self help guide to debt

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1 self help guide to debt service and people first

2 self help guide to debt 2

3 Contents How to Manage your debt...4 Step one - make a list of your debts...5 Priority debts...6 Step two - your financial statement...7 Sample financial statement...8 Step three - sort out your priority debts...10 Step four - sort out your non priority debts...11 Step five - what you can do...12 Sample letter 1 - Pro rata offer...15 Sample letter 2 - Token payment...16 Sample letter 3 - No offer...17 self help guide to debt 3

4 self help guide to debt How to manage your debt Introduction If you feel that your financial situation is, or is about to become, out of your control, try not to panic. Many people get into financial difficulties at different times in their lives, and for a variety of different reasons. Recognising that there is a problem is your first step to dealing with the situation, especially at an early stage. This guide is designed to help you decide on possible solutions and help you tackle your financial problems. And remember, you do not have to deal with the situation on your own - there is free, professional advice available. Here are some tips on dealing with your debt problems. Don t ignore the problem. Avoid borrowing further to pay off existing debt. Talk to your creditors - don t just stop paying them without explaining why. Work out what debts are your priorities - mortgage, rent, council tax, child maintenance, utilities- and pay them first. You don t have to pay those who shout the loudest. Work out a budget that covers all your income and essential outgoings. Think twice before paying for money advice or debt counselling. Use our step by step plan as detailed below for further information. If you don t agree that you owe any money, or don t agree with the amount you ve been asked to pay, get advice from an experienced debt adviser straight away, working through the steps in this guide. 4

5 Step one - make a list of your debts Before you can tackle a debt problem, you need to gather all the information relating to your situation. Make a list of all your creditors. You will need the following information for each debt: the account or reference number the amount you owe the name and address of the creditor It s a good idea to keep the latest letter or statement for each debt together in one place so that you can easily find them if you need them. If you ve received any court papers or letters that seem urgent, you may need to act quickly. If you re not sure what you should do next, get advice straight away from an experienced adviser. The debts you deal with after your priority debts are called non-priority debts. Non priority debts include: credit debts such as overdrafts, loans, hire purchase, credit card accounts and catalogue and pay day loans benefit overpayments student loans money borrowed from friends or family If you don t make any offers to pay without explaining why, your creditors may take you to court. If you still fail to pay, your creditors can take further court action against you. Once you ve made a list of all your creditors, you need to work out which ones to deal with first. You need to deal with some debts before others because the consequences of not paying these debts can be more serious than for other. The debts you deal with first are called priority debts. Priority debts include: mortgage or rent arrears fuel arrears council tax arrears income tax or VAT arrears self help guide to debt 5

6 self help guide to debt Priority debts There are certain debts that are far more important to deal with than others. Some creditors have the power to take action that could have a dramatic effect on you, your family and circumstances. It is essential that you deal with debts such as housing costs (rent or mortgage), gas, electricity, court fines, council tax and hire purchase agreements as a priority, and make arrangement for repaying these before tackling your other debts. Debt Rent arrears Mortgage arrears Secured Loan Council Tax Child Maintenance Court Fines Gas and Electricity Hire-purchase or conditional sale TV Licence Income Tax, National Insurance, VAT arrears Possible action against you You could get evicted from your home. Your home could be repossessed. Your home could be repossessed. Attachment of your goods. An amount may be taken from your earnings or benefits. You could have your bank account frozen. You could be declared bankrupt. An amount may be taken from your earnings. You may go to prison if you refuse to pay. An amount may be taken from benefit. You may go to prison. Your supply may be disconnected Your goods may be repossessed or you may have to hand them back under a Court Order. You may have to pay a court fine. Attachment of your goods. An amount may be taken from your earnings or benefit. You may be declared bankrupt. 6

7 Step two - your financial statement Your financial statement is your most important negotiating tool. It is vital to set out your income and essential outgoings accurately, as your repayments will depend on this. List all the income and expenses for your household. Be honest and make sure that the amounts are realistic. You can use a budget sheet to help you do this. Under income, include: earnings for your partner and yourself any benefits you are paid, including child benefit and tax credits maintenance from an ex-partner for you or your children contributions from other members of your family and any lodgers Any extra money or increase in your incomeyou maybe entitled to like benefits or tax credits. and the cost of running a car such as road tax, insurance, and maintenance insurance such as buildings and contents insurance on your home childcare costs TV licence and any TV rental costs clothes any other essential expenses money you set aside for emergencies When you ve added up all the figures, you ll see if you have any money left over to pay your debts. You may even be able to see if you can make some savings. An advice agency can help you draw up a budget and identify opportunities to increase your income if this is possible. Under expenses, include: housekeeping which should detail all regular purchases for example food, cigarettes and pet food etc housing costs which should include mortgage or rent, a second mortgage or secured loan, service charges and life or endowment insurance cover attached to your mortgage council tax fuel and water charges telephone charges travel expenses including both public transport self help guide to debt 7

8 self help guide to debt Sample financial statement Example of a financial statement that could be sent to creditors. Name: Mr Ivor and Mrs Lotta Bills Address: 1 Main Street, Sometown Household: 2 adults Weekly/Monthly Income Weekly/Monthly Outgoings Your Income after deductions Rent Your partner s Income after Deductions Mortgage Working Tax Credit Secured Loan Child tax Credit Council Tax Statutory Sick Pay Council Tax Arrears Jobseeker s Allowance Housekeeping Employment Support Allowance/ Electricity Income Support Child Benefit Gas Bereavement Allowance Insurance/Life Cover Disability Living Allowance Building & Contents Insurance State Retirement Pension TV Rental Occupational Pension/Private Pension TV License Widow s Pension Travelling Costs Child Maintenance Maintenance Industrial Injuries Fines Contributions to Board & Lodging Telephone Maternity Allowance Clothing Other (Specify) Work Meals Child minding Contingency Other ( Specify ) Total Income Total Outgoings Total income - total outgoings = weekly balance (money available to pay your creditors) Total income: X Total outgoing: Y Total money available = X-Y 8

9 Once you have listed your priority debts and they have been included on your financial statement, make a list of all the remaining debts with creditors names, addresses, account reference numbers and balances. These debts could be: credit cards bank loans catalogue debts pay day loans store cards credit sale agreement personal loan Legal Liability Before including any money in your repayment plan, you should make sure that you are responsible for the debt. The agreement should have been signed by you and drawn up in the correct format. Only the person who has signed the agreement can be held responsible for the debt. You are not responsible for your partner s debts but you may be affected by recovery action related to them. You should get advice about this. If you have signed as guarantor for another person, you have agreed to pay the amount outstanding if the person cannot, or will not, repay their debt. If you are uncertain about your responsibility for a debt, you should get advice as soon as possible. Failing to do this may have a negative effect on your credit rating. You may also be at risk of having your wages arrested or losing your home. Council Tax - Joint and Several Liability In certain circumstances, more than one person may be jointly liable for Council Tax. The Civil Partnership Act came into force on 5 December 2005 and provides for (same sex) civil partners to be jointly and severally liable for Council Tax in the same way as married and unmarried couples. Married and unmarried couples are jointly and severally liable even if they do not have an equal interest in the property. The law covering consumer credit agreements is enforced by your local authority s Trading Standards Officer. He/she can advise you on whether your credit agreement, default notices etc. comply with the relevant regulations. If a creditor has not complied then no formal action may be taken until a Court has given it s approval. If you have signed an agreement jointly with someone else, by law the creditor can ask either or both of you to repay the full outstanding balance and not just a part of it. self help guide to debt 9

10 self help guide to debt Step three - sort out your priority debts When you ve worked out how much you have left over after paying your expenses, contact each of your priority creditors. Show them your budget and try to make an arrangement to pay back what you owe. For example, you may be able to pay an extra bit each month until the arrears are cleared. Or you may not have any extra money at the moment but know you will have a lump sum in three months time which will clear the debt completely. It is very important you pay any extra money towards your priority debts before your non priority debts. If you can t afford to pay anything to your priority creditors and your situation isn t likely to get better, the outcome may be very serious. Get advice straight away - call us if you have any questions. Bellshill Money Advice Centre Cumbernauld Money Advice Coatbridge Money Advice

11 Step four - sort out your non priority debts How you deal with your non priority debts will depend on whether you have any money left over after dealing with your priority debt as well as paying for essential household expenses like housing costs and food. If you have money to spare after you have made arrangements to pay your priority debts, you may have several options for dealing with your non priority debts. self help guide to debt 11

12 self help guide to debt Step five - what you can do There are several other options which may be appropriate to your circumstances when considering how to deal with your debts. If you have little or no money left after you ve done your budget, have nothing of value to sell and think your circumstances are unlikely to get better soon, you will have limited options for dealing with your non-priority debts. The options you ll have are: Write off your debt Explain your circumstances and why you won t be able to make any payments for a long time in the future e.g. if you are a lone parent with young children, or your circumstances will never improve, for example if you are elderly or have a long term illness. Token payments Write to all your creditors asking them to suspend all interest and accept token offers, this may be as little as 1 per month. Some of them will accept. Once you have made this offer make the token payments and if possible also make payments to the creditors who have not accepted. If you receive a court summons seek advice - make an appointment to see a debt advisor. Token payments review After three or six months your creditors will request a review of your situation. Pro rata payments If you are able to offer more than token offers you need to offer pro-rata payments. This means the more you owe a creditor, the, bigger the chunk of your disposable income they will receive. Pro rata payments review After three or six months your creditors will request a review of your situation. If your financial statement and the amount you can afford to pay have changed, use your revised financial statement to re-calculate your disposable income and then re-calculate your payments. Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS) This is an option that allows you to repay your debts with the added benefit of preventing your creditors taking any legal action against you during the term of the DAS. Under the DAS, you must deal with an Approved Agency. North Lanarkshire Council are an Approved Agency with experienced advisors who can assist you at all stages of the DAS process. Your advisor will draw up a debt payment plan (DPP), following the stages outlined earlier in this guide. The debt payment plan has to be approved by the DAS Administrator, following notification to your creditors. Under the DPP, you make one payment to a payment distributor who arranges for that single payment to be divided up amongst your creditors. This could be a favourable option if you have a reasonable income and available funds but not enough to pay the monthly amounts that your creditors want. Trust Deed A Trust Deed is an agreement between you and an insolvency practitioner, and is an alternative to bankruptcy. It is an option available when you have the ability to make a reasonable contribution towards your debts but you are not in a position to pay them off. The insolvency practitioner is appointed by you to manage your debts, and in return for this service you agree to pay a monthly contribution. A fee will be taken from the contribution, and at the end of the term of your trust deed a dividend will be paid to your creditors. A trust deed normally lasts for three years, and the rest of your debts will be written off after the dividend has been paid. However, if you have any assets, such as equity in your house or a car, the term of your trust deed can be extended to allow you to buy out any value and keep your property. 12

13 You should always get an agreement with the insolvency practitioner about any equity in your house before you sign the trust deed. If not and the equity increases at a later date, it will cost you more to buy out the value. An increase in house prices could result in a significant increase in your equity which will be of interest to your insolvency practitioner. This is becasue whilst you have appointed them to look after your financial affairs, they have a duty to the creditors to realise as much towards the debts as possible. One of the major benefits of this approach is that you do not have to wait for a creditor to take court action before you enter into a trust deed. However your home may be at risk if you fail to pay your insolvency practitioner or if there is a substantial rise in the value of your property. The laws relating to Trust Deeds and Bankruptcy are under review and liable to change. You should seek advice from a money advice agency if you are considering this option. Bankruptcy Bankruptcy is a formal method of dealing with debts if other options have failed or are inappropriate. The consequences of bankruptcy are severe and no one should make an application for bankruptcy without seeking advice. Bankruptcy starts when someone in debt (a debtor) is declared bankrupt by the sheriff or the Accountant in Bankruptcy. If a debtor is declared bankrupt it means that they have to hand over their estate, including their home, to their trustee. The person who administers a bankruptcy is called the trustee. They can be either the Accountant in Bankruptcy or an insolvency practitioner. A debtor will be able to keep some things that are essential for everyday living, however they may be required to make some payment from their income. It is the duty of the trustee to sell the debtors assets (see below) or property and to use the money to pay: the costs of managing the bankruptcy; and creditors as much as possible of what the debtor owes them. The creditors are the people or organisations that are owed money by the debtor. Subject to certain conditions, a creditor can apply to a sheriff to make a debtor bankrupt or a debtor can apply to the Accountant in Bankruptcy to make themselves bankrupt. In Scotland bankruptcy is sometimes called sequestration. What are assets? Assets are things that a debtor owns, such as money, savings, property, vehicles, life policies, jewellery and shares. Any money or assets due to the debtor, such as business debts, also transfer to the trustee. The debtor will normally be allowed to keep essential items (see below) needed for day to day living, such as clothes, furniture, household linens, floor coverings, anything used for cooking or cleaning, educational items and children s toys. They can also keep any tools they use for their trade, up to a value of 1,000. During the bankruptcy a debtor must inform the trustee about any new assets they acquire which may include money or an inheritance. If a Debtor has sold, given away or disposed of any assets within the 5 years before their bankruptcy for less than their full value, the trustee may ask the sheriff to have this action changed and the assets (or the equivalent value) to be given to the trustee for the benefit of the creditors. The Trustee can sell all or some of the debtor s assets in order to pay the cost of the bankruptcy and the debts. Examples of essential items include the following if used in the debtor s family home: Beds, bedding, household linen and curtains Food, cooking equipment and kitchen utensils Refrigerators, washing machines and microwave ovens Chairs, settees, tables and other furniture Lights, fitting and heating appliances Floor coverings Articles used for cleaning, drying, mending, or pressing clothes Articles used for cleaning the house Articles used for safety in the house Tools used for maintenance or repair of the house and household articles Computers and accessory equipment Radios, telephone and television self help guide to debt 13

14 self help guide to debt There is more than one route into Bankruptcy. Contact one of our experienced staff for more information. As stated in the paragraph on Trust Deeds, the laws relating to bankruptcy are under review and liable to change. Remember - Do not pay more than you can afford. The offers of payment in your personal budget are fair to all your creditors and the most you can afford. If you allow one creditor to persuade you to pay more than is shown, you will not have enough for your outgoings and other creditors. When reviewing your budget do not be unrealistic - you may have to live on this budget for quite a while. Making payments It is important to keep making the payments you have promised. If you cannot do this write to the creditor with a new budget sheet explaining the situation. If you do not pay, your creditors are allowed to keep reminding you from time to time but they must not act illegally. If they threaten or harass you to try and make you pay they may be committing a criminal offence. If your creditors refuse your offer If one or more of your creditors refuse your repayment offer and are demanding more than you can afford: start paying the amount you can afford as a gesture of good will and ask the creditor(s) to reconsider reconsider your offer by reducing your outgoings explain in more detail why this is all you can afford and ask them to reconsider Like debt collection agencies, creditors will be licensed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) under consumer credit laws. If a creditor conducts his business in an unfair manner then the OFT may consider revoking the creditor s credit licence. This, in effect, forces the creditor to cease his credit business. Your local Trading Standards Officer can advise you on whether a creditor s conduct should be reported to the OFT. Trading Standards Officers are authorised to enforce consumer credit regulations in their local authority area. Sample letters for negotiating with your creditors When writing to creditors, it is important that you include: your detailed financial statement a list of all your debts relevant background information on your present circumstances a request that interest and charges are frozen There are sample letters at the end of this guide to help you when you are writing to people that you owe money to. A creditor may pass your debt to a collection agency. They often do not send on other information such as your financial statement or offer. You may feel that letters from the collection agency are more threatening, but they have no greater powers than the creditor. Under the Consumer Credit Acts of 1974 and 2005, debt collection agencies have to be licensed by the OFT. The OFT has issued guidance on how collection agencies deal with their customers. Your local Trading Standards Officers work with the OFT in monitoring how collection agencies carry out their business practices. Creditors should not: threaten to tell family, friends or neighbours exaggerate their legal position or apply unreasonable charges 14

15 Sample letter 1 - Pro rata offer Creditor s name Creditor s address Date Your address Dear Sir or Madam, Account reference number: I am writing to tell you that my financial circumstances have changed since making the above agreement. Unfortunately, I cannot make the agreed repayments at the moment because... I enclose a financial statement showing my current financial situation. I have... left each (week/ month) to pay towards my debts. I have divided the money available on a pro-rata basis, offering each creditor an equal share of the available funds. In view of my present circumstances, please agree to accept the offer of... every (week/month). Please also consider freezing interest and any other charges on the account to help my current situation. If my circumstances improve, I will contact you to increase the payment. Please send me details of the payment options available and any forms or payment books I need to make the payments. Thank you for your help in this matter and I look forward to your reply as soon as possible. Yours faithfully,... Your signature Your name in print self help guide to debt 15

16 self help guide to debt Sample letter 2 - Token payment Creditor s name Creditor s address Date Your address Dear Sir or Madam, Account reference number: I am writing to tell you that my financial circumstances have changed since making the agreement. I cannot make the agreed repayments at the moment because... I enclose a financial statement showing my current financial situation. I will try to reduce my essential outgoings so I can make a token payment. In view of my circumstances, please accept a token payment of... a (week/month). Please also consider freezing interest and any charges to help my situation. If my situation improves, I will contact you to increase my payments. Please send me details of the payment options available and any forms or payment books I need to make the payment. Thank you for your help in this matter and I look forward to your reply as soon as possible. Yours faithfully,... Your signature Your name in print 16

17 Sample letter 3 - No offer Creditor s name Creditor s address Date Your address Dear Sir or Madam, Account reference number: I am writing to tell you that my financial circumstances have changed since making the agreement. I cannot make the agreed repayments at the moment because... I enclose a financial statement showing my current situation. I do not have enough money to pay my debts. In view of my circumstances, please consider holding my account for three months, after which hopefully my circumstances will have improved. Please also consider freezing interest and any charges to help reduce my problem at the moment. Thank you for your help in this matter, I look forward to your reply. Yours faithfully,... Your signature Your name in print self help guide to debt 17

18 This information can be made available in a range of languages and formats, including large print, braille, audio, electronic and accessible formats. North Lanarkshire Council Corporate Communications Chief Executive s Office Civic Centre Windmillhill Street Motherwell ML1 1AB t e. CORP_00625 Ver.1/

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