This is a guest post by Sara Williams. She is a debt adviser and runs the Debt Camel website which looks at everything to do with debt, from getting a payday loan refund to checking your credit rating before applying for a mortgage.

Emma is clearing her debt using the snowballing approach. That’s great – it lets you pay off your debt fast and also results in you having a fantastic credit rating at the end.

But snowballing only works if you can make at least the minimum debt repayments each month. So Emma asked me to write about what to do if you can’t afford the minimum payments.

Don’t “Rob Peter to pay Paul”

First what not to do…unless your problem is genuinely short term, you have to stop and not borrow any more money.

Don’t get a new credit card, or a larger overdraft or ask your mum to lend you some. That is known as Robbing Peter to pay Paul – and it often ends very badly when you have much larger debts and nowhere left to turn to.

If you are hoping to get through the next month or two, is it because your problem is really temporary? If you are just about to start a new job but your first pay packet is 6 weeks away, or your childcare costs are about to drop, or you only have three payments left a large loan then Yes, it really is.

But if the problem now is the electricity bill, but next month it will be new shoes for the children, then there is Christmas… that is a long term shortage of money showing up in different ways every month or two.

What sort of debts do you have problems with?

Debt advisers divide debts into “priority” and “non-priority”. I think most people would agree that rent and mortgage arrears are top priority, but some of the other ones may surprise you – read What is a priority debt? and think if you have any.

If you do, then you need to talk to a debt adviser. Even if your main problem at the moment feels like a credit card bill, if you have priority debts it’s best to get expert help as soon as possible.

Where to get help when you can’t afford the minimum payments.

I have a list of great places for debt advice, depending on where you live in the UK, if you would like to talk on the phone or face to face, whether you are self employed etc. All the places in that list are not for profit organisations who will be sympathetic and talk in confidence.

Don’t worry that your problem isn’t big enough to bother a debt adviser with – debt advisers would rather talk to you sooner when your problem is easier to solve!

And don’t google for debt advice! If you do you will end up talking to firms that have paid Google a lot to get high up in their rankings. And that means they are planning on making a lot of money out of you, even if they say they are “free”.

Ask your creditors to freeze interest – the DIY option

From here on I am going to assume all your debts are non priority.

How much money do you have that you can pay to your loans and credit cards each month? If you work through National Debtline’s My budget that will suggest what you can afford to pay to each of these debts.

When you can’t afford the minimum payments, you can phone the creditor and explain your situation:

  • say you can’t afford the normal payment;
  • offer an amount you can afford; and
  • ask them to freeze interest and not add extra charges.

It doesn’t matter if you can only afford £1 a month – this is known as a token payment.

If you have a lot of creditors, or you can’t face making these calls – talk to a debt adviser. A debt management plan, where the interest is frozen on your debts, could work well for you.

Is freezing interest enough?

If getting the interest frozen on your debts won’t be enough to repay them in a reasonable time, a debt adviser can also look at your other options.

What is “reasonable” here depends on you and how your situation may change.

If you are trapped in a long term problem that really isn’t going to get a lot better, there are a range of insolvency options that a debt adviser can explain to you. You may not want to go bankrupt, but staggering on for another few years and then having to is a worse choice. And there are other possibilities such as a Debt Relief Order (DRO) that you may not have heard about.

This post was written by Sara Williams of the Debt Camel. 


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10 Replies to “How to handle debt when you can’t afford the minimum payments.”

  1. I’ve also used the debt snowball, a very effective method, to eliminate debt. Had a celebration when I made my last student loan payment five years ago. Now I’m just working to get my house paid off.

    1. Fantastic Peggy! I’m really looking forward to reaching the point where my mortgage is my only remaining debt!

  2. Thanks!! By reading your article has made me realise that I would be stupid to apply for a small over draft until pay day. I only have a mortgage but I have had big debt problems in the past which I have now paid off. I am just need to make my money work for a couple of weeks.

    1. Hi Claire, I’m so glad you have found this helpful! Do you use a budget right now? I recommend having one as a way to begin improving your finances and making sure that you have complete control of your money!

      1. Oh goodness I definitely have budget and plan everything including what we eat for the whole month. This month my children are in a karate competition which is last minute decision by their coach but all is good just need to make things work for me.

        1. Brilliant, it definitely helps to plan ahead doesn’t it? Maybe you could start a sinking fund for the karate in case anything else pops up in the future? 🙂

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