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Worried about money

Worried About Money? What To Do And How To Get Help

Worrying about money is, sadly, part of daily life for millions of Brits. The Money Advice Service estimates that 8.3 million people – roughly one in every eight of us – have more debt than they can really afford. With the number of people with fluctuating incomes on the rise and tipping even more people over the edge from fine to, well, not, now more than ever it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself in a worrying financial situation, what help is out there, and how to get it.

Start with your spending

Taking a proper, in-depth look at what you spend, and on what, is an important first step if you’re worried about money. It’s not always an easy step – lots of us know we’re not in great financial shape and would rather leave it at that than dig into it – but it is important. And, if you decide to get help using one of the options we’ll talk about later, it’s information you’ll be asked for.

Going through your finances properly is a job that can take a few hours. So, it’s ideal for a rainy afternoon when you can’t go out, or can even be a productive way to spend a sunny day sitting out in the garden or on your balcony. Before you get started, make sure you have the last few months of bank and/or credit card statements ready, either printed out or on your computer screen. This will help you to easily compare what you have coming in – now and normally, if they’re different – and how it compares to your outgoings. If you’ve hung onto any receipts or online order details from your shopping, then great – these will help you get an extra level of insight on your spending!

Let’s break it down

Once you have everything you need to start working out what’s happening with your money – plus a pen and paper or a computer with a blank spreadsheet ready to go – then it’s time to start writing it all down and doing the sums. Compare your income with your outgoings, covering everything from the essentials you need to keep a roof over your head and food on the table to any little luxuries you’re still paying for.

Remember, unless you’re doing this jointly with other people you live with, you only need to worry about your own share of what you have coming in and going out.

Can you make any changes?

Once you’ve got a full breakdown of everything you’re spending, and on what, then it might be clear that there’s no room to squeeze your budget any harder. Or, you might be able to see some obvious places you can cut back. Here are a few ideas:

Switch and save

If you’re outside of your agreement or are coming up for renewal with your providers for electricity and gas, insurance and broadband, you might be able to save money by switching. Get on the comparison sites and see what better deals are out there. You could save hundreds of pounds! You can even save on your mobile phone costs. Most phone contracts include the cost of your handset, and once you’re out of contract you could be paying way over the odds for the texts, minutes and data you’re getting. If you’re happy to keep your handset, switch to a SIM-only deal to shave a few quid off your monthly bill.

Compromise to cut costs

There are all sorts of ways you can do this across your spending to make small changes that add up. Perhaps you could swap your weekly takeaway for a supermarket dine-in deal. Or, maybe you pick which of your streaming subscriptions is your favourite, keep that, and cancel the others for the time being (you can always reactivate them later). Switching from branded buys to own-brand can also be extremely cost effective, and you probably won’t notice the difference! Used to getting a hair trim every month so you stay looking fresh? Cut it back to every six weeks, or even entrust a friend or family member with the scissors to give you a tidy up every now and then.

Where to get help if you need it

If going through your spending reveals that you can’t stretch your budget or cut costs any further, then it may be time to take a deep breath, and ask for help.

Benefits

If you’re no longer working or are trying to manage on a smaller income, then you could be eligible to claim benefits from the government to help ease the strain. For most people, Universal Credit has taken over from benefits like tax credits, income support and job-seeker’s allowance. It’s designed to help you with your living costs if you’re on a low income or out of work. Universal Credit is a means tested benefit, which means that how much you can get is decided by your age, circumstances and how much money you have already. You can learn more about the benefits available, check your eligibility and apply to receive them by visiting the government’s website here. There’s loads of information available on Citizen’s Advice, too.

Speak to your providers

If you’re struggling to keep up with payments on your rent or mortgage, bills or credit commitments, have a chat with your landlord or account providers, don’t just stop paying. If you cancel direct debits or stop paying without saying anything, then you may get hit with late fees and additional interest for not making a payment on time. And, your credit score will be impacted. Sure, it’s not a nice conversation to have. Many people, understandably, get nervous about telling someone they owe money to that they’re struggling. But, how understanding and flexible people can be might surprise you! Plus, if you bite the bullet, then you’ll get the help you need more quickly, and can avoid a difficult situation costing you even more.

Payment holidays

Many finance companies are offering their customers payment holidays at the moment. They can last up to three months, and won’t affect your credit score. If you’re struggling on a smaller income because your hours have been cut or you’re not able to work temporarily, then payment holidays can be a useful stop-gap to keep you from falling behind on your payments until your income goes back to normal.

If this sounds like something that could be helpful for you, then you’ll need to get in touch with your loan or credit card companies to arrange it with them. Companies aren’t automatically giving payment holidays to all their customers, and they can’t assume that if you don’t pay them one month, it’s because you’re taking a payment holiday. If you stop paying without telling your lender first, then it could still be recorded as a missed payment, which will affect your credit score and might also mean late payment fees. But, if you get in touch with your lenders and arrange a payment holiday with them, then they can make sure that it’s set up so it won’t affect your credit score.

The main thing to remember with payment holidays is that they’re designed to be a temporary stop-gap for people who are in a tricky situation right now, but know that they will get back to normal soon. Because of this, companies are still allowed to charge you a reasonable rate interest while you’re on a payment holiday. That’s not to say all companies will, but it’s a possibility, and could mean that if you take a payment holiday, you pay back more overall. If you can afford to keep up with your payments and avoid payment holidays, this will keep the interest you pay to a minimum.

Options for long-term help

If you were already struggling and a temporary issue has made the situation worse, then a stop-gap like a payment holiday might not be the best kind of help for you. Loan and credit card companies all have more long-term options available to help you if you’re experiencing financial difficulty. These can include freezing interest and charges on your account, helping you set up an alternative arrangement to repay them in smaller chunks over a longer period of time, and maybe even writing off a portion of your debt. But, you need to get in touch with them to be able to access this help. If you fall behind on your payments and don’t speak to them, then they won’t know that you’re struggling and could hit you with late fees and continue to add interest to your balances.

Debt advice

If you’re worried about money, overstretched, and not sure what to do to sort it out, then debt advice is an option for you. Professional advisors can help you take stock of your situation and make recommendations on the best next steps for you. Having a chat with someone who doesn’t know you, is impartial and an expert on situations like yours can be a real weight off. You’ll never be judged or criticised, and you could get a clear, simple plan to get your money back under control so you can worry about it less.

Just getting some advice on your situation is usually free, and won’t affect your credit score. But, if you decide that something like a debt management plan or an IVA is your best option, then this could come with some fees attached and will affect your credit score for up to six years.

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