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Comeback Crescent
in association with StepChange

How to get on top of debt

Having trouble juggling your finances or worried about a credit card bill or a mortgage payment? Meet the residents of Comeback Crescent: they know what it's like to face difficulties, look for support and find answers to the problems so many of us share. They have dealt with problem debt and come out the other side – and they want you to know that you can too.
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A lot of people are worried about debt right now. Our research at Compare the Market has shown that the majority of households believe it could take, on average, three years for their cash to recover to the levels they enjoyed before Covid hit.

For many households, the money coming in just doesn't seem to be as much as the cash that's going out.

What’s more, the financial impact will be felt long after we are well out of lockdown.

Meet the residents of Comeback Crescent: they know what it's like to struggle with problem debt and come out the other side – and they want you to know that you can too.

Each of them wants to share their detailed, deeply honest stories of dealing with their debt to let you know that you're not alone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The families of Comeback Crescent have more in common than just their address – they’ve all struggled with debt but managed to turn it all around. What’s more, they want to share their story so that you know that you can too.

For Ricky and Naomi Willis, it was when they found themselves without food in the cupboard that they knew that they had to change the way they were living.

The couple had £43,000 worth of debt from credit cards, catalogues, utility bills and pay day loans and were unable to afford the monthly repayments.

While John and Bea Thombs found their debt became problematic when they realised that they weren't borrowing as a way to improve their lifestyle, but rather as a way to make ends meet.

For Nicola Cromwell, it was COVID-19 that pushed her into the red and she borrowed money to keep her family afloat, but the stress of being unable to pay it back soon became too much to handle.

But each of these families brought themselves back from the brink of a financial disaster – and they want to help you to do the same.

Expert advice from StepChange

StepChange is a debt charity that provides free, impartial debt advice and solutions to anyone struggling with debt problems.

We invited Richard Lane, director of external affairs at the charity, to meet the residents of Comeback Crescent and offer support to those facing similar problems to the families.

The Willises

Meet the Willises

Occupation

Founders and editors of the Skint Dad website

Living situation

Just bought their first home in the North East after renting for many years.

Debt issues

Credit cards, personal loans, payday loans, bills

Family

Naomi 37, Ricky 41, two daughters aged 9 and 16

From problem debt to home ownership

Naomi and Ricky tackled spiralling debt as a couple after the financial crisis of 2009 meant that they were both out of work.

"After I was made redundant I found a new job, but the pay was a lot less and our outgoings were still high,” Naomi explains.

“We didn't have any savings, so when the car broke down and the fridge freezer went, it completely toppled us as we couldn’t keep up with the £1,000 repayments.”

The couple turned to personal loans to pay off their credit cards, only to revert to using them to help make ends meet.

When they eventually found themselves having to choose whether to buy food, pay the rent and council tax or pay off their debts, they knew that they had to take action.

The couple made a list of debts and reached out to the companies where they owed money.

"We were open and honest with creditors about how we had been struggling, but that we wanted to fix it," says Naomi.

The mother of two admits that the first few calls were awful because it was hard to talk about their problem debt with strangers, but after they started reaching out for help, Naomi said that she felt liberated.

What’s more, rather than feeling judged or shamed, she received empathy and support.

"We were changing our lives one phone call at a time," she says.

“We've gone from being in extreme debt to being creditworthy enough to buy our own home in just nine years by being open, honest and working as a team.”

Millions unable to withstand financial shocks

Statistics showing 24 milliion have characteristics of vulnerability, 10.7 million have have characteristics of vulnerability to do with low financial resilience. Source: StepChange

Expert View

StepChange Logo

"At StepChange we will assess whether you can pay back that money in a reasonable timeframe"

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs, StepChange
  • 1Make sure you understand your budget and know what's coming in and going out
  • 2Put money aside to deal with expenses coming down the line if possible
  • 3See if extra help is available
  • 4Get in touch with a debt advice provider if you need help
The Cromwells

Meet the Cromwells

Occupation

Carer

Living situation

Rented housing association home, West Yorkshire

Debt issues

Rent arrears, bills, car loan

Family

Nicola, 46; two daughters 16 and 14

Falling through the cracks

For mother-of-two, Nicola, repeated lockdowns were a disaster for her finances. Before the pandemic hit, Nicola worked in supported living services, visiting people in their homes. But despite working full-time she was on a zero-hours contract and when lockdown hit, the service stopped – when she found herself out of work she faced the double whammy of not qualifying for government help.

"Overnight, I found myself without a wage coming into the house," she says.

While Nicola's outgoings are hardly extravagant: rent on her housing association home, Council Tax, utility bills, a personal loan and a loan for her car, which, as she lives in a village with little public transport, is essential for her work, she soon found herself without enough money to make ends meet.

While her small savings saw her through the first month, it then became just tax credits and maintenance payments that was coming in.

"It quickly became apparent that I couldn't afford to pay anything," she says.

While Nicola managed to get a payment holiday for her loan, the interest mounted up and she fell into arrears with her household bills.

For Nicola, the stress of the situation was exhausting.

Fortunately, Nicola has secured another full-time job and she's considering entering into a debt management plan.

"It's an absolute minefield dealing with it by yourself," she says.

"Go to a debt charity and ask for help - a little bit of help goes a long way."

Most common strategies for people financially affected by Covid

Graph showing 33% Borrowing, 23% User Savings, 15% Asking Family and Friends Source: StepChange

Expert View

StepChange Logo

"If you've recently received a reduction in your income, it's really important to look at what you have coming in versus what you have going out"

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs, StepChange
  • 1Make sure you look after your mental health if you're struggling with your money
  • 2Make sure you fully understand who you owe money to
  • 3Check to see if you're eligible for any benefits, hardship funds or grants
  • 4Seek expert help if you need it
The Thombs

Meet the Thombs

Occupation

Freelance events organiser, IT consultant

Living situation

Own home with mortgage in South East London

Debt issues

Mortgage, loans, credit cards

Family

Bea 49, John 42, two sons 17 and 11

Coming out the other side

For John and Bea, life is looking brighter - and very different. The London couple have finally come out of a long period of living with problem debt and now not only have they cleared their loans, their attitude to money has changed dramatically.

The couple said that they’ve spent years struggling with overdrafts, a personal loan and credit cards, as well as being trapped in an expensive mortgage.

In 2012, they decided enough was enough: the balance had shifted from borrowing as a way to improve their lifestyle - a home, family holidays and IVF to have a second baby - into a source of stress and worry when they began to struggle with the repayments.

"We were just paying the minimum repayments on our debt and when we started missing payments, the alarm bells started ringing," Bea remembers. It was time for change and with the help of money management training, the couple took a firm hold of the family finances and began a strict budgeting regime.

Thanks to PPI compensation payments the couple were able to pay off £30,000 of debt including their overdrafts and agreed to a debt management plan.

"All the debts were consolidated, including the mortgage loan and the unsecured loan that came with the mortgage," says Bea.

"We paid it off at a flat rate of £600 a month but were free from all these various debts and stopped taking on any form of credit."

Eight years on, the couple have cleared their debt and remortgaged their home with a lender that specifically deals with borrowers with bad credit ratings.

While they still have to watch the pennies due to COVID-19, they can manage and are confident that they will never go back to a life living in debt.

"We've decided not to fall back into those same habits and live within our means,” says John.

Paying off debt

Graph showing how Consumers used lockdown to pay off debt in 2020. Source: StepChange

Expert View

StepChange Logo

“The first piece of advice to anyone struggling to meet all their payments is to deal with priority debts”

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs, StepChange
  • 1If you’re working, you can talk in confidence to your HR department as they may be able to help
  • 2If you’re unsure about how much you owe, check your credit file
  • 3Visit the StepChange website for downloadable template letters for asking lenders for help
  • 4If you’re struggling with utility bill repayments, contact your supplier to ask about support

Dealing with debt

Like many problems in life, the sooner you try to get to grips with debt, the easier it can be to solve.

If you've got more than one debt and can't afford the repayments, the best place to start is by contacting the lenders directly. But if you feel unable to tackle your problem debt on your own, getting help from a specialised charity can be a gamechanger as they can offer useful advice and provide reassurance if you are feeling anxious. Remember, these kinds of organisations are used to dealing with people who face all kinds of debt issues so don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about reaching out. Here you can expect judgement-free support and a variety of solutions that can help such as payment holidays, freezing interest, agreeing an affordable repayment plan and even writing off some of the debt all together.

What’s more, debt charities will not charge you for the service, so don’t feel you need to fork out more cash for professional help.

Remember, that while your money problems might feel impossible to fix, it's never too late to start tackling your debts.

Comeback Crescent
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Like the residents of Comeback Crescent, you can begin to pay down your debts and look forward to a financially secure future.

Here are some Compare the Market tools to help you start getting control of your money.

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