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Problems with Debt

Have you got problems with debt?

Australian household and personal debt levels are some of the highest in the world so it’s not surprising that many of us face financial stress and difficulty managing debts at some stage of our lives. More than 2.5 million Australians live in households in financial distress, so if you’re struggling with debt, you’re not alone.

Don’t ignore the problem

Unless your debt problem is temporary and you have a solution, ignoring it is likely to make it worse. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to admit that the problem exists and to seek help, but this is the fastest way of dealing with it and getting yourself back on track.

Financial counsellors

Make an appointment to see a financial counsellor. A financial counsellor is a qualified professional who can provide you with information, advice and advocacy if you are experiencing financial difficulty. It’s a free service that’s non-judgmental, independent and confidential. They will listen and provide emotional support. Financial counsellors do not sell products.

Financial counsellors are often based in community organisations, charities and local government agencies throughout Australia. If you are in debt or are unable to meet your ongoing expenses, a financial counsellor may be able to help you:

  • Prioritise your debts and deal with your current crisis
  • Negotiate with creditors
  • Access dispute resolution services
  • Develop a budget and put systems in place so you are less likely to fall into financial difficulty again in the future
  • Access grants or concessions
  • Understand your rights and access legal help if necessary.

To find a financial counsellor near you for a face-to-face appointment, visit the National Debt Helpline website or call 1800 007 007.

Please note:  Financial counsellors are not the same as financial planners or financial advisers, who provide financial planning and investment advice for people with money to invest.

Actions:

  • Find a list of financial counsellors in your area at National Debt Helpline.
  • Choose a service and make an appointment.

Immediate money help

If you are you behind on your bills, struggling with debt repayments or unable to cover basic living expenses, there are organisations that can help you manage a financial crisis.

Relief Trust Funds

Each of the Services, Army, Navy and Air Force, has a trust fund which can provide loans and grants to ADF members experiencing financial difficulty. ADF members who are suffering financial hardship due to physical or mental injuries, as a result of service, may also be eligible for assistance through the Bravery Trust.

To contact the appropriate source, go to:

Review your budget

If you don’t have a budget, a budgeting tool can help you develop one. A budget will give you a clear picture of your income and expenses and allow you to identify any areas you could make savings. Make sure you include the minimum repayment amounts on all your debts when completing your budget.

If you already have a budget, make sure it’s up to date so you can quickly see whether you can realistically pay your debts without help.

If after completing your budget you think you’ll have difficulty managing your debts, seek help immediately. Try not to default on your payments, talk to your credit providers to negotiate an affordable payment plan.

Talk to your credit providers

As soon as you are aware that you can’t pay a bill, contact the credit provider to inform them you are in ‘financial hardship’ and are finding it difficult to meet your repayment obligation. Ask them about adjusting your loan repayment or bill amount to something more manageable. This will only be a temporary measure but might give you a bit of breathing room to sort things out more permanently.

How credit providers can help

Your credit provider may be able to give you an extension of time to make the repayment, offer you a lower repayment, or a lower interest rate, for a set period of time, to help you get back on your feet.  This is called a hardship variation.  Make sure that you can afford to meet the repayment arrangement before you agree.

You may find the following MoneySmart resources useful:

If you’re finding it difficult to talk to credit providers, ask a financial counsellor for help.

Debt consolidation and debt agreements

Don’t panic and rush into a debt agreement. A debt agreement is a form of bankruptcy and could put your security clearance at risk. This could have a serious impact on your career in the ADF and future financial outcomes.

Don’t pay for help

There are many for-profit organisations, often calling themselves ‘debt solution companies’, which offer to help people in financial difficulty.  They may provide ‘debt consolidation loans’, ‘debt agreements’ or other services for which they will earn fees or commissions.  Avoid them and choose a free financial counselling or a free legal service instead.

Debt consolidation or refinancing by rolling your existing debts into a single loan, can make managing your debts easier because you’ll only have a single debt to be repaid, but it can make your situation worse. You may end up paying a higher rate of interest that you are already paying, and if you don’t close existing credit accounts it can be tempting to use available credit the next time you find yourself short of cash.

If you are considering entering into a debt consolidation loan, debt agreement or any form of bankruptcy, always seek legal advice first. There are usually better options.

Debt help checklist

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