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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July 2004, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
How I shook off the shackles of debt
A paid bill
Getting control of your finances requires tough choices
As UK personal debt breaks through 1 trillion, one debtor told BBC News Online how she kicked the credit habit.

In 2000, when ill health forced Elizabeth Chapman, 56, to retire from her job as a help desk supervisor she was unprepared for the financial consequences.

Elizabeth retired at the same time as her husband, Michael, reached the age at which he had to retire from his job with Royal Mail.

In a short space of time Elizabeth and Michael moved from being a prosperous couple enjoying two incomes to having to survive on their pensions.

"We got a lump sum from my employer and went on a couple of exotic holidays," Elizabeth said.

CREDIT CULTURE
How the UK has accumulated so much debt

"However, when we got back from holiday we didn't make the financial adjustments necessary and found the debt mounting up."

The couple built up a credit card debt of 20,000 in a short period of time.

Restricted

Eventually, the couple chose to take out a consolidation loan to pay off their credit cards.

"We were attracted to the promise of a low monthly repayment but we still found that our lives were restricted by debt," Elizabeth said.

"It was a few days before Christmas in 2002 when we realised we had 4 left to pay for the festivities. Christmas was cancelled that year and we knew we had to do something about our financial situation."

Elizabeth and Michael took advice from Payplan, a debt management firm that does not charge the debtor a fee, and drew up a budget and schedule of repayments.

Hardly a day goes by without an offer of a loan coming through the door - it is far too easy

In addition, they took the radical step of selling their home in Hastings, Sussex, and moved to a smaller property in Ramsgate, Kent.

"We had to take some tough decisions," said Elizabeth.

"What helped was not blaming anyone else for our problems. We got ourselves into the mess and had to get ourselves out again."

Too easy

Moving house released enough money for Elizabeth and Michael to pay back the consolidation loan.

"It is relief to be back on top of things again and we are even planning a holiday in Florida later this year," Elizabeth said.

But she is surprised that they are still being targeted by firms offering loans.

"Hardly a day goes by without an offer of a loan coming through the door - it is far too easy.

"But the ultimate responsibility is on the individual to say no and that's just what we are doing."

Your comments:

The individual cannot avoid responsibility for debt but the government and the lenders could do a lot to help people with shaky maths understand the consequences. Legislation should make it obligatory for credit card statements to give how long it would take to pay the current debt off if only the minimum payment is made each time. I think that would be a wake up call for a lot of people before they find themselves with massive debts.
Jackie, Australia ( ex uk )

The key for the individual is education - learning how to manage credits and debits. I suggest the mass media can start by a series of programmes designed to educate the general public.
Bob Ridge, Tokyo, Japan

Ultimately the individuals are responsible for their own financial status. I do not however think this exonerates the current government from an element of responsibility. Taxing people to the point where they need to borrow money on a monthly basis to sustain an ordinary standard of living hardly seems an ideal economic model to me.
Mark, Dubai, UAE

I have very little time for people who get into debt. If I want something I save for it. I've still had Caribbean holidays, my car is my own and does not belong to a HP company. All it takes is just a small amount of discipline.
Andy, Epsom England

I had gotten into debt some years ago and started receiving many calls from one of my credit cards in particular. They persisted in encouraging me to sell my belongings (even suggesting my bed at one stage!). One phone call told me that I should have thought about how I was going to repay the money before I borrowed. I replied that they should have thought about how I was going to repay the money before they lent it to me.... Not only a smart alec reply, but a fair point I felt.
Gary , Bournemouth

I think the government should make the high interest rates charged by some credit cards illegal. Banks only offer loans and credit in the first place because they know they can milk the customer for interest payments for years.
Becky, London, UK

It's not rocket science....if you borrow money, you have to pay it back with interest. If people find they need to borrow money simply to sustain their standard of living, it is completely down to them to change their standard of living to reflect what the can afford. I have no sympathy for those who build up huge CC debts on shopping sprees and then complain that they cannot pay off the debts!
Steve, Swindon

The man from Barclays was right. Only a fool borrows money with a credit card. If you pay it back over a long period you could pay 25-30% interest. If you want to borrow money go to your bank and discuss it. A credit card is just for convenience and should be paid off in full each month.
Alan Haile, London England

As someone who often fights against the nanny state, in this case I'd vote that there should be something done to alleviate this situation. I would like to see a national campaign to educate the 'masses' on financial management. Also is it not time that schools cover this in the curriculum. Life in credit is something new to our way of life - something should be done to ensure people are able to make educated decisions about it.
Jon Eland, Leeds, UK

Having spent the last three months off sick from work I have been astounded at the amount of advertising on daytime TV, especially satellite TV for loans. This advertising is obviously predominantly targeted at women with young children and to my mind is irresponsible and unethical. There should be some sort of legislation in place to limit these adverts.
Steve, Herts, UK

Its all very well to make comments like "the individual should take the blame for getting into debt" or "I have no time for those who get themselves into debt". What most readers fail to grasp is that even the most disciplined individual due to unforeseen circumstances can end up in debt. Not all debtors got themselves into debt blindly. If debt is to be controlled both the government and the credit card companies need to think along the following lines: 1 - All applicants must submit a current account (and deposit account where available) bank statement for a minimum of three months when applying for a credit card or loan to serve as proof of income 2- Approval level of credit allowed should be restricted to a ratio such that (taking into account the individuals proof of income) the total monthly repayment does not exceed an amount that allows that individual to meet basic living requirement without getting into further debt. 3 - If the individual's proof of income is such that that individual has already obtained the maximum credit ceiling from one credit card company then there should be no further credit/loan provided by any other company until such time that the ceiling owed has gone below the maximum allowed/calculated according to their proof of income. 4 Government should draw up what constitutes basic living requirement and make it a mandatory pre-requisite when applying for a credit card or a loan. 5 - Each credit card company and loan provider must state clearly the time it would take to repay the entire credit amount allowed if payment is against the minimum monthly repayment. 6 No credit card company should be allowed to charge extortionate rates. There should be a capped ceiling e.g. 1 or 2% above the Bank of England base rate. At present a lot of credit card companies charge APR of 24, 26 or even 28% at a time when the APR is only about 4%. When the Mafia charge such rates it is termed "Extortion". Why should credit card companies be exempt?
Sam, Harrow

We live in an age of blame. TV documentaries indoctrinate is with the notion that debt - and now obesity - are somehow afflictions that are visited on people. 'Someone must do something, e.g. the Government'. No, people should take responsibility for their own lives and stop externalising their own inadequacies and the media should stop pandering to this blame notion.
John, Leamington Spa, UK

The credit limit offered by your bank is like the speed limit on your car - it assumes a degree of personal responsibility. Do the people who max out their cards and then blame the banks also drive everywhere at 100mph? On the subject of interest rates, ironically these are largely driven by the debts incurred by the banks. Businesses looking for a higher accept rate (i.e. scorecards), need to charge higher interest rates to cover the higher rate of unpaid debts.
Howard, Edinburgh, UK

I think it high time the minimum repayment on a credit card bill was increased to a sensible level. Paying 5 off a bill for 1000 is just asking for trouble.
Ralph, Milton Keynes, UK

There should be a ban on small loan companies that charge ludicrous amounts of interest. I have just lost my home and family through debt and I have to start again. I got caught up the credit trap due to banks and loan companies making it all too easy to get credit. I've learned from my mistakes and I won't be making the same again. Those who say that they have no sympathy with people like me should see the light and open their eyes to what's going on around them. They don't realise that even the most disciplined can get caught up.
Sam, Enfield

I believe the key is to educate people - especially youngsters to live within their means again. We live in a "instant" society today. We are taught that if you want it, borrow the money, use your credit card, remortgage the house and buy it now so you can show how much more money you have and thus how much better you are then the next person. You can think about how you are going to pay it back later. What happened to saving the money to purchase an item such as a stereo or a car. Even the stores can't count cash anymore. My husband and I live by the rule if we can't afford it, we can't have it. We save for our holidays and pay cash for everything. The only debt we have is our mortgage. Yet, people think we have no money and that we are poor. Why? Living within our means, means that we don't have flashy cars, expensive furniture and a massive house and cannot brag about having three overseas holidays a year and I have to wear the same outfit more then once.
Helen, Thirsk, North Yorkshire

Start teaching children personal finance in schools instead of meaningless maths equations.
Mark Bolam, Tyne and Wear

I don't consider myself to be fiscally irresponsibe but I'm in debt to the tune of about 10,000. Why? My student loan. If the government has its way, up to 50% of the nation's young people will be saddled by debt like myself. It's depressing.
Chris, Leeds, UK

No-one can spend the money for you - but it is all too easy. We live in a society that wants everything now and nobody saves up for things anymore. Low interest rates have made it worse by it all being too affordable. You do what you can to make the debt more manageable, but end up adding more to it "for just another 10 more a month!" I speak from personal experience and have sold my house to be debt free. Now for the first time in years I don't have to worry about the bank statement, and it will be a while before I think of even taking out a mortgage again. It's nice to be debt free!
Reita, Birmingham, UK




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