Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis

Martin has been a favourite Quids in! cover star, appearing in two of our issues as well as our Universal Credit Guide. Below are the two Q&As we held with him from 2009 and 2011.

From issue 2, Spring 2009

Martin Lewis is a man on a mission. Known to millions for his money-minded magic, sprinkled over breakfast TV like sugar on soggy cornflakes, the wallet-saving wizard waves his wand for Quids in! readers

When should people in debt seek help and how do we know we’re in trouble?

There’s a difference between having debt problems and a debt crisis. For me debt crisis is not being able to meet the minimum repayments on your debts and other basic outgoings. If that’s your situation you certainly need to seek help as soon as you possibly can. However, you can still have problems even though you’re not in crisis.

If you are having problems the most important thing to do is to lower the amount of interest you pay by getting more competitive products, if you can. Stop borrowing any more right away and focus on repaying the highest interest rates debts first. That will help you lower the cost quickly.

What help is available?

If you are in debt crisis, ie, not able to meet the minimum repayment against your debt, you need to go and see one of the non-profit debt crisis counselling agencies. The three big ones across the country are National Debt Line, Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, and the Consumers Credit Counselling Service. You walk in there and their job is to help you, not to judge you. Their aim is to try to talk to creditors for you and buy you some breathing space. Then they work with you on the most effective plan. This might be a simple debt management plan, an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) or, in the worst case scenarios, bankruptcy.

Once people have been to see a debt advice agency they tend to sleep at night for the first time. It’s also worth making a note about Christians Against Poverty. Unlike the other debt counselling agencies they also deal with emotional counselling and will tend to spend more time on you. However, they are less available so it’s only worth contacting them if you’re really struggling to pull everything together, not just your finances.

It can be hard to accept help, what can we do to help ourselves?

If you’re in crisis, you do need help. If you need legal help, you would see a lawyer. If you need help sorting out your tax, you would see an accountant. If you need debt help, you have to go and see one of the free, non-profit debt counselling agencies. They are the experts on the subject, and once you’re in debt crisis the most important thing is to deal with your lenders effectively.
If you are not in debt crisis, the best thing is to tackle your finances yourself. If you are on the internet you can get access to the free information that’s available, you can read my debt help guide at

There are many other places that have free information but be careful about listening to your bank or commercial debt help agencies. They may be simply trying to flog you their services with profit, not your best interests, at heart.

Are things ever as hopeless and desperate as they can seem?

I’ve been the money saving expert my entire career and I have never seen one case of debt that can’t be solved. Now it might not be easy and it might not be quick but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

The best example I can possibly give you is a letter from a man who was about to go bankrupt. Many would see that as being an extreme solution. But his letter was quite simple, he said:

“I may not have the money I once had, but that had gone anyway. But now I don’t have the pressure or the worry either. I can’t take my kids on the glamorous exotic holidays I once did but we have a wonderful time going on holidays and tenting and camping. My life is so much happier than before I sought the help. Thanks so much for pushing me in that direction.”

What might people be surprised to learn?

People are massively protected by law now and there are many schemes that can be used to help you if you are in severe debt. Help ranges from debt management plans to agreements with credit card companies that mean they won’t chase you within three months if you contact them to tell them you can’t pay and that you are trying to sort out your debts. Even bankruptcy itself can be a good option as it closes the door on all your previous debts instantly so you’ll no longer owe anybody anything.

This is a hugely complex subject, however, which is why using the specialist, non-profit debt counselling agencies is what you need to do.

From issue 10, Spring 2011

Money-saving expert Martin Lewis offers some tips on managing your cash and staying out of debt, and talks about his plans to teach kids about debt.

Why do you feel schools need to run lessons about money management?

We want to see compulsory financial education in schools to make sure young people understand about money and debt. It’s a national disgrace that in the 20 years since student loans launched, we’ve taught our kids how to get in to debt but never about debt.

As a financially uneducated nation, it’s not enough to rely on parents. Schools are key to breaking the debt cycle and letting kids know how to manage their cash better and stay out of debt. It is the only way it will work and we really need to do it.

What is the key to managing your money?

Life is not easy for those on low incomes. The most important thing is that you put a budget in place – write down how much you earn and how much you spend.

People are normally pretty good on how much they earn but not on their exact spending. Prioritise what has to be spent and what you can do without and stick to it. You need to make sure you are disciplined.

Are there other sources of income out there?

The important thing is to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled to. There are a lot of grants and scholarships out there, from energy grants, grants for your home and scholarships to help cover education costs for your children. All of these do require elbow work but there is some serious cash to be had if you can claim them.

What about loans: do or don’t?

I would actively discourage borrowing if you don’t need to – borrowing badly can can get you into serious trouble. For those on low incomes borrowing is difficult and in many cases it would be cheaper to get a credit card if you are disciplined about using it and paying it back.

However if your credit rating is bad and you can’t get a credit card, then the best option would be would be to visit your local credit union. But if you are in a real emergency and need money quickly, social services do have emergency loans. These can be a bit of a postcode lottery and are dependant on the money available to the department and the repayment terms are not flexible. However if you are desperate they are an option.

What would you say to people struggling with serious debt?

I would urge you not to use payday lenders or loan sharks – don’t deal with them, don’t do it, it’s not worth it. If you can’t get an emergency loan and you just can’t live on what you’re getting, make an appointment at your local Citizens Advice Bureau or talk to the National Debt Helpline on 0808 808 4000. If you haven’t got much income it is very difficult to do everything you would like to. All I can say is it is crucial that you rigidly stick to a budget plan, save now, think of your future and don’t splurge. But it ain’t easy…