How to beat the debt cycle

Debt isn’t really a conversation anyone enjoys having. In fact, the very thought of it can send a shudder, and certainly owing money is a burden that can weigh anyone down. But it seems the UK has a rather severe issue on this front. Indeed, latest statistics show that total unsecured debt has soared to £270 billion this year, which in turn means that each household is, on average, facing unsecured debt of £10,000.

Perhaps what is most troubling of all about this research is that around 60 per cent of this debt is still being held on credit cards, arguably the most traditional form of borrowing. It is understandable how this happens, given the convenience of simply putting things on plastic. But the problem comes in when you consider how expensive this can be, and how it can entrench ordinary people into a cycle of debt.

The pros and cons of credit cards

The irony is that credit cards are by no means ‘all bad’. They are actually a vital element in building a credit rating, and, particularly for those who don’t have a long credit history, and don’t necessarily need credit, using a card can be a great way to build up a credit score.

Equally, many credit card companies offer excellent reward schemes too. Whether it’s vouchers, air miles, free insurance or even cashback, there are very generous freebies on offer – so much so that it makes complete sense to allocate a good chunk of your spending to your credit card.

The key with both of the above benefits is to use your card effectively. Quite simply, this means paying off the balance on your card in its entirety each month. So many people simply make minimum payments each month, and, given that APRs on credit cards tend to be in excess of 20 per cent, this means you can be left to fork out a small fortune in interest, and stuck in a debt cycle as a result. Furthermore, it will demonstrate that you are struggling to live within your means, thus diminishing the benefit in terms of your credit rating.

Balance transfers and debt consolidation

For those who are already on a zero balance on their credit card(s), that’s great – keep up the good work. But for those who are juggling high balances on one or more cards, and struggling to make any headway, there are some things you can do to expedite the process of reaching debt freedom.

The first option is a balance transfer. Here you can transfer a balance from an existing card onto a new one, and pay 0 per cent interest for a set period of time – usually up to three years. It is thus a great way to avoid crippling interest entirely, and chip away at your debt quicker. There will of course be certain eligibility criteria, but it is worth looking into.

The other option is to get a low-cost loan which consolidates your existing debt(s). Although this isn’t a zero-interest option, with the vast array of providers in an increasingly competitive market, there are plenty of good deals out there in terms of APRs. And by lumping all your high-interest debts into a single, cheaper loan, you not only save yourself money, but also make life easier for yourself by only having to attend to one specific debt.

Running a tidy shop at home

It’s good to know that there are options out there which can help the cause. But one of the easiest and most effective remedies of all is to simply be disciplined with spending, and to live within your means. Perhaps it may start with a review of all your outgoings versus your income, and if the former exceeds the latter, doing a deeper analysis as to how you can bridge the gap.

Ultimately it’s something you will all need to buy into as a household. Because if you are all on the same page, and playing your part so that you spend within your limits as a family, then long-term financial health will no doubt be the result that follows.

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