Sick note, bank note

10th November 2006 at 00:00
Debt. If the sound of bills clattering through the letterbox is putting you off your breakfast cereal then you are not alone. The average Briton owes Pounds 3,175 on credit cards, overdrafts and loans, making us responsible for a third of all unsecured debt in Western Europe. And that is not including our mortgages. So, if you are contributing more than your fair share to our Pounds 214billion consumer debt mountain, clearly you need to brush up on your numeracy skills. And stop shopping.

Don't run away from those bills: work out exactly what you owe, and to whom. Check out an online budget planner to see how much you can realistically pay back each month. Then dip into a price comparison website such as www.uSwitch.com or www.moneysupermarket.com to reduce your utility bills and see whether it may be cheaper to transfer your credit card debts to a cheap loan.

Finally, cut up the store cards - some have an APR of more than 30 per cent - and, need we say it, stop spending. Leave the bank card at home and allow yourself a realistic amount of pocket money.

These simple steps are fine if it is a bad "schools-out" spending habit you are trying to curb. But if debt repayments are taking more than 20 per cent of your net income you need urgent professional help, says the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.

The Teacher Support Network (TSN), the Citizen's Advice Bureau and the CCCS provide free advice. They have online budget planners as well as trained counsellors who can help you draw up a debt management plan, write to creditors and set up a single repayment loan through them.

"Serious debt is mostly associated with some other problem," says Malcolm Hurlston, CCCS chairman. "Job loss, health problems or relationship breakdown are key triggers for big money worries. You're more likely to be an ex-teacher than a teacher if you are in serious debt."

The TSN says that teachers often come unstuck if they are off work for more than six months and their pay is halved.

Jane, a teacher from the North-east, contacted the network when she found herself on half-pay waiting for a back operation. She could no longer afford her mortgage and other bills. She was advised to take a "mortgage holiday" and given help to streamline her credit card debts. "This eased the burden until I was able to get back on my feet," she says.

In some extreme cases of need, TSN and teacher unions will consider making a grant or loan.

So, in this era of easy credit, how do you stay out of debt? Malcom Hurlston's top tip: "It's more to do with basic numeracy skills, and nous.

It's the nous which is often neglected"

Who to contact

Teacher Support Line (24-hour helpline) 08000 562 561 (England) 08000 855 088 (Wales) www.teachersupport.info

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service 0800 138 1111 (8am to 8pm) www.cccs.co.uk The Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk and offices nationwide.

Debt facts

31 per cent of money-related calls to the Teacher Support Network are about debt.

35-50 - the peak age for debt.

pound;32,000 - average debt of a CCCS client.

pound;1.2 trillion - total personal debt in the UK including mortgages.

pound;1,558 - what the average consumer on the Continent owes.

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