The National Consumer Council's guide to low-stress loans
* Check the small print to find out what happens if you fall behind with payments - some companies bump up the interest rates if payments are overdue. And what is the company's policy if your circumstances change? Will they allow you to reschedule the loan?
* Don't overstretch yourself. Leave yourself a margin to take account of unforeseen expenditure.
* If your debts are out of control, seek help quickly. Creditors are far more receptive if you approach them early about repayment problems.
The Citizens' Advice Bureau and some teaching unions and local authorities all offer debt-counselling. They can put you in touch with an independent insolvency practitioner, who will "restructure" your debts without charging you the earth.
* There are two independent helplines for people in debt: the National Debt Line, 0121 359 8501 and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, which has branches in Birmingham, 0121 643 3353; Leeds, 0113 2342202; and Nottingham, 0115 924 0224.