A very honest account of how I ended up in £17500 of debt by the age of 20
Believe me, I am no stranger to struggling with personal debt. As soon as I hit 18 and was old enough to get store cards and credit cards, I did. I was really quite naïve and really quite stupid. I’d moved out of home at 17 and into a shared house with an older boyfriend. I thought I was so grown up and mature, but I had no idea how to manage money and neither did he. I was off to university and before I even had my loan come through I’d spent it on a deposit for us to get our own flat together. I was in debt before I even turned 18.
Once I had a taste of store cards and being able to buy whatever I wanted I was hooked. I quickly developed a shopping addiction and would rarely wear the same outfit twice for a couple of years. I always justified it to myself – ‘I never want to go travelling or anything, so it doesn’t matter if I get into debt as I’ll always be here to pay it off. . . blah blah blah’ ‘Life’s too short’ ‘Money’s there to be spent’.
As I said, I was young and stupid.
I also lacked any confidence. I worked at what I thought was the coolest clothes shop in town and I wanted people to like me. It was a very social environment and we went to the pub for lunch almost every lunch time, again to the pub for drinks after work and we also went out clubbing several nights a week. I definitely had fear of missing out and was always the last one at a party and never missed an event or chance to go out with everyone. I smoked and drank and lived way beyond my shop assistant wage. I regularly bought rounds for people and shared out cigarettes as I wanted people to like me and continue to invite me out.
All these purchases were going on my credit cards.
Buying new clothes almost daily, going out for lunch almost daily and out clubbing in the evening several times a week, plus paying rent, household bills, a mobile phone bill, for a car and everything else at age 18-19 was way too much for my wage at that time.
Before I knew it I had 10 store cards, 3 credit cards and 2 loans and was in ‘debt crisis’ meaning I was paying off the minimum payments by borrowing credit from another card and actually never ever paying anything off.
I realised I was in trouble when I suddenly maxed out some of the cards and had no funds left anywhere to pay the minimum payments.
I started getting red letters and panicking.
The stupidest thing is I never ever sat down and worked out my incomings and outgoings. I had no idea what they were or if I could even afford all these credit cards and store cards. It’s the most obvious and simplest solution before ever applying for credit, but I never did it.
I went to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and for the first time I sat down with the advisor and totted up my debt.
I was almost 20 and in £17500 worth of debt.
Plus, I had nothing to show for it!
I was advised to go on a debt management plan and after five very long years I managed to pay every last penny back. It was a struggle, I was skint and I definitely learned my lesson.
I managed to get out of debt by my mid-twenties and even get accepted for a mortgage a few years later. It’s totally possible to get yourself out of any financial mess you get yourself into and turn it all around.
I’m a very different person now. Yes, my husband and I have debt. We have a mortgage and we have two homeowner loans, but we can afford these and still have plenty left at the end of the month. I work our finances out every month on a spreadsheet so I know where we are every payday and I check our bank accounts first thing every morning to double check each balance. Although we have debt I am in control of it and we can afford it. I certainly don’t live the lifestyle I lived in my early twenties and I’d never be so stupid again. Our debt now is to pay for our home which is an investment for us and our children’s future.
I never ever want to be in that situation again. It was a very dark time for me and it was totally avoidable. Being consumed by debt and having money worries is horrid. It really did destroy me at the time.
If you are struggling financially there are options available to you. Here are some thoughts on what you can do if you are in financial difficulty:
Consolidate your debts
If your debt is manageable and you’re not in debt crisis like I was then you may still be able to help yourself. If you have debt spread across several sources it might be worth consolidating your debt onto one credit card with a 0% balance transfer fee. Just don’t use the credit card and only use it to pay off the outstanding debt. You can also use online personal loans to do the same, but you’ll be charged interest on the balance. Only get a credit card or loan if you are sure you can make the monthly repayments and it’s in your best interest.
Request a repayment holiday
If you can’t make a payment in the short term then speak to your creditor. Some banks will let you take a repayment holiday for a month or so if you’re struggling and you’ve otherwise been a good customer. It’s always worth asking and it could give you just the time you need to get your finances back on track. Most of the companies I spoke to when I was struggling were actually really helpful and offered advice.
Ask for advice
There is so much advice out there to help you with your debt nowadays. Do not struggle alone, go and get help! The Citizens Advice was a huge help to me and knew exactly what I should do. The banks also have helplines, but for me I preferred to talk to an impartial person face to face when things got really out of hand. They signposted me to a debt management company who helped me clear my debt.
Use a free debt management company
If your debt is unmanageable by yourself you may want to consider some specialist advice. A lot of debt management companies charge a fee for their service. I used a company called PayPlan who offer free advice and free debt management services. They communicated on my behalf to all my creditors and even managed to halt the interest on many accounts so I had a chance to just pay back what I owed. You can pay one monthly payment to the debt management company and they’ll distribute it on your behalf.
The best thing you can do is to get help today and don’t let the problem get any worse. Once you are in control of your finances, keep it that way.