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7 steps to help you dig yourself out of debt

We've put together 7 steps to help you tackle your debt problems and how to dig yourself out of it


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Statistics from the NCR show that household debt has reached a record R1.66 trillion and 75% of consumers spend 75% of their salaries paying off debts to lenders. While borrowing is normal and necessary for most people, too much debt is expensive, stressful and can damage your credit score. If you’re worried about your debt levels, it is possible to take control — the most important thing is to start now.

To help you manage and reduce your debt, we’ve put together some top tips to get you started.

Take a piece of paper and rip it into pieces. On each piece, write down each chunk of money you owe, who you owe it to, and the interest rate. Then add them all up. Don’t worry if it’s a lot. The important thing is that you now know the size of the task at hand.

Once you’ve added up all your debts, it’s time to prioritise them.

Go through your list of debts and categorise them into ‘priority’ and ‘non-priority’.

Priority debts include:

  • Bond / home loans, rent, or loans secured against your home
  • Water and electricity bills
  • Court fines
  • Child maintenance
  • Taxes
  • Hire purchase agreements for essential items

Not paying these can have serious consequences like home repossession, visits from the bailiffs, a court judgment or even imprisonment.

Non-priority debts include:

  • Credit card debts
  • Overdrafts
  • Payday loans
  • Bank or building society loans
  • Catalogue or store card debts
  • Money borrowed from friends

When it comes to your non-priority debts like credit cards and loans, it’s often a good idea to start paying off your most expensive debts first (the ones with the highest interest rates). This could be a payday loan, for example.

There are two main ways to cut down your debts. The first is to try to downsize your debt by shifting it onto a cheaper deal, and the second is to find extra money by budgeting and saving.

Shifting your debts around is mainly about decreasing the cost of your debts, however it can also help if you put all your debts in one or two places, so that you can concentrate on paying it off.

Credit cards

It might be worth contacting your current card provider(s) to see if there are lower interest rate options available on any of your existing cards. You could also ask for your limit to be increased on your cards with the lowest interest. You can then move your more expensive debt onto the lower interest rate cards.

Store cards

Store cards are like credit cards, but can be used only in a specific store. Although they can offer discounts and deals, they may also have higher interest rates than some credit cards. It's always worth checking the interest rate (APR) carefully before you use one to borrow.

You may also want to consider if you can afford to pay it off in full every month - if you can't you could end up with a very expensive bill at the end of the month. If you have an existing balance on a store card, you can usually transfer it just like a normal credit card balance.

Loans

If you’re paying a large amount of interest on a loan, see if you can find a cheaper loan to pay it off.

Make sure you work out whether it’s cheaper to use new borrowing rather than just continuing to repay your loan.

Debt consolidation loans

Another option for you to consider is a debt consolidation loan. This loan allows you to move all your debt (such as personal loans, credit cards and store cards) into one place. This means you will have one big loan to cover the amount of your current debt, rather than having several little ones. You will then, usually, only have to make one monthly repayment and in theory your debt might feel easier to manage.

See if you're eligible for a debt consolidation loan on ClearScore.

To help pay off debt, it’s useful to find extra cash. Some things to consider include:

Budgeting

Making a budget can really help, especially if your debt is due to overspending. It’s easier to make a budget than you think — find out how here.

Selling things

Whether it’s clothes, electrical items or even baby goods you no longer need, you might want to think about selling your unwanted things for extra cash.

Facebook Marketplace, Bidorbuy and Gumtree are an easy way to sell things quickly.

To free up larger amounts of money, you may want to consider downsizing your home to make your bond or rental costs cheaper, or going without a car.

Switching your providers

If you're trying to save money, it might be a good idea to regularly review the utility providers you're using to make sure you're getting the cheapest deal. So you might want to regularly check up on deals for your mobile phone, internet and insurance.

If you have a bond/home loan, it might be worth seeing whether your deal is as good as the market’s current rates. As long as you’re not locked in to a fixed or discount rate deal with early repayment charges, you can change lenders whenever you like and even a 1% difference in interest could save you thousands over a year.

It's worth thinking about reviewing your home loan at least once a year and when your current home loan deal comes to an end or interest rates change. Just make sure to look out for extra costs (such as early repayment charges and exit fees).

If you have any savings, you might want to consider using them to pay off debt. The interest charged on borrowing will probably outweigh the interest you earn on savings, so it might make sense to clear your debts. Just make sure you don’t face any penalties for paying things off early.

If you are struggling to make any payments, there are a number of options to consider, although none of these should be taken without seeking advice first.

  • Debt counselling – introduced as part of the National Credit Act, debt counselling is designed to help people who cannot meet their debt repayments. If you’re eligible, the debt counsellors negotiate with the creditors to restructure your debts. You can read more about how it works and what to watch for here.

  • Debt management plan – You may be able to make an informal agreement between you and your creditors to come up with a payment plan. You make a DMP plan yourself by calling creditors to help you put arrangements in place.

  • Bankruptcy - If you are unable to pay off any debts, then you can apply for bankruptcy. If you are declared bankrupt, then your debts are written off, but you may have to sell your home and possessions, close your business and you could even lose your pension savings.

Finally it's important to remember you are not alone and you don't have to deal with debt all by yourself. Just talking about it could make a huge difference to how you feel.


Lucy has a wealth of personal finance knowledge, and is one of our in-house experts.