Get your finances in order (Picture: Ella byworth/ metro.co.uk)
So you know you’ve got debts but you have no idea how much it actually comes to.
When you’re paying off different types in different places, and the interest is building up, it can be easy to lose track.
If you’ve been ignoring your debts as they build up, the total could really surprise you.
But if you are planning to start paying some of it off, it’s important to figure out what you owe and who you owe it to.
This way, you can create a realistic budget plan and you’ll know roughly how long it will take if you pay it off at an affordable rate.
Look through the paperwork
Firstly, if you have kept a record of all your debts but haven’t sat down and totted them up, now is the time to do it.
You can contact the creditors and ask for an up to date statement.
Contacting them can be frightening but you can explain that you want to deal with your debts and ask for some breathing space while you figure out what to do next.
Check your credit file
If you can’t remember who all your creditors are, you can check your credit score online for free or pay a small fee for a hard copy.
Andy Shaw, Debt Advice Coordinator at StepChange Debt Charity, explains: ‘Your credit file contains information about your debts, and other public information shared by lenders, making it the perfect place to start.
‘There are three credit reference agencies in the UK, Experian, Equifax and Transunion.
‘All three offer services that give you access to your credit report immediately for free, but do come with the downside of adverts for products based on your credit rating.
‘You can also request a hard copy of your credit report, but this will take a bit longer to come to you in the post.’
However, not all debts are on your credit file as anything older than six years gets removed, even if you are still paying it off, and not all information is added.
Try looking through emails, letters and bank statements
You can also try looking through old bank statements to see what payments you have made in the past and who to.
Andy says that there are some alternatives to relying on your credit report:
‘Checking letters and emails you’ve received from creditors and your previous bank statements, and getting in touch with creditors are alternate ways to find out your debts.
‘If your debt could be with the Government, such as HMRC or a local council, you can also contact them.’
Once you have the details of all your creditors, you can contact each of them.
Letting creditors find you is the last option
The last option is to wait until they get in touch with you
Andy adds: ‘If none of these approaches work, then the only option remaining is likely to be to wait for credit agencies to contact you, so keep your latest address on your credit file updated.
‘Given that this could risk further action against you, and the balances of your debts could keep going up, we’d only suggest waiting for creditors to contact you as a last resort.’
Once you know, keep everything up to date
Once you’ve pieced together your debt history, keep it in a file and update it regularly so you have an idea of how much you still owe as you make payments.
If you move or change your details, make sure you let all your creditors know so you don’t lose track again.
This article is part of a month-long focus in November all about debt.
Scary word, we know, but we’re hoping if we tackle this head on we’ll be able to reduce the shame around money struggles and help everyone improve their understanding of their finances.
Throughout November we’ll be publishing first-person accounts of debt, features, advice, and explainers. You can read everything from the month on the Debt Month tag.
If you have a story to share, a topic you want us to cover, or a question that needs answering, get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.