part of our lives anymore.

12 months on

Now we’re a year into the process. Budgeting has become second-nature, we are pleased not to have access to any credit, the DMP repayment goes out every month and we’ve twice managed to raise the monthly amount we pay (if by small amounts).

Some creditors we get monthly statements from, some we don’t; those that we don’t I ring every month or so to make sure everything’s OK and to get an up-to-date figure of what’s owed.

I check our online folder every month and update anything required there. Some of our debts were passed from the original creditors to debt collection agencies (DCAs), most of these actually in-house DCAs (so the debt hasn’t been sold but is being managed by them).

When this has happened, we tend to get a letter from the DCA stating that they now have the debt and asking for payment. We ring them, explain we’re with StepChange Debt Charity on a DMP, give them our reference number and in every case they’ve put our account on hold for 30 days (preventing any charges and interest being added), which gives us time to email or ring StepChange with the new details so that the paperwork can be sent out to the DCA. This has worked on every occasion and, every time, the DCA has agreed to the DMP.

We’ve got a long way to go but our debt is dropping and we’re well, mentally and physically. We’re not trying to avoid our debt or wriggle out of paying it; it’s just going to take a while to pay off. But, as we didn’t accumulate it overnight, it isn’t going to disappear overnight.

Go to a charity for debt help

I really can’t praise StepChange Debt Charity enough for the impartial information and support that we received (and continue to receive), and I literally dread to think where we’d be now if we hadn’t sought help. But let’s not forget the community of people on DMPs on the MoneySavingExpert forums, a source of great support, real-life information and advice.

To anyone in a similar situation I would urge them to seek advice from StepChange Debt Charity, CAP, Payplan or another charity (certainly not any company that charges though) and that the earlier you do this, the better.

Had we known about DMPs when I was made redundant we probably would have owed around £10,000 less at this stage. Don’t be embarrassed or scared, remember you do have options, there are many people in this situation and there is free, impartial, non-judgmental advice and support out there.

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