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Dealing with financial hardship

How to cope when you're experiencing money trouble.


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Many Australians stress about money, but those experiencing financial hardship are under severe pressure to make ends meet. There are numerous situations that can put you in financial hardship. These include: losing your job, having to deal with large medical expenses, experiencing a relationship breakdown, struggling to meet debt repayments or just finding it hard to deal with everyday expenses.

This guide will take you through examples of financial hardship and explain what you can do about it.

What is financial hardship?

Financial hardship is when you are unable to, or are finding it extremely difficult to, pay your bills and everyday expenses. Financial hardship usually occurs after a change in your personal circumstances. This can include losing your job, a personal relationship breaking down, the death of a loved one or having to cover unexpected medical expenses.

When you experience financial hardship, you may find yourself struggling to pay rent or mortgage payments, credit card or loan bills, or even everyday expenses like food and transport.

A female student worrying about financial issues at home in her apartment with her male friend cooking at the stove.

What do I do if I'm experiencing financial hardship?

If you are experiencing financial hardship, it's important to utilise the services that are available to you. For instance, if you have any type of credit contract with a lender, such as a home loan, a personal loan or a credit card, you can apply for hardship variation.

Check the date that you signed your credit contract before you call your lender. If you entered into your credit contract before March 2013, your credit provider only has to consider your hardship application if the amount that you borrowed is less than the threshold that applied on the date you signed your contract. You can check these thresholds on the ASIC website.

If you entered into a credit contract on or after March 2013, you can apply for a hardship variation whatever the value of your loan.

Rates last updated November 26th, 2020
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How to apply for hardship with your bank or lender

Banks and lenders have hardship programs in place to help you if you are experiencing financial hardship. Here's how these processes work:

  • You notify the bank about your financial hardship. This can be done verbally or in writing, and it simply involves telling the bank you cannot, or you think you cannot, afford your repayments.
  • The bank will ask you for information. This may include a statement on your financial position (income, expenses), details of your employment and income and evidence of your medical circumstances, if relevant.
  • The bank will assess your application. It will take into account the reason for your hardship, your finances, your ability to rectify your circumstances and whether or not you have received hardship in the past.
  • You will be notified of the outcome in writing. If the bank agrees to provide hardship assistance, you will need to comply with the terms of the agreement. In the case that your hardship application is not approved, your credit contract will not be altered.
  • If your application isn't approved. The bank may suggest alternatives such as accessing early release of your super, government support programs or financial counselling.

What to do if you can't pay your utility bills

If you're struggling to pay your electricity, phone or gas bills, you need to contact your utility supplier. Similar to your credit provider, your utility provider will have a hardship process in place.

When you call your provider, ask to speak to a hardship officer. The officer may help you work out a plan to pay the bill in instalments or help you apply for emergency utility bill vouchers. These vouchers can help you meet the minimum payments. There is also the option to consider calling a financial counsellor. Alternatively, you may consider an option referred to as bill smoothing, whereby you make fortnightly or monthly payments to a future energy bill to make it easier to manage.

If you are not happy with the response of your utility company to your application for hardship, you can lodge a complaint with your state ombudsman.

What happens to your credit score?

During your discussion with the hardship officer, ask how the creditor will report your repayment history if you enter into a hardship variation and request that it is not listed as a default or overdue payment on your credit report.

If your creditor rejects your request for an arrangement, they can only list a default 14 days after the rejection.

In the case that the lender agrees to the repayment arrangement, but does not agree to not list your hardship variation as a default, you can take further action by reporting it to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. If the creditor agrees to an arrangement and you are making the agreed-upon payments, you are not considered to be in default and it should therefore not be reflected on your credit report.

Alternatives to applying for financial hardship

If your application for financial hardship isn't accepted, or you don't want to apply for it just yet, there are alternatives to consider. These include:

  • Financial counselling. If you're unsure what to do about your finances, you can make a free call to a financial counsellor. You can call the National Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007 between 9:30am and 4:30pm Monday to Friday.
  • Free legal advice. If you're in debt and are also experiencing legal issues, you can access free legal help in every state.
  • No interest loans. The no interest loan scheme (NILs) is an initiative of community organisation Good Shepherd Microfinance. You can apply for a loan of between $300 and $1,200 for 12-18 months. These loans are for people on low incomes or who receive Centrelink payments. They are designed for purchasing essential goods and services.
  • Early release of super. There are certain situations in which you can access your superannuation early. Find out everything you need to know in this guide.
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6 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    DevitaSeptember 21, 2018

    I’m trying to look for all my super.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JhezSeptember 22, 2018Staff

      Hello Devita,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You may use the ATO’s SuperSeeker quick search by entering your tax file number (TFN), name and date of birth. You can even create a login to check your current super account and find any ATO held super. Please refer to the steps below:

      – Create a myGov account at, then link the ATO to your account.
      – If you already have a myGov account, just log in and click on the ATO section.
      – Go to the ‘Super’ tab. In this section, you can:
      *see details of all your super accounts, including any you have forgotten about
      *see details of all your super, including super the ATO is holding on your behalf

      I hope this helps. Should you wish to have real-time answers to your questions, try our chat box on the lower right corner of our page.


  2. Default Gravatar
    LynDecember 8, 2014

    I have been in financial hardship position for the last 18 months due to my husband being unemployed due to his work closing down because of flooding and his ill health being crohn’s disease. I only work part time working 8 days a fortnight with home mortgage and personal loans and credit card debt with yous of $8700. I have approached the anz branch in Victoria and explained my financial position . She rang credit services to speak to them for help as l have borrowed money to consolidate money owing. I offered a sum of $7000 to clear my debt as a payout as this is all I can afford. They ate asking for doctor’s certificates and such can they asked for this personal information? Also why make it so hard when I’m trying to pay this money with what l have so I don’t have bad credit rating against my name. I an even more stressed now and want this sorted would appreciate your advice as I could pay this $7000 today and clear it and be done. Regards Lyn

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ElizabethDecember 8, 2014Staff

      Hi Lyn,

      Thanks for your question.

      According to the Credit Ombudsmen Service, ‘It will not be necessary or appropriate for us or your financial services provider to ask for your entire medical file’ but they may request you to provide them with some medical information if they feel it is necessary to your case. If you feel that they have requested sensitive information you can lodge a complaint. As for your situation, it may be best to get in touch with a free financial counsellor who may be better able to advise you. You can call them on 1800 007 007.

      I hope this has helped.



  3. Default Gravatar
    carolNovember 20, 2014

    im trying to get in touch with hardship team

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      ElizabethNovember 20, 2014Staff

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your question.

      You’ve come through to, not a specific provider. If you could let me know the name of the bank or lender you’re trying to locate the hardship number for I’d be happy to email it to you.



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