Cash points

Take care of debt before things get out of hand, says Sean Coughlan.

The trouble with helplines is that people don't ring them until it's too late. If your finances have gone into a serious tailspin, there might be ways to limit the damage. But it's not going to be a happy-ever-after ending, and there are no quick fixes because debt problems really can screw up lives.

We can talk up the feel-good side of overcoming financial adversity, but in the end, the quicksand of debt is not fun city. But don't pull on the black armbands yet - the helpline run by the Teacher Support Network wants teachers to tackle debt before problems get out of hand.

Debt is an area that shows no sign of going away, and, with sky-high mortgages and record credit-card borrowing, many teachers will know the fear of being over-stretched.

The support network helpline is proposing preventive medicine and has put resources on its website to help teachers get a grip on their money. "Teachers are often incredibly busy people, and they can be so wrapped up in work that they put off looking after their own financial arrangements and don't see how their finances could be improved," says money adviser Di Mellish.

She wants teachers to be able to spot the warning signs of approaching financial danger, such as having to borrow money to pay off debts, or having to use credit cards or an overdraft to pay for basic shopping bills. The advice offers simple steps, such as looking at your budget to see how you can maximise income and take control of spending.

It suggests ways of reducing outgoings, particularly on borrowing. With a little shopping around, most people could save interest if they switched to cheaper credit cards, personal loans and mortgages. Taking scissors to over-priced store cards means an immediate saving.

Lowering the overall level of debt could be a shrewd move ahead of a likely rise in interest rates. There are deep concerns among money advisers about the record levels of indebtedness, and that many people are out their depth.

So, if you're afraid of what's in the morning post, take advice sooner rather than later.

Teacher Support Network: 08000 562 561; www.teachersupport.org.uk

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