It seems the only people flying high right now are high-interest money lenders and payday loan companies. Avoiding debt is the best plan, but once we’re in the debt trap, what can we do?


  • Write out a budget plan every few months or when anything that affects your cash changes like changing jobs, having kids or coming into a bit of money. See our Budgeting page
  • Find help as soon as you realise you can’t make ends meet. Go to a not-for-profit advice agency. Private companies will often charge you for helping, which defeats the purpose, and it will take longer to get back on top.
  • If you have debts, but a bit of money left over each week, pay off as much as you can afford without over-committing yourself. Be realistic because if you commit to payment levels and can’t keep up with them, you will struggle to reach a new deal with lenders.
  • Understand how interest works. It’s the charge placed on top of what you borrow. As it’s a percentage, the more you borrow, the more it costs you. Also the higher the percentage, the more it costs you. Next time you see an ad for a payday loan or easy access credit, take note of the percentage. QuickQuid say 1,734% is representative, so if you borrowed £100 and it took you a year to pay it back, you would pay £1,834.
  • Pay off debts with high interest first. If you can, find credit with cheaper interest and move your debt around, working towards paying it off. It can take a while but you’ll feel in control.


  • Never borrow money from an unlicensed lender, even if it’s someone you know. They offer ready cash and there’s no paperwork, but that means they can ask you to pay whatever they like in future. If you get caught in this trap, contact the Illegal Money Lending Team on 0300 555 2222.
  • Don’t stick your head in the sand. Face up to debt, however small, and take action. There is free help available and if you owe too much to even make the minimum payments each month, find help fast. You’ll find you start to feel better with someone on your side who may be able to speak to lenders and even handle your payments for you.
  • Don’t be scared to pick up the phone as soon as you know you’re struggling. They want to get their money back, however long it takes, and it’s in their interests to strike a deal.
  • Never borrow for anything you don’t absolutely need unless you are completely sure you can repay it, on time and preferably before the lender whacks interest on top.

Breathing Space

The government’s Debt Respite Scheme – known as ‘Breathing Space’ – is available to people in England and Wales who are struggling with problem debt. The scheme provides legal protections so that we cannot be contacted by companies we owe money to, for a certain length of time. In this time we should seek debt advice. It’s also available to people receiving mental health treatment.

To apply for Breathing Space you need to contact your local Citizens Advice office, a national debt charity like StepChange, or your local authority (see the list below for contact details).

You can read our Readers Club article here for more details about the scheme.

National Debtline
0808 808 4000 Freephone
Also offers the online advice service My Money Steps.

StepChange Debt Charity (CCCS)
0800 138 1111 Freephone
Debt advice charity offering free debt management plans.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP)
0800 328 0006 Freephone
Free debt advice with a home visit.

Civil Legal Advice (CLA)
0845 345 4 345

Debt Agencies
There are a number of debt advice agencies that operate in your area. To find your nearest advice centre or to get free advice call 0800 138 1111.

Citizens Advice
Find your local bureau at