My word of 2019 is More and one of the key focuses on this for me is to pay off more debt. It’s something I’ve just done the bare minimum about for a long time now and quite frankly I’m getting sick of seeing small regular amounts go out and hardly make a dent. This year I am putting the majority of my money into clearing my debt so that I can have a much cleaner and stable financial future. What’s really frustrating is most of this debt is from my early twenties and I’m now 30 so it’s time I firmly left the past behind and just got rid of the debt I’ve let build up.
This really came about last summer when one of the debt collection agencies I’d been consistently paying £10 a month to offered me a settlement plan and they actually offered me a chance to pay it over six months in equal instalments raising it to about £32 a month. I decided to go for it as it would more than half the time I’d be paying it off and I knew it would make a huge difference. I was told that if I defaulted on one payment the settlement would be revoked and the full balance would be due again. I actually managed to clear it in November rather than January when I had a little bit of spare cash and decided it was better spent clearing the debt than making the last two month payments.
How Do You Control Your Debt?
Firstly it’s important to pay what you can afford, do not get into more trouble or sacrifice your basic needs when it comes to controlling debt. Speak financial experts or charities, open up conversations with any debt collection agencies and be completely honest about financial hardship. That being said if your disposable income increases then it is absolutely worth paying more debt to make your financial future healthier and actually it’s a real burden lifted when you close a debt account.
I phoned around and emailed companies, registered for online management accounts and wrote down what I owed to who and how much. I worked out how long it would take for me to clear the debt with the current payments I was making. Most of them I was looking at five years or more just paying £5 a month despite almost all of those debts being under £1,000 each. I decided to try and work out how much I would have to pay to get my debt firmly under control within 24 months, the majority being cleared within 12 months.
In November 2018 I worked out I had the following debts:
Debt 1 owing £570
Debt 2 owing £200
Debt 3 owing £160
Debt 4 owing £280
Debt 5 owing £350
Debt 6 owing £1750
Debt 7 Owing £750
I also had two credit cards which were close to being maxed out and almost owing the full balance
Credit Card 1 at £290/£300
Credit Card 2 at £640/£700
That’s quite a lot of debt to lay on the table but show you the reality of what life is like with debt. Most of these I was paying around £5 or £10 a month and it just wasn’t really making much of a dent. I then went through our income and expenses and had enough disposable income to clear debt 3 in full on my debit card, which I did. I then called up debt 2 and asked to increase my monthly payments to £50 a month, clearing it in four months. On 6th March 2019 I will make my last £50 payment for a debt I borrowed almost five years ago when I was on income support and borrowed a loan to help with moving costs when I was coming close to leaving hostel accommodation and moving into a council flat.
Then came the challenging tasks of dealing with debts 1, 4, 5 & 7 which were separate accounts with the same debt collection agency. I am able to manage these accounts online and have since increased my monthly payments to around £40 a month on each. It’s a big hit but I’ve set it up in a way I know I can meet the payments. It means one will be cleared in June, one in September and the other two I’ve set to clear within 12 months. My plan, however, is when each one clears I increase the payments on the others so that it actually takes less than the 24 months I have given myself to get out of debt.
The biggest debt is the hardest one to deal with and for the time being I’ve increased the payment from £10 a month to £50 but ideally I would like to try and increase this to around £130 a month when I’ve cleared the other debts. This is the most difficult debt collection agency to deal with as the agents on the other end of the phone are rude, difficult to speak to, unsympathetic and threatening. It’s also for past water rates which is both mine and Adam’s responsibility so he is helping me with this one. For the rest though, I’m doing it myself.
I’ve managed to arrange my repayments myself, but if you feel overwhelmed by large debts and you’re struggling to manage them, companies like Creditfix can help too.
Give Yourself A Financial Check Up
It’s really important to keep an eye on your finances and give yourself a financial check up from time to time. I’ve since cancelled a few subscriptions that I just wasn’t really using or made discount deals with providers to try and give myself a bit of a boost. I’ve been keeping a budget diary to see where we are overspending which was really shocking for January and has opened my eyes to just how careless we have been with disposable income.
Both Adam and I have things we really want such as Adam learning to drive, buying a car, affording insurance, tax and fuel. I want to be debt free and in control of my money and save for a holiday to Disneyworld. We are only going to get the things we really want in our lives if we stop overspending on silly things that actually don’t really give us much joy and have resulted in a lot of ‘stuff’ that we don’t really need.
Dealing With Credit Cards
Credit Cards are being told to help get customers out of persistent debt on their balance. That’s where you are only making the minimum payment but that only really covers the interest so the actual balance of the card isn’t really coming down. You will be given a recommended extra payment each month to help you get out of persistent debt and actually start clearing your credit card balance. Customers do have control and as long as you’re making the minimum payment because that’s all you can afford then you can opt out of increased payments.
However, if you can afford the extra payment it will help that balance come down much quicker which will in turn help your credit file. You can also set your own amount you want to pay back each month and make extra payments if you find yourself with extra disposable income. I have decided to set up direct debits for above the minimum payment and recommended payment and increased my lower balance card to £25 a month which is around £10 more than the amount asked for to help with persistent debt. I have increased the larger of the two to £40 a month which is more than double the minimum amount so that works out well for me and it’s nice to see the actual balance coming down.
I’m not really thinking about getting rid of credit cards however I am getting in serious control of how and when we use them. I want to get them all down to 0 balance and then spend a small amount on each every month and pay back in full the following month. This way we have access to emergency funds and in theory over the years, will help show we are good lenders because we borrow and pay back quickly.
Getting Started with Savings
I am terrible when it comes to savings and saving for the future but I made a few changes last year and at the start of the year to combat this. The first thing I did was open up a pot for a private pension. At the moment I’m only putting £5 a month in the account which is a very small about but works out at around 5% of my average earnings. My plan is to increase this amount when I’m debt free to a more substantial figure and on a yearly basis my minimum amount will increase automatically by 10%. That means in January the payments went to £5.50 which at the moment is still very affordable and at least it is something.
I’ve also found on my online banking a savings goal calculator which I’ve attached to my savings account. My plan is to save an amount each week until week 45 where, if I do it right, I should have £1,000 which I plan to use on Christmas. Week one started with £1, week 2 was £2 and so on. It works out well as I pay off more debt I will be able to commit to the increase in weekly savings and so the final payment of £45 on week 45 should bring my total to just over £1,000. Not only will I have cleared around 50% of my total debt and got my credit card balances to decrease but I’ll also have actual savings for a debt free Christmas. I’m also doing automatic savings through Plum which calculate small, regular amounts around your bills and income which I can withdraw at any time.