There is help available and the sooner a debt problem is addressed the sooner it can begin to be resolved, writes Grainne McGuinness in her weekly consumer advice column.
WE ARE just coming out of one of the most expensive times in the year for families — back to school — and soon it will be time to start planning for Christmas.
There is plenty of advice about how to plan ahead and avoid getting into debt at these crunch times. But when a household slips into unmanageable debt it can be very hard to see a way out.
On the website Consumerhelp.ie, the CCPC offer advice on tackling debt, including a checklist to help get a clear picture of your current financial situation.
When paying bills, mortgage or rent and utilities should be top of the list. After that you need to prioritise debts to be paid first.
If it feels too overwhelming to sit down assess everything yourself, MABS provide an excellent, free service and you can arrange an appointment with them on 0761072000.
They can help you figure out exactly where you stand and help you deal with creditors if needs be.
Credit card debt
If your main concern is credit card debt it can feel like a vicious circle.
The APR is high and making the minimum payments will lead to a very slow reduction in the balance.
But there are concrete steps you can take to regain control.
If you can, switch providers to one that offers 0% interest on balance transfers.
Bank of Ireland, KBC, Permanent TSB and Tesco Clubcard all offer six or seven months interest free on your existing balance.
Use this time to pay it down as aggressively as possible, ideally while not using the card to accrue more debt.
If you can’t get approval for a new card or fear you will slip back into the same cycle, speak to the lender you have your card with and convert the debt to a personal loan.
This will have a lower interest and give you a fixed repayment schedule.
If you are struggling to pay your utility bills or have fallen into arrears contact your supplier.
Provides of electricity, gas and water are required by their regulator to have codes of practice for dealing with customers in difficulty.
There may by the option to install a pre-paid meter or use a pre-paid card to avoid accruing bills.
If in arrears they will also work with you to set up a budget plan that works for you, for example allowing you to pay each week if your income is weekly rather than monthly.
If you have been with the same suppliers for years, now would be a good time to switch and benefit on the savings during the more expensive winter months.
Use Bonkers.ie to figure out the best deal for you.
Mortgage debt is one of the most common causes of problems and MABS has a dedicated confidential, and free, mortgage arrears service to help.
Their advice is to talk to your lender, but if you can’t — talk to them.
The banks are bound by a strict code in managing arrears, but require a lot of paperwork from customers in difficulty, including a lengthy financial statement. MABS have guides to help you complete these.
If the situation is at a stage where repossession is threatened, they also offer support at hearings in the courts.
They cannot give legal advice but help to make sense of the proceedings and advise you on options.
If you are a sole trader or small business in trouble you can get advice from CAVA (Chartered Accountants Voluntary Advice).
This service is provided by volunteer members of Chartered Accountants Ireland who give free financial and business advice.
Clinics run in the evening time and they offer help with business debt issues, dealing with creditors and will also help small businesses prepare accounts and file returns.
CAVA do not take self-referrals directly from the public so if you feel you would benefit contact MABS or Citizens Information Centre.
With children back in school and temperatures dropping, Sky Ireland have launched new broadband deals to cater for families planning ahead for the long winter nights.
They are offering existing customers Sky Fibre Unlimited for €35 per month for 12 months.
As it is only a 12 month contract customers won’t be locked into paying a higher amount after the introductory price ends.
For new customers the offer is Sky TV Original bundle with Sky Fibre Unlimited for €55 per month for 12 months.
The TV bundle includes more than 55 TV channels, including Sky Atlantic and comes with Catch Up TV and Sky Go — allowing customers to watch TV on a compatible laptop, mobile or tablet.
Sky Fibre was voted Ireland’s best broadband brovider at the Switcher Broadband Awards and they promise speeds of up to 100mbps.
Both the Sky offers come with Talk Freetime, which includes free evening and weekend calls to local and national landlines.
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