I’m a debt expert – how you can lower your payments if you’re in the cost of living crisis

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FIGHTING DEBT is incredibly stressful, but there are steps you can take to reduce your repayments.

As the cost of living crisis deepens and inflation pushes up prices, more and more people may find it difficult to manage their bills and debts.

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The average UK household owes £2,192 in credit card debt alone

According to The Money Charity, an organization that helps people manage their finances, the average UK household alone owes £2,192 in credit card debt.

But there’s help at hand if you’re struggling to pay off your debts.

The Sun spoke to expert Andy Shaw from debt charity StepChange, who revealed his five tips to help keep payments down.

Talk to your creditors

Credit or debit card debt can pile up quickly, especially if you’re trying to support a family.

But Andy said an important first step if you find yourself in this situation is to simply talk to your creditors who may be able to change your plan.

A creditor can be a bank, company or entity that you owe money to.

Crucially, many will have payment options or assistance programs in place for those who are struggling – but you need to let them know first.

“If they don’t know about your current situation, they won’t be able to offer you support or potentially reduce payments,” he said.

“If you have debt problems and are stressed about your finances, don’t suffer in silence.”

Talk to a charity

If you’re unsure how to approach your creditors, charities such as StepChange can help you come up with a plan.

They offer free, unbiased debt advice specific to your needs and can offer you a number of options for tackling debt.

These include a Debt Management Plan (DMP) to pay off your debts with lower monthly payments, a Tokenized Payment Plan (TPP) to manage your payments over a short period of time, or a declaration of insolvency, which would see your debts cancelled.

You can also try the National Debtline, which also offers free advice.

To get in touch, you can visit its website, or call 0808 808 4000.

Try a government program

The government announced a series of support measures for households earlier this year.

Among the measures are a cost of living payment of £650, a disability allowance of £150, an energy reimbursement grant of £400 and a payment of £300 for certain pensioners.

But if you’re looking for targeted debt support, the government’s Debt Respite Scheme, also known as Breathing Space, is an option.

Launched last year, it is free to use and a person in debt is entitled to legal protections against their creditors.

Under this program, people can freeze most interest, fees and charges on debts and suspend enforcement actions and contacts with creditors.

You will be eligible for the program if you live in England or Wales.

You will also be eligible if:

  • You have an eligible debt
  • You do not have a Debt Relief Order (DRO)
  • You do not have an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA),
  • You don’t have an interim order
  • You are not an undischarged bankrupt when you apply

You also cannot have used the service in the last 12 months.

If you have a DRO, you don’t have to make payments for most types of debt, and your creditors can’t force you to pay debts.

An IVA is a legally binding agreement between you and your creditor to repay debts over a period of time.

And an interim order is a court order that requires creditors to cease all legal action for the enforcement of unsecured debts.

Andy said: “If you pass eligibility checks, your creditors won’t be able to add interest or charges to your debts, or take any enforcement action, for 60 days.”

Enforcement action could involve a bailiff at your front door demanding that your belongings be auctioned off.

Dig around

Not all debts will be linked to a credit card or debit card.

You may be struggling to pay your council tax, for example.

Council tax is a priority debt, which means that the consequences of non-payment can be very serious.

And while many households can get help through the Household Support Fund or Council Tax Refund, there are other things you can do to get help.

Councils have discretion under Section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act to settle or reduce your tax debt.

Andy said your local council’s website should have the information but quite often it was buried so you have to dig.

He added that you can always speak to your council to see what help is available to you.

If you live alone, with a student or with a severely disabled person, you could benefit from a reduction in council tax.

If you don’t know which municipal authority you are under, you can use the government locator tool.

Consolidate your debt

Debt consolidation is a way to reduce the amount of loans, credit or debit card payments you make.

But getting into debt to pay off other debt isn’t always the right path for many people, so you need to be careful.

Andy offered two options you could take to reduce your debt.

The first is a low interest rate consolidation loan – this involves you going to a bank or lender and taking out a loan of money, then using the loan to pay off your outstanding debts.

Then you only have to make repayments on one loan rather than several.

But, Andy warned: “It’s not for everyone because of affordability.

“Be careful if you are a homeowner and these consolidation loans are secured by your home.

“So there are risks if you fail to keep up with the payments.”

If you fail to keep up with payments on a loan like this, Andy said, you could end up with your home repossessed.

It is therefore essential to ensure that you can afford the refunds.

The second option is a 0% balance transfer credit card.

With this, you can transfer your balance from existing credit cards to one, and not have to pay interest on it for a period of time, usually 12 to 18 months.

However, Andy said it’s been harder to get hold of these credit cards over the past 18 months – and especially if you have bad credit.

He said to shop around on comparison websites to find the best deals.

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He added: “The other thing to keep in mind is that you can afford the refunds.

“You have to be really sure you can make those payments, or you’ll find yourself in more uncertainty than before.”

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