People find themselves in debt for all kinds of reasons, many of which are outside of their control. Loss of employment, relationship breakdowns and health concerns can financially blindside you.
If you find yourself in debt and are struggling to find a way out, here are some of the many debt help options that are available to you in Australia.
If you can’t meet your financial commitments, it is best to contact the creditor (such as electricity provider or bank) as soon as possible to discuss a repayment plan. This can be an informal arrangement during a period of temporary financial hardship, or a formal hardship variation, which is through the available hardship programs for banks, utility companies and credit contracts.
When discussing a repayment plan, be honest with the creditor about your situation, and be realistic about what you can pay, taking into account your other financial commitments. Keep copies of bills, receipts and take notes of any conversations you have with the creditor.
The National Debt Helpline is a free service which offers free, independent, professional financial counselling. The National Debt Helpline can offer advice for a range of debt problems, including utility bills, mortgages and car loans.
They can assist with negotiating payment terms, prioritising your debts, consolidating your loans, and discussing bankruptcy if all other avenues have been explored.
To contact the National Debt Helpline for free financial counselling, call 1800 007 007.
There are a number of other free and independent financial counselling services which may be able to help you in the same way that the National Dept Helpline can.
Remember, you should never be asked to pay to receive this advice. There are free financial advice services available in every state and territory.
If one of your creditors threatens you with legal action, it is important to get legal advice about your options as soon as possible. Free legal aid and community legal services are available in every state and territory.
You can apply to the Financial Ombudsman or the Credit and Investments Ombudsman if your lender does not agree to a formal or informal hardship variation. Legal proceedings against you generally cannot be started while a matter is being considered by an ombudsman.
Usually, you can’t access your superannuation until you reach the minimum age set by law and you permanently retire from the workforce. However, under specific circumstances, including if you have lost your job, you can apply to have some of the money in your superannuation fund released to help you manage your debts. This is only a short-term solution to buy temporary financial protection.
Your credit report has information about your credit history and is used by creditors to decide whether you can afford a loan. You should check your report to confirm the information is accurate. You can get a copy of your credit report once per year for free.
Getting a debt consolidation loan will combine your existing debts into one debt with a single monthly repayment. It can be taken out as a new loan, or brought into a mortgage. Managing a single debt is easier than having multiple debts, and you can negotiate a lower monthly repayment.
For some people in debt crisis, bankruptcy may be an option. It is a legal process that releases a person from almost all of their debts.
You can apply to become bankrupt, however it is important to be aware of the consequences of bankruptcy that will endure for a number of years after you become bankrupt. It will also not help you with any debts you accrue after applying for bankruptcy.
It is best to seek financial counselling to pursue all other debt solutions before applying for bankruptcy.