Mrs Mummypenny Talks Podcast Ep 5 Help, My Debt is out of Control With Sara Williams Debt Camel

Summary

In this episode, Lynn Beattie interviews Sarah Williams, also known as Debt Camel, to discuss the big question of debt and its impact on people’s lives. They cover the definition of debt, types of debt, good and bad debt, interest rates, credit ratings, problem debt, and debt management plans. Lynn also shares her personal experience of dealing with debt and the steps she took to pay it off.

The conversation covers a wide range of topics related to debt management, including priority debts, essential bills, seeking debt advice, dealing with shame and embarrassment, and the impact of buy now pay later schemes. It also provides guidance on talking to partners about debt, seeking support, and avoiding predatory debt advice. The conversation emphasizes the importance of seeking help and taking small steps to address debt-related challenges.

Keywords

debt, problem debt, good debt, bad debt, interest rates, credit rating, debt management plan, priority debts, debt types, debt management, priority debts, essential bills, seeking debt advice, shame and embarrassment, buy now pay later, seeking support, predatory debt advice

Takeaways

  • Debt can have a significant impact on mental health and personal relationships.
  • Understanding the difference between good and bad debt is crucial for making informed financial decisions.
  • Interest rates vary depending on the type of debt and credit rating, affecting the overall cost of borrowing.
  • Debt management plans and payment arrangements can provide a structured approach to managing and paying off debt.
  • Prioritizing high-priority debts, such as rent and mortgage, is essential to avoid serious consequences.
  • Personal experiences and success stories of overcoming debt can provide valuable insights and motivation for others facing similar challenges. Understanding the distinction between priority debts and non-priority debts is crucial for effective debt management.
  • Essential bills such as council tax, energy, and broadband require special attention and should be prioritized.
  • Seeking support from debt advisors and discussing debt-related challenges with partners can alleviate the burden of debt-related stress.
  • Avoiding predatory debt advice and seeking help from reputable debt advisors is essential for making informed decisions about debt management.

Titles

  • Understanding Debt: Types, Impact, and Management
  • Navigating Good and Bad Debt: A Financial Perspective Overcoming Shame and Seeking Support in Debt Management
  • The Impact of Buy Now Pay Later Schemes on Debt Management

Sound Bites

  • “Snowflake payments… It’s getting your card debt down fast. That also improves your credit score, getting credit card debt down.”
  • “Debt where you actually went out and borrowed the money. That’s consumer credit. All these other priority debts are you didn’t actually borrow money. You’ve just got into arrears on bills.”
  • “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to a debt advisor. They really are good at helping you sort these things out.”
  • “So eight million people have got problem debt. That’s a huge proportion in this country of adults.”

Chapters

00:00Understanding Debt: Types and Impact

08:05Good Debt vs. Bad Debt and Interest Rates

10:03Identifying Problem Debt and Its Impact

24:20Debt Management Plans and Payment Arrangements

28:47Priority Debts and Financial Consequences

32:28Overcoming Shame and Seeking Support in Debt Management

47:34The Impact of Buy Now Pay Later Schemes on Debt Management

Full Transcript

Lynn Beattie (00:01.254)
Thank you for returning to Mrs. Mummy Penny Talks. We are now on to episode five of my latest season six, which is The Big Questions. And I have another guest sat next to me virtually, which is Sara Williams, otherwise known as Debt Camel, which you’ve been Debt Camel for a very long time. We will come to talk about what you do and what you’ve done in your life and what you do now. But you are…

My go -to person on anything debt. You are the person I think that knows the most about debt in this country. And you are the perfect person to ask on the podcast to answer the big question, my debt has got out of control. Because I’m answering big questions that I often get messaged to me on social media. And the questions, they’re not all about money. You know, some of them are about life, career, being a woman.

But this one, debt is a really common question that drops into my inbox because I’ve been so public about my debt story and I know you will get that question multiple times probably a day. But yes, that’s what our episode is all about. So Sara, please introduce yourself, tell us who you are and a little bit about you and how come you know so much about debt.

Sara (01:24.438)
Thanks for the invite, Lynne. When you told me what the subject was, what the big question was, I was really interested because you’re right, it is such a common question. And there are sort of layers because not everybody is asking it at quite the same point in their debt journey, but it’s a really great question. I used to work in the city, nothing to do with retail finance. Then I retired from that, became a stay at home mum with my two kids.

and started volunteering at my local citizens advice. And that’s where I got really interested in debt. Because many advisors at citizens advice cover everything, but others like to sort of specialize. And very soon I decided debt was the area I was most interested in. That was 20 years ago. And after a while, about 10 years, 11 years ago now, I decided that…

Lynn Beattie (02:00.774)
Any advice?

Lynn Beattie (02:05.83)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (02:13.446)
Wow.

Lynn Beattie (02:18.854)
Nothing is, nothing is.

Sara (02:22.326)
I was tired of people coming to see me too late at Citizens Advice at the point where things were really, really at the crisis point. And if they had just taken some advice or asked some basic questions a year earlier or six months earlier, they could have much better options. So that’s why I put up the Debt Camel website. The aim was to give good solid debt advice, but…

Lynn Beattie (02:26.63)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (02:46.278)
Brilliant. So.

Sara (02:50.422)
in a common sense way with a few pictures and a few exclamation marks and the things you don’t get from the very great websites like National Debtline and Citizens Advice.

Lynn Beattie (03:01.19)
Yeah, no, your website’s incredible. It’s just got so, so many like resources on there and templates for letters and all kinds of things. But let’s sort of start sort of macro, bigger picture. And if we sort of discuss what is debt, what does that word mean? You know, what are the different types of debts? What’s good debt and what’s bad debt?

Sara (03:24.662)
Okay, debt is when you owe somebody money. I mean, you may think if somebody gives you a present, you need to give them back another present. That’s not, that’s a sort of different debt. Here we’re talking about just financial debt. And the distinction between good debt and bad debt is kind of your decision to make, but the one which most debt advisors would use is that good debt is something which…

gets you something which you need and which will improve your life and which you can repay affordably within a time scale for what the thing that you’re buying. So if you’re buying a house, you get a 25 or 30 year mortgage, the house is still going to be there in 30 years time. Hopefully you haven’t let it fall down. So you’re buying something solid that’s going to be an asset you can live in and not pay rent in.

hopefully for the rest of your life, you’re buying something useful and it doesn’t matter that you’re taking out a mortgage for a very long time, providing you can afford the repayments obviously. Similarly, student loans, obviously they’ve got horribly expensive, but for many people you are still buying an education which will be a route into a job you cannot do otherwise. So you’re buying an asset, that education, and it’s useful. A car to get you to work, you don’t.

Lynn Beattie (04:29.094)
Mm.

Lynn Beattie (04:42.406)
Mm -hmm. Mm -hmm.

Sara (04:49.334)
actually need the 40 ,000 pound car to get to work. But still, car finance on a car to get you to work if it’s not too expensive can be good. But if you’re putting a pair of shoes on a credit card and you’re only paying the minimum payment, the shoes are probably history after three years at the most if you like them and you wear them. But you’re still making those minimum payments to the credit card 10, 20, 30 years later in some.

depending on the credit card. So there you’re taking on a lot of debt for a lot lot longer than the actual shoes have lasted for. And I wouldn’t say that’s good debt at all.

Lynn Beattie (05:29.766)
And the amount of interest you pay on those different forms of debt you’ve just described, it almost goes in the reverse order, doesn’t it? So you’re going to pay a lower amount of interest on a mortgage, although we have this issue at the moment with high interest rates that people are renewing their mortgages into, which is me next year. Great. I’m praying for interest rates to come down. I really am.

Sara (05:56.95)
You should be lucky a bit that they may not come down as much as you hope.

Lynn Beattie (06:00.998)
my gosh, I’m, yeah, we’ve talked about this sort of offline. I am, my mortgage renewal is April next year. And yeah, I’m, I’m like, yeah, I’m worried, but yeah, I’m just gonna have to suck it up. Which a lot of people are in that position already. You know, they’ve renegade, they’ve had to take on another two year mortgage at 5 % compared to their 1 .5%. So yeah, mortgages have lower interest rates and then,

student loans, I don’t actually know, it’s a little bit higher than mortgage rates isn’t it, but it’s not mega mega high.

Sara (06:35.638)
Yeah, student loans is sort of linked to the inflation rate. So they really went up the interest rates, but they should be dropping again this coming year.

Lynn Beattie (06:40.71)
Yeah. Yes. Yeah. And then car loans again. I mean, the thing is, is all these different interest rates, they vary depending on your credit rating as well. So and,

Sara (06:54.646)
yeah, absolutely. Good credit rating and you can get a car on 5 or 6 % interest. Bad credit rating and you can pay 30 % more more.

Lynn Beattie (07:02.086)
Yeah, I mean I’ve got cars on

Lynn Beattie (07:08.134)
Yes, yeah, I’ve got cars on like 0 % in the past, like that was when I obviously had a really, really good credit rating. Interestingly, my credit rating is falling at the moment because I don’t have any debts. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, so, but yeah, but you might have a credit card that’s got a credit card. Sorry, my voice is very croaky because I’m a little bit…

Sara (07:12.502)
Yep.

Sara (07:20.982)
that’s a different question. That’s not quite today’s subject, that’s a different podcast, I think.

Lynn Beattie (07:34.982)
tired and ill with lack of sleep. But yeah, you might have a credit card interest rate of 25 -30%. Like the average APR in a credit card has got a lot, lot higher. And of course, you might have an overdraft. Overdrafts have very high interest rates. And then you’ve got personal loans, which again, they’re a little bit lower down because they tend to be over a longer period of time. And then I suppose, once you go into more…

How do we describe the darker side of loans? Thank you. So you get these dodgy adverts popping up saying, come and get this female loan, especially for women moms who need some money. Yeah. And when you look at the APR.

Sara (08:08.694)
subprime.

Sara (08:21.686)
Mum’s over 35 or whatever, yeah. And in very small print, you know, it says APR 30%. And you know, that means half of them are more than 30%.

Lynn Beattie (08:33.766)
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, when you see that standard interest rate quoted, it’s very rarely what you end up actually paying. So yeah, that does depend on your credit rating, which… Can you just explain what credit rating is simply?

Sara (08:46.038)
Definitely, you know, the more… Okay, a credit rating is from a credit reference agency who sees what your past history on credit is. So every time you make a loan repayment or a mortgage repayment or minimum payment to your credit card, it gets recorded. And so do some things like utility bills as well. And it’s an assessment of how likely you are to default on new credit you take.

So if it’s scored out of a thousand and you’re scoring 900 plus, basically they don’t think you’re going to default on that one. If it’s scored out of a thousand and you’re scoring 400, they think it’s really incredibly risky to lend you more money. So it’s just a one number which is trying to summarize all your past credit history, which can be very unfair because you could have had real big problems in your past.

and you’re now past that, you don’t have them anymore but you’ve still got the problem sharing on your credit report normally for six years.

Lynn Beattie (09:52.838)
Yeah, yeah. So, going back to the big question then, what is problem debt? What is debt that is out of control?

Sara (10:03.414)
Okay, so.

When people come to me and they say, Sara, I’ve got a big debt problem, can I chat to you about it? I never know what they’re going to say next. They may say, my credit cards have got up to 3 ,000 pounds. Or they may say, I can’t really add it up, but it’s over 75 ,000 pounds. Different people have completely different sort of levels about what they think problem debt is. But if you’re worrying about your debt, it is a problem.

because that worry is always there in your head and it’s good to get rid of that if nothing else. Even if a debt advisor isn’t gonna think it’s the most serious problem they’ve seen all week, it’s a real problem for you. So I would say debt is a problem if it’s worrying you, particularly if you find yourself shuffling money around during the month to try to make sure you can make the minimum payment.

to the credit card and pay the bills and then you have to put perhaps essentials like petrol or food back on the credit card because you’re short of money. That is a real problem. It’s also a real problem if it’s going up every month, even if you’re not that worried about it, an upward trend in the amount of debt you’ve got is kind of an early warning signal that at some point you are going to be having problems paying those because you can’t…

keep on borrowing money each month to pay for the important things in life, the essentials. At some point somebody’s going to stop lending you money or you’ll be reduced to borrowing from one of those really horrible, incredibly expensive loans and then things can go very bad, very fast.

Lynn Beattie (11:42.918)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (11:51.782)
Yeah. Can we just at this point, can we just touch on a brief outline of my story? Because I think that will just bring it to life for people. Because I had a problem debt because I was thinking about it probably 50 times a day. So back in and it’s after so I think we met in about 2015. I’m pretty sure it was way back.

Sara (11:57.302)
Mmm.

Lynn Beattie (12:21.478)
And I remember us having a, we went out for like dinner in near Leadenhall market, I think. And we were talking about my levels of debt and you just sort of lit a bit of a spark in my mind where you said, you might struggle to, that’s going to affect mortgage applications because you’ve got like 10 ,000 pounds on a credit card. And I sort of.

I heard you say it, but I didn’t really think, I better do something about it. You just planted the seed. And then about a year later or whatever it was, that debt had gone up to 16 ,000. Because my business, Mrs. Mommy Penny had just been born and it wasn’t earning enough money to sustain the lifestyle we were living. Like, I mean, there was…

circumstances where I was paying for food for my kids on my credit card. But I just buried my head in the sand. It’ll go away. Of course, it never goes away. So yeah, so it came to 16 ,000. And that’s when I took my head out of the sand. I think it was turning 40 that was the prompt that made me think I need to sort it out. Because I’ve been in credit card debt my entire adult life until that point. Because I always just thought, it’ll be paid off at some point, you know, some money will come from somewhere.

I was quite sort of laissez -faire about it. But of course, £16 ,000 of debt when I was self -employed and at that time I was probably bringing in like 20, 30 grand a year from my business, I could not afford that debt. I could only just afford the minimum payments. So it was a problem debt for me, but it wasn’t out of control.

because I could still afford the minimum payments. And then the steps I took were the sensible steps that we recommend to people all the time for when you can sort of sort sort out yourself. So I stripped all my bills back. I deleted their exhibits direct debits didn’t need. We started to shop at Aldi rather than Tesco’s. I used to take take away coffees out rather than buying coffees in the shop. I had a nose…

Lynn Beattie (14:40.454)
No spend months. I’m not sure. They’re a great, always a great idea because it does encourage you to overspend the next month. But yeah, I tried really hard to pay it off and I also increased my income. So my business kicked off and I started to earn more than, you know, 25, 30 grand a year. So I was able to pay that debt off in two years. And I have to be really honest, I didn’t pay off 16 grand in two years through cutting my costs. A big chunk of it was my increase in my income.

Sara (15:09.206)
Yeah, but you’re doing two different things which are both helping and that gets you into sort of a good reinforcing cycle rather than a bad one which is just, well I’ll get another credit card and put some more stuff on there because that sort of debt merry -go -round stops in the end.

Lynn Beattie (15:10.246)
Lynn Beattie (15:13.926)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (15:28.39)
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And I think the thing that filled me with, because I used to switch from 0 % deal to 0 % deal every two years, you know, in my 20s and 30s. And, but then I became self -employed and I just sort of thought, what if they stop offering me these deals and I’m going to be laden with 16 grand’s worth of debt at 20 % interest or 25 % interest. As it was, I managed to, I think about 10 of it was on 0%.

and maybe five of it was interest paying. So I made sure I paid off the debt that had the interest charging on it first, which, no, let’s get this right. That’s the snowball method.

Sara (16:11.286)
That’s avalanche method, but it’s really, snowball and avalanche are pretty much the same really. I wouldn’t get hung up on them.

Lynn Beattie (16:17.83)
Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, I just kept going, but it was a really miserable two years. Really miserable. And I stopped everything. And also, I told the children what I was doing, because they needed to know that they couldn’t, you know, just ask for money here and there because they didn’t have it.

Sara (16:36.502)
The older ones were also old enough to understand, weren’t they, at that point? You can’t really say that sensibly to a five and six year old.

Lynn Beattie (16:45.766)
No, no, but it was just having that discussion of, we can’t afford to have a really expensive holiday this year. At some point down the line, hopefully it’ll be fine. So it’s not filling your children with worry and panic. You’re just sort of sharing the reality of a situation.

Sara (17:08.214)
It’s a good life lesson really. They heard you say that, they knew that a few years later you were out of that and they were having nice holidays again. It’s actually a good thing for children to hear, for parents to say in a positive way, I can’t afford that at the moment, I hope you can do it in a couple of years time.

Lynn Beattie (17:16.966)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (17:27.366)
Yeah, yeah. So I had, so that debt really affected my mental health. And if I’m honest, I think it had quite a lot to do with the divorce in the end, because the debt was paid off and we actually separated about two months after that massive debt was paid off. So that was interesting.

Sara (17:56.886)
It’s hard to disentangle these things, which caused which, because the causations can all run different ways. But debt affects so many people’s mental health. If you’ve got problem debt, it’s a rare person that isn’t affected by it in the sense that they do keep thinking about it. Not very many people can manage to very easily if they don’t have a plan to get out of debt.

to muddle through and just keep debt in a sort of little box that they don’t worry about. If you don’t have a plan, it tends to keep popping up at all points of the day.

Lynn Beattie (18:36.962)
Yeah, or wakes you up in the middle of the night and gives you insomnia and stuff. Yeah, yeah. So I sort of touched on my method of how I paid my debt back. But like, is that like, say if you put your own Citizens Advice Bureau old hat on, is that the process you’d go through with your clients who had manageable debt that they could afford to pay back?

Sara (18:40.374)
Yeah, that’s the worst.

Sara (18:48.566)
Hmm, yeah.

Sara (19:04.15)
Yes, so the first step with a client, any debt client, is to look at their income and their expenditure. It’s more complicated if somebody’s self -employed and has an erratic income. So you’ve got your income, you’ve got your expenditure, and you can divide the expenditure into the essential household stuff. Much though you’d like to get the council tax and the rent down, it’s really hard to do it and you can’t do it quickly. On the other hand, you can cancel

Netflix or your food box subscription or something you may not want to, but if you have to, you can cancel those. So you trim it down into essential bills, an essential living cost, which is food for you, the kids, school uniform, clothes particularly for the children. I mean, adults can normally get through a whole year without buying any clothes they may not want to, but they could do it. But…

Lynn Beattie (19:56.87)
Mmm.

Sara (20:03.382)
Children’s feet keep growing. So transport, getting the children to school, other school costs. Dentists, haircuts, prescriptions, cars, cars are a money pit. Even if you don’t have one on finance, you know, the road tax, the servicing, the MOT, and you know, what if it breaks down? So.

You divide things up into these sections and you say, is this adding up? Not looking at the debts at the moment. The only debts you would include are the essentials like mortgage and car finance at this stage. So looking at that lot, have you got enough money to cover everything there? If you haven’t, is there anything you could really cut down if you have to? If you have to go through and cross things out, what would you actually?

Cross off this list because you went through and you cancelled some direct debits. I’ll tell you what they were for. But most people, when they actually look at their bank statements, some of them are even surprised at some of the money that’s going out. So you look at what you’re doing. If you’ve got a partner, talk to your partner as well. You know, you suddenly find you’re both paying for Spotify subscription when you could get a family one. So do it with your partner. Trim the easy stuff to trim.

does that get you back into the black? Then perhaps look at what else you could trim if you had to. You went through a bad two years, it was your choice to get out the other side. And that is a great decision for so many people if you can do it. But if you can’t do that apart from trying to live on baked beans and baked potatoes for two years,

and not have any money for the kids and just cross your fingers and hope nothing goes wrong with the car. That’s not going to work for two years. It really isn’t. So at that point, if you don’t have enough money, you can’t do what you did, which was snowball your debts, which is where you pay the minimum to all the debts, apart from what your target debt is, and you throw all your spare money at that target debt.

Sara (22:21.142)
So your target debt was your credit cards that were charging you interest, first of all, to get those gone so you weren’t wasting money on interest. And then presumably the rest of the credit cards after that.

Because you said you weren’t that worried when your debt on 0%. People think 0 % credit cards are going to go on forever. They may not. You never know when they’re not going to do it. And they do count for when you’re going for a mortgage. 20 ,000 pounds on 0 % interest may not bother you too much to the mortgage company. It’s 20 ,000 pounds credit card debt, whether you’re paying interest or not. And it will reduce the amount of mortgage they’ll give you.

So that’s snowballing. You pick a target debt and you throw lots of spare money at that. You can do this at the start of the month when you get paid, think I’m going to overpay it by an extra hundred or 200 over what the minimum is. And what I really like is if when you’re going through a month, if you find it’s going reasonably well, you might think, well, I could make a little extra payment. And I call those snowflake payments as a sort of like the snowballing and it’s little tiny.

And if you’re doing those snowflake payments, it’s getting your card debt down fast. That also improves your credit score, getting credit card debt down. Overpaying the loans does, but overpaying the credit cards does. And it gives you a psychological boost as well, because it’s making you feel that this two -year journey, or however long it’s going to be, is really long and tedious. But it gives you a bit of a boost knowing that you’re doing something to help that along.

Lynn Beattie (23:32.55)
Yeah.

Sara (24:00.822)
in the middle of the month, you’re not just saying, well, I can wait till the next month and I can pay another chunk off. And you find your whole life is just one series of waiting for the next payday. So I like snowflake payments and people that use them a lot can find them very motivating. That’s snowballing.

Lynn Beattie (24:11.046)
Mmm.

Sara (24:19.766)
If you don’t have enough income to pay the minimum payments and all your essentials, including things like clothes and car servicing, then it’s not going to work. You could do it for two or three months and cross your fingers, nothing goes wrong. But if it’s going to take longer than that to clear your debts, and for most people it will, you need a better plan. And there you get different sorts of plans depending on how bad your debt situation is.

But the most common one is where people say to me, I could manage if it wasn’t for the interest that was being added. And then the answer for you is a debt management plan or a payment arrangement with the creditors. They’re actually exactly the same thing. A debt management plan is run by a debt management company and they make the payment arrangements with all your creditors.

Lynn Beattie (24:57.478)
Yes.

Sara (25:18.934)
So you would just pay step change. They’re the biggest provider of debt management plans in the country and one of the best. You pay step change one payment a month of say 250 pounds, which may have been an awful lot less than the five or 600 pounds that your minimum payments were. Step change, divide that between your creditors. They pay all your creditors and ask them to stop interest. That sounds a bit feeble.

Lynn Beattie (25:25.51)
Yep. Yep.

Lynn Beattie (25:39.622)
Okay.

Lynn Beattie (25:46.982)
for him.

Sara (25:48.406)
ask them to stop interest. But these days, creditors almost always do, because they’ve been told by the regulator, cost of living crisis, guys, you got to treat your customers fairly. So it’s really, really unusual for a credit card company or a bank giving you an overdraft or something not to stop interest. It’s not because they’ve made it that administrative error if they carry on charging, and you can complain if they do. So.

The debt management plan, it freezes the debt so you’re paying less, but it’s all taking your debt down. None of it’s being wasted on paying interest. And if you’ve only got a couple of debts, you know, if you’ve just got two credit cards, you could do it yourself. Phone the companies up yourself and say, can I have a payment arrangement? Please freeze interest, I can only pay you this. Here’s my income and expenditure so you can see I’m not, you know, I’m serious about this and I’ve looked at it.

Lynn Beattie (26:24.71)
Yes. Brilliant.

Sara (26:45.718)
But if you’ve got more than a couple of debts, it’s quite a hassle talking to your creditors yourself. And you need to do it normally every six months. Every six months they want to know, how’s your situation, Lynn? Has it got better, has it got worse? Whereas if you go to step change, step change, do all of that routine stuff and you just make one payment and it’s so much easier.

Lynn Beattie (26:51.302)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (27:03.686)
amazing.

And Step Change is a charity, it’s free.

Sara (27:10.582)
It is, yes. There are several providers of free debt management plans in this country. Step change, pay plan, Christians against poverty. You should never, ever pay a firm for a debt management plan. There are quite a few around at the moment and they charge a lot of money. They’re taking say £50 of your payment every month just for their fees. And that means that

Lynn Beattie (27:38.246)
Yeah.

Sara (27:39.798)
If you’re only paying them £120 a month, your debt management plan is going to take nearly twice as long to finish because the money isn’t going to creditors. You could have exactly the same plan with StepChain to do exactly the same thing. They deal with all your creditors for you. There’s no more hassle going through StepChain to somebody who charges you fees. So never pay. And if you’re anyone’s listening to this now who’s stuck.

with one of these debt management plan companies that charges fees, talk to StepChange because you can switch to them and stop paying the fees.

Lynn Beattie (28:16.646)
amazing. I didn’t even think of that. That’s brilliant. So what if you’ve got to the point where you’ve missed a few payments and you’re starting to get phone calls and letters and I suppose we maybe need to look at the different types of debt because some debts are very high priority and then other debts are lower priority.

Sara (28:47.062)
Yeah, so to a debt advisor, a high priority debt is one where bad things happen if you don’t pay it. I mean, it’s not good if you don’t pay your credit card, but in practice, it will take a couple of years or more for you to be taken to court for CCJ for that. It can take a very long while. It’s probably never going to happen if you start paying them a minimum, start paying off of them an amount you can afford each month, even if it’s quite low.

But other debts, priority debts, bad things happen quite fast if you don’t pay them. Top of the list is rent and mortgage. You don’t want to get into rent or mortgage. Most people, I think, instinctively know that. Nobody has to tell them that paying the rent is important. But below that, there is council tax, which doesn’t often seem like that important. It doesn’t show on your credit records.

And they don’t tend to phone you up and hassle you or send you texts if you haven’t paid, but they will go to court and send around bailiffs faster than any other creditor in the country. You could easily get bailiffs sent around within six months to a year of stopping paying council tax debt in some areas. Some areas are a little bit slower than that, but they are much, much faster than what I call consumer credit.

Debt where you actually went out and you borrowed the money. That’s consumer credit. All these other priority debts are you didn’t actually borrow money. You’ve just got into arrears on bills. Then there’s arrears on energy bills, arrears on water, and things which are technically problem debts but which are really important for you. If you just stop paying your broadband, they’re going to cut it off.

Lynn Beattie (30:26.982)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (30:43.91)
Yeah.

Sara (30:45.238)
So things which, you know, in theory, we could live without in practice, modern day life doesn’t work if you don’t have a mobile and don’t have broadband. So those are the really essential bills. They don’t go into a debt management plan. You need to keep up to date with those. And if you’ve got arrears, you need to make an arrangement with your energy firm or with the council to pay those arrears back. And then you’ll have less money left.

Lynn Beattie (30:54.982)
Yeah.

Sara (31:15.062)
of that, which means that your consumer debts like credit cards and catalogs and overdrafts and loans from banks, they’re going to get even less. But those are non -priority debts. And if you say to your credit card company, I can’t pay you because I’ve got, you know, I’m getting less hours at work and I’ve got the car finance and the rents gone up, they’re going to understand. And you say,

Can I pay you less? Can I pay you five pounds a month until I clear my council tax arrears? They will know what you’re talking about and they will accept it’s much more important to you to pay the council tax arrears than it is for you to pay more to your credit card.

Lynn Beattie (31:59.398)
Yeah. And so I would imagine if somebody’s listening to this now and if somebody’s in that situation, they’re going to be like, that was so much information to take in. I’m really anxious. I’m too stressed. I’m going to bury my head in the sand. That’s it’s the worst thing you can do, isn’t it? You like exactly go back to exactly what you said at the beginning. You worked for

Sara (32:20.342)
It is, yes.

Lynn Beattie (32:27.91)
Citizens Advice Bureau and you had people coming to you when it was months down the line when there were arrears in place when they’d been going through a years of mental health issues because of their money.

Sara (32:38.23)
when they hadn’t opened their post because they were scared to open it. Yeah. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to a debt advisor. They really are good at helping you sort these things out. If you’re just feeling a bit scared, give yourself a couple of small things to do. You don’t have to tackle it all within the next three days.

make a list of your debts. It is scary, but just write them down so you know what the base of the problem is. Go through your bank statements and cancel a few things. You can make some easy steps and then you can think about, right, I do need to actually think about how much I’ve got coming in, what I’m spending is all on. Have a look at making a budget for the first time. And if you’re struggling with that, again, a debt advisor.

Lynn Beattie (33:18.598)
Yeah.

Sara (33:36.182)
can help you do it. But there are different sorts of debt advisors. So shall I talk about? Right. OK. Who the best people are to talk to depends on your particular situation. So I’ve got a sort of decision tree of who I send people to if they talk to me. If you’re self -employed or you’ve got a small, limited company, then the best people to talk to are business debt line.

Lynn Beattie (33:38.182)
Yeah, so you can go.

Yes. Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (34:06.278)
okay.

Sara (34:06.838)
who are an organization, it’s just a charity, it’s set up specifically to deal with this sort of debt and they do it very well. Because when you are self -employed, often your finances, business finances are a bit muddled up with your own personal finances and they will cover both the business side and the personal side. So business debt line if you’ve got yourself employed or you’ve got a small income.

Lynn Beattie (34:25.542)
Yes.

Sara (34:33.91)
And these people often have to cope with erratic incomes as well, which can make a lot of other debt solutions harder. The next group of people are people that have already got arrears on priority bills. If you’ve got arrears on rent, mortgage, council tax, energy, go to your local citizens advice or another local advice agency. Sometimes almost all local advice agencies are face to face.

Lynn Beattie (34:37.478)
Yeah.

Sara (35:02.806)
are very good and they will do more by way of actually phoning up your creditors and talking to them than telephone debt advice services are. Some people hate the idea of actually seeing somebody face to face and would rather do it on the phone. In that case there are a couple of good places for phone advice. National debt line is really good if you’re…

If you’re the sort of person that will be happy to write letters, once somebody’s explained, talked you through the situation and the pros and cons, and you’ve got a way forward, if you think I can do this from there on, I can write these letters, national debt line, it’s the assistant company to business debt line, national debt line is excellent. And if you’re in the situation, I mentioned where you think you can cope, if they just stop charging interest, then I would go directly to step change.

Lynn Beattie (35:58.022)
Yes.

Lynn Beattie (36:01.958)
Yes.

Sara (36:02.902)
So that’s a list of people which in a way it’s another decision to make, who do I talk to? But that’s quite an easy one to go down to decide who to talk to.

Lynn Beattie (36:11.334)
Yeah, I really like that. That’s really simple. And then, and then Christians Against Poverty, equivalent of step change.

Sara (36:21.27)
Yeah, they are acts, they are, they will deal with you if you’re not Christian as well. That’s not a problem. They have different areas because they tend to be based around church, around churches, and it may be there’s nobody in your area. But if there is a Christians against poverty in your area, they are very good and they don’t ask you what your religion is at all.

Lynn Beattie (36:26.406)
Yes, they, yeah. Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (36:38.054)
Yes.

Lynn Beattie (36:49.382)
No, I’ve done a little bit of sort of charity work with them and I’m not a practicing Christian and we actually had this discussion and they were like, just because we’re called Christians Against Poverty, that really doesn’t matter. We just want to help people. Religion doesn’t come into it. But they sort of do it with heart and they’ve got like, it’s like a…

Sara (37:16.118)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (37:17.318)
It’s just a bit more, I don’t know, softer, caring. That’s how I found, but yeah.

Sara (37:24.342)
All the charities I’ve mentioned are normally incredibly good. You go to National Debt Line or Step Change, they are not judgmental. They’re on your side. They just want you to kind of know what the options are. They can talk about the pros and cons so that it’s you that can make the decision. If you ever find you’re talking to somebody,

Lynn Beattie (37:29.062)
Yeah.

Sara (37:52.342)
that is pushing you to do something you’re not sure about. You’re probably not talking to one of these people because unfortunately there are some bad actors out there that have got websites and social media accounts that look very similar to the big charities. So do make sure who you are actually talking to.

Lynn Beattie (37:54.598)
Mmm, yep.

Sara (38:18.134)
And if you see a name at the bottom of something which doesn’t look quite like what you’re expecting, maybe sort of a bit like national deadline, but not quite. It’s got a couple of extra words in it or something. Don’t talk to them at all. Just break off contact and go and get the proper phone number and call the real thing. It’s really sad to have to warn people about this.

Lynn Beattie (38:34.918)
Yes.

Lynn Beattie (38:42.95)
Yeah, yeah.

Sara (38:46.806)
But if you ever find a debt advisor that is being pushy, I think you should make this decision right now. An IVA, that’s a form of insolvency which generates large fees for people. If you find you’re being pushed towards doing that or pushed towards a debt management company that wants to charge you fees, you are not taking debt advice from the best person. It’s not in your interest. It’s generating fees for the person that’s giving you that advice.

Lynn Beattie (39:09.19)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (39:15.334)
Yeah, so sad. Can we touch on the shame and the embarrassment people feel about debt? Because it’s such a taboo subject that people are very, very scared to admit, scared to talk to their partners, scared to talk to their friends. It’s almost like fake it, fake it, fake it. Like keep, just…

Sara (39:17.014)
Very sad.

Lynn Beattie (39:45.19)
everything’s gonna be all right, everything’s gonna be all right. And you talk in, because I’ve been in this situation, you internalize it all in your head. And then that just extrapolates the mental health issues, because you’re just dealing with it all in your own head. And I just sort of want to say that debt is so common, like, I don’t know the actual stats, you might, Sara, but like,

Sara (39:59.254)
It does, yes, yeah. Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (40:14.822)
more than half of the UK population is in some kind of credit card debt. So, you know,

Sara (40:20.246)
Yeah, I think the stats are that probably 8 million people have got what is called problem debt. Because you know, a credit card which you pay off in full every month, that’s not problem with debt at all. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Lynn Beattie (40:26.79)
Right.

Lynn Beattie (40:30.438)
No.

So eight million people have got problem debt. And that’s a huge proportion in this country of adults.

Sara (40:38.838)
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there was, there was a time, yeah, so about a year, a year, 18 months ago, you know, when energy prices were just going up horrifically, and we, you know, people had no idea how they were going to be able to afford to keep the lights on. At that point, people, there was, there was a little bit of a glimpse where people started talking. Because, you know, you go in at work, and you could say, you know, you were really scared about your electric bill, and everybody you were talking to would, would

would be saying the same thing. And there was quite a bit of solidarity feeling getting amongst there. And it would be nice if that happens across for all types of debt. But what I would say is that if you can possibly talk to somebody about it, it’s really great to get moral support. You have to talk to your partner. It’s hell trying to clear debt and not let your partner know about it.

Lynn Beattie (41:11.398)
You’re right.

Sara (41:36.726)
for a start when they do find out they’re going to be more upset about the sort of feeling that deception because you didn’t tell them than they are about the debt very obviously. So you’ve got to talk to your partner. But if you don’t have a partner, somebody who’s going to listen to what you’re saying and they may even have similar situation. They may be sort of when somebody says to you, you know, can we go out? How about going out for a drink? And if you say,

Lynn Beattie (41:59.942)
Yeah.

Sara (42:06.87)
Bit broke. Why don’t you come around to my house and we’ll have a bottle of wine? They may be really pleased with that as an offer and if there’s nobody in your life you can really talk to about that. Because you can’t do it with your kids unless they’re really quite old. It’s not fair to ask them to… You can tell them what you’re doing, but you can’t really ask them sensibly to help.

Lynn Beattie (42:14.214)
Yes.

Lynn Beattie (42:28.39)
Yeah, help, help, help you pay off that, yeah.

Sara (42:36.246)
Then one thing you can do is you can, I mean, say on Instagram, because I tend to hang out on Instagram quite a lot, I’m at Debt Camel, is to get a separate account from your current account on Instagram, where you got pics of your kids and the garden or the dog or whatever. But get a new one, get a separate one under an anonymous name. Say it could be.

linen debt or whatever. And somewhere where you can talk openly about your problems and list the debts and say, I think I’m going to target this one first, because I’d really like to get rid of this debt to my sister or whatever. As soon as you do that, you’ll find there is a community of people around there. And that can…

Lynn Beattie (43:29.51)
Yeah.

Sara (43:31.702)
It’s not the same as talking to somebody in real life, but it’s also there at two o ‘clock in the morning. You can go and have a whale at two o ‘clock in the morning and by the time you wake up at six o ‘clock, somebody’s actually replied to you. So it’s much better than nothing and any sort of support is good to stop this going round in your mind constantly and the feeling that it’s all your fault.

Lynn Beattie (43:47.942)
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Sara (44:00.406)
and you need to be ashamed of this. Our society is designed to get you to spend as much as possible, as fast as possible. Not because it’s in your interest, because it’s in the interest of the people trying to sell you holidays and experiences and household goods and fast fashion and takeaways.

Lynn Beattie (44:25.062)
Yeah, that’s a whole other episode, isn’t it? Timmy and I, in episode two, covered a lot of that, actually, in the What Is Happiness episode. And we actually referred to, so emotions, the emotion you feel only lasts for 90 seconds. And if you can sit with that anger for 90 seconds, it’ll pass. If you can sit with that sadness.

Sara (44:25.59)
That’s how society works. yes.

Sara (44:35.574)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (44:52.774)
But you can also link it to like Instagram shopping. If you can just let that thing sit in your basket for 90 seconds, it’ll probably pass. Or, well, yeah, I mean, I tend to…

Sara (45:03.094)
Or even better, a week. A week. Yeah. It’s a surprise that at the end of the week you often think, ****** hell, I didn’t want to buy that. It was a stupid idea.

Lynn Beattie (45:14.854)
Yeah, I will always leave things in a basket for 24 hours and then I’ll reflect on it the next day. But I do the same with like when I have to write a complicated, say legal email or something, I will write it on a Saturday and then I’ll sleep on it and I’ll go back to it the next day. I think that’s a really good principle to sit on quite big decisions. But yeah, it’s a good it’s a good principle for money. Cool.

Sara (45:19.126)
Mm.

Lynn Beattie (45:42.534)
That was all my areas I wanted to cover and we’ve pretty much we’ve only gone over by a few minutes. So that’s well good So you already said that people can go and follow you on your debt camel Instagram account, which is amazing And you’ve got so many engaged followers who? Comment so if you go through the comments you can see all of those anonymous debt accounts that you’ve mentioned because they all follow you and then you can Really quickly build up this community?

Sara (46:05.59)
Yep.

Sara (46:08.95)
follow some of them and yeah, Instagram works best when you chat to people, whether it’s in the comments or messages or something.

Lynn Beattie (46:11.814)
Yeah, it’s amazing.

Lynn Beattie (46:20.102)
Yeah, and your DMs are open, like people can message you personally and it’s you, because I message you quite a lot. And you’ve got… No.

Sara (46:33.494)
I can’t give formal debt advice, but I can talk through somebody’s problems and say, I think you just need to cut back on the spending a bit. Leave the credit cards at home, take them out of your Google Pay, take them off Apple Wallet and things like that. See how it goes in a few months time. Or otherwise I’ll say, I think you should talk to StepChange.

Lynn Beattie (46:46.374)
Yeah. Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (46:59.014)
Yeah.

Yeah, which is generally the kind of DMs I get as well. Occasionally, I might get some really bizarre products that I’ve never heard of and then I’ll DM you and I’m like, Sara, have you heard of this really strange product? Because actually, we haven’t touched on is Buy Now Pay Later, which is…

the scourge of current times. I’m so against buy now pay later. And it’s just the modern day equivalent of catalogs for like 20, 30 years ago, I know, but it’s causing a lot of issues and it is dead.

Sara (47:33.974)
It is, yes, yeah.

It certainly is, and some of the banks are getting into it as well. So I mean, I’m seeing increasing numbers of people having problems with Monzo Flex, which is basically by now, I’ll tell you later.

Lynn Beattie (47:42.022)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (47:47.622)
That’s the one that I messaged you about because I’ve not heard of it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You sent me all the… Yeah. Yes. Yeah, no, I’ve got a friend of a friend who’s got issues with that product. But yes, I think when it comes to ordering a Domino’s pizza and paying for that using Klarna or…

Sara (47:52.24)
was it? Right, so I’ve got that, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Sara (48:03.638)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (48:15.43)
whatever the other companies are called, I can’t remember all their names. But don’t buy a pizza using a buy now pay later scheme because you could end up building up loads and loads of them. So you can have a dress with one, pair of shoes with one, a bag with one, pizza with one. And then suddenly you’re like, this is a total mess.

Sara (48:34.646)
so confusing because they all come out as they come out of separate payments and you know that some of the you think of that was finishing soon but actually it’s another couple to go or it if you use buy now pay later twice a year it’s not a problem at all if you’re using it every month then probably part of the reason you’re using it this month is because you’re still paying for the things that you bought last month on it and

Lynn Beattie (48:52.038)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (49:01.958)
Yeah.

Sara (49:03.286)
stopping it is honestly the best thing to do in that situation.

Lynn Beattie (49:09.574)
Yeah, yes. Yeah, I am really not a fan of.

Sara (49:13.526)
And if you can’t stop it, that’s another side that you’ve got problem debt and you need to talk to a debt advisor.

Lynn Beattie (49:19.334)
Yeah, there you go. Yeah, right, cool, amazing. Also, your website, we have obviously mentioned that as well, but you’ve got so many resources on there, because there’s 10 years worth of content.

Sara (49:29.75)
Yep, so deckhamel .co .uk.

Lynn Beattie (49:34.31)
Is that, have you got anything else that people could…

Sara (49:37.27)
I’m on Facebook and Twitter, well, sorry, X as we should now call it, but I’m not that active on there. So it’s mostly Instagram and the website. So Instagram for short daily stuff and the website when I want to put up a longer piece about something. So I don’t write regularly on, I don’t do two or three a week on my website anymore than I did when I was starting off.

Lynn Beattie (49:45.926)
Yeah.

Sara (50:07.51)
Most of that’s just morphed onto Instagram. But when I put up a long piece where I want to write a thousand words or something, then the website’s a better means to do that.

Lynn Beattie (50:11.526)
Yeah.

Lynn Beattie (50:18.438)
Yeah.

Amazing. Well, thank you for that. That was a wealth of information yet again. I really, really appreciate your time. And so many people will listen to this. And if they just pick up one or two tips and make a couple of changes, small changes or big changes, then whatever. It’s just, we want people to.

Sara (50:43.606)
to start steps in the right direction is the best way to start.

Lynn Beattie (50:47.11)
Exactly, exactly. Thank you ever so much. And everybody, thanks for listening. Please hit the subscribe button on your podcast channels and YouTube. And I will be back again next week with a new episode.

Lynn Beattie (51:07.942)
up.

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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

I write about personal finance made simple, lifestyle choices that will save you time and money, as well as products and services that offer great value.

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