Debt and how to deal with it
10 tips on paying off your debts
By Rob Goodman
10 tips on paying off your debts
Falling into substantial debt can be a traumatic experience. Here are 10 steps you can take to help yourself get out of debt.
1. Switch to a 0% balance transfer credit card
While the Bank of England base rate had been 0.5% since March 2009 and was recently cut to the historic low of 0.25%, average credit card rates have reached more than 18%.
If you're paying interest on credit card debt, think about switching your balance to a 0% balance transfer deal – the best deals currently offer up to 28 months interest-free.
Which? Money Compare tables: 0% balance transfer credit cards – compare some of the best deals on the market with Which? Money Compare
2. Reject increases in your credit card APR
If you owe money on your credit card and your card company says it's going to push up your interest rate, you have 60 days to contact the company and reject the increase. You won't be able to use the card for further spending, but you will be able to repay anything you already owe at your old, lower rate.
Which? Money Compare tables: Credit cards for everyday spending – check out some of the best deals on the market with Which? Money Compare
3. Join your local credit union
Loans from credit unions are generally cheaper than loans from most other providers for smaller amounts and do not incur set-up fees, administration costs or early redemption fees.
Many credit union loans, for example, cost 1% a month on the reducing balance of a loan (an APR of 12.7%). By law, the amount of interest charged by a credit union can be no more than 3% a month (an APR of 42.6%).
Go further: Borrowing from credit unions – our guide explores benefits of taking out a credit union loan
4. Avoid payday loans and other forms of high-cost credit
Not only are payday loans incredibly expensive but they can also take advantage of the continuous payment authority in place to make numerous payment requests in the event of a transaction not being initially verified. This could leave customers dipping into the red with their card provider. Payday loans should only ever be used as a short-term last resort.
5. Improve your credit score
Before you apply for credit, check your £2 credit report with Experian, Equifax and Callcredit. If there are mistakes on your file, or if you have a poor credit history, this will affect your chances of acceptance when you apply for a loan, as well as the interest rate you'll be offered if your application is successful.
Go further: Your credit report explained – this guide includes top tips for improving your credit rating
6. Pay more than the minimum on your credit card
If you only make the minimum payment on your credit card, not only could it take you years to repay the full balance but you may also be damaging your credit score.
Your credit report records whether you make the minimum payment or a bigger amount – if you're not on a 0% deal, only paying the minimum on existing debt may suggest to potential lenders that you're struggling to balance your finances, making it less likely that they'll lend to you at a competitive rate, if they'll lend at all.
Go further: Credit card repayment calculator – see how much you could save by paying off your debts quicker
7. Consolidate your debts with a personal loan
If you owe money on a credit card or overdraft with a high interest rate, it's worth considering a Best Rate personal loan. These often charge a lower APR and give you certainty over the monthly repayment, as well as the period over which you'll clear the debt.
Consolidation loans are usually best avoided. Most either charge a high interest rate, spread your repayments over an inappropriately long period or secure the loan against your home. Consolidation loans are only worth considering if they cost you less than your current borrowing arrangements.
Go further: Personal loans – dozens of loans compared by our experts
8. Get free independent debt advice
If you can't afford the repayments on existing debt, it's better to get free independent advice rather than dipping further into financial trouble by using fee-charging debt-management companies.
Go further: Free debt-advice contacts – includes contact details for the major debt advice charities
9. Get an authorised overdraft
If you think you're likely to go into overdraft, or to exceed your existing overdraft limit, speak to your bank as soon as possible, as it may be willing to increase your authorised overdraft. Going into unauthorised overdraft will trigger a whole host of extra charges and can be even more expensive than a payday loan.
Go further: Best bank accounts for authorised overdrafts – the accounts we recommend
10. Pay off debt before saving
While it's good to have a financial cushion for use in emergencies, there's little logic in having savings if you also owe money on a credit card or overdraft. The rates available on the best instant-access savings accounts are significantly lower than the average interest rate on a credit card of with an APR of more than 18%.
Using your savings to pay off your borrowing could save you hundreds of pounds a year in interest charges.
Which? Money Compare tables: Instant-access savings accounts – compare some of the best deals on the market
- Last updated: July 2016
- Updated by: Rob Goodman