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Deep in debt

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:34 UK time, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Do you ever wonder how people who have plunged into tens of thousands of pounds of debt manage to get into that situation?

Mandy Brown lives in St Davids, in Pembrokeshire. She's out of work, and like thousands of other people in Wales, she's heavily in debt.

Last year the amount she owed hit an all time high; she had debts of around £33,000.

"For me, that was a lot of money for me," Mandy told X-Ray. "I didn't have my own home, I only had my car, and that was it. I was frightened they were going to take my car away because I couldn't pay."

Mandy is registered disabled because she is agoraphobic. She finds it difficult to leave her home, but one thing which makes it easier for her to go out is having a car which she feels safe in.

Five years ago, she borrowed £10,000 to buy a new car and pay off an existing loan. The repayments on that loan were £209 a month, which she could just about manage to afford. But her circumstances changed.

She was receiving disability allowance, and her partner was registered as her carer, so received a carer's allowance.

But after a reassessment of Mandy's situation her disability allowance was unexpectedly removed, and with it her partner's carers allowance. The amount of money coming in dropped significantly.

She started to struggle to make the repayments on her loan, but the bank was only too happy to help. They offered her more money.

Mandy told us: "I had a phone call saying, 'Do you want to take out a consolidation loan to give you a bit more money, pay off your credit cards that you've got, and your loan?'"

Mandy went ahead and borrowed the money from the bank. She took out a consolidation loan for £19,000. This type of loan rolls all your debts together, so instead of making individual payments to your creditors, you only make one payment a month.

It's a tempting quick fix, but two thirds of people who do this go on to rack up more debt.

Mandy feels that the banks lent her money too easily. She says "I could kick them now to be honest. Say to them, 'Why did you do it to me, why allow me, knowing that I was unemployed?"

Mandy fought for two years to get her disability allowance reinstated, but even with that additional finance coming in again, she was deep in debt.

Mandy was also using store cards and shopping online. This was the perfect way of shopping for her, as she didn't need to leave her house. She bought herself little treats, things to make her life a bit better.

But the debts mounted. Most people in the UK have around £2,000 of debt on their credit cards - but Mandy owed more than £10,000.

As Mandy went on to build up debts of more than £30,000, the banks refused to lend her any more money. She had reached crisis, so sought advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

With their help, she's now managing to make what repayments she can with the help and guidance of trained advisors.

Where to turn for advice

X-Ray spoke to Sorcha Kennedy, who works for the Citizen's Advice Bureau in Newport, about what people in a similar situation should do.

"The most important thing is to get advice" she said. "There are a lot of independent agencies like the Citizen's Advice Bureau that will give free impartial advice, and also, speak to the lender.

"If you think you're going to miss a payment then maybe that is something that they can help with."

Sorcha told X-Ray that it's never too late to sort out a solution. The Citizen's Advice Bureau can assign an advisor to go through things with a client. They can help work out a budget, and can negotiate with creditors, and work out what the options are.

If you are in debt, it is important to prioritise your debts. "Most important things are priority expenses like your mortgage and your rent. If you don't pay those you could lose your property," she advises.

It's also important to pay gas and electricity or you could get cut off. Council tax is also a priority, as if you don't pay you could end up with bailiffs at your door.

Sorcha explained that non-priority debts include credit cards and unsecured loans. "We class them as non-priority, because non-payments to those would mean only your credit rating would be affected."

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