What you’re doing wrong that keeps you in debt

Rates and Fees verified correct on December 9th, 2016

Don't turn a blind eye. Here's how to get rid of your debt-ridden lifestyle once and for all.

Many people view debt as a negative thing, but debt can often start out as something positive. Debt can help you get the things you want and need faster and can help you live a lifestyle you might not have previously been able to. As long as you can retain control of and stay on top of your debts, things can remain hunky-dory. It's once this control is lost that debt can become a problem.

The reality of Australia’s household debt

In 2014, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) commissioned a study titled 'Australian Social Trends, 2014'. The study examined various forms of household debt using data from the ABS National Accounts and the ABS Survey of Income and Housing.

The study revealed interesting trends of how Australians handle their debts.

Why do people struggle with debt?

A look at the numbers above reveals that debt is a part of the majority of Australian households. While some of us continue to struggle with debt, others manage their debts with complete assurance. A different approach and a different mindset make a big difference when it comes to dealing with debt responsibly. How do you deal with your debt? People who struggle with debt:

  • Do not monitor their income and expenses. This may be due to not knowing how to budget properly, or not sticking to their budget
  • Have expenses that typically exceed their income
  • Are experiencing financial distress brought on by conditions such as a reduced income, being underemployed, etc.
  • Engage in certain wasteful habits such as shopping for things they don't need
  • Lack proper money management skills
  • Have little or no savings for dealing with unforeseen expenses such as medical emergencies, or loss of income
  • Don't compare products or review their financial products to see if they could save
  • Remain in denial and refuse to acknowledge that they have a debt-related problem on their hands
  • Fail to pinpoint the real reasons that got them into debt in the first place
  • Make only the minimum payments towards their debts
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What debt consolidation methods are available?

If you're struggling with your debt, there are strategies you can consider to reduce it. The most important step is to find the debt consolidation method that is going to work best for your needs and the type of debt you have.

  • Debt consolidation loans. If you're juggling multiple repayments, you could consider consolidating them into a single loan. This can help reduce the amount you're paying in interest, as well as fees on separate accounts. A debt consolidation loan can come in the form of an unsecured personal loan, or by you accessing equity you have available in your property. Keep in mind you will need to have good credit to qualify.
  • Balance transfer credit cards. If you have credit card debt across multiple accounts you can consolidate it into a single card with a balance transfer. You will pay 0% interest for a specific period of time, with some card providers offering up to 24 months. Certain credit card providers also let you balance transfer personal loan debt. For this method, you will also need good credit to be approved.
  • Part 9 Debt Agreements. If you're having trouble paying your debt, you could enter into a debt agreement with a third-party organisation and your creditors. The agreement essentially freezes the interest you're paying and gives you a certain repayment period to pay back what you owe. Some creditors agree to accept less than the full balance for repaying your debt, but entering into a debt agreement shouldn't be taken lightly as it is considered a form of bankruptcy.
  • Credit counselling. Enlist the services of a reputed credit counselling organisation for formulating a Debt Management Plan (DMP). Once you enrol in a DMP, the creditors will often reduce your interest rates. Afterwards, you will need to make one monthly payment to the counselling organisation. This organisation will handle the repayment to your creditors. This is worthwhile if you can repay your debt within five years, but again, it isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. This should only be entered into if you are having difficulty repaying your debts on your own.

Staying out of debt

When it comes to staying out of debt, there are quite a few things you can do. You could look at developing an emergency fund by trying to save up to 15% of your income. If you find this number a bit high, or just want a way to ease the financial strain, you could consider ways to create alternate sources of income. There are a huge amount of ways to make money online with freelance work by charging people for your skills. You could also consider selling some of your unused items, or looking at your expenses and seeing ways you could cut back. As always, creating a budget and sticking to it is a surefire way to keep you on track.

Debt reduction strategies you can consider

If you are considering tackling your debt head-on without taking out another type of credit, there are ways to help you take back control of your finances:

  • The "snowball" or "domino" method. This involves you writing down your total outstanding debt on each of your credit accounts, except for your mortgage and HECS-HELP debt. You don't need to consider interest rates at this point. Whichever account has the smallest balance is the account you make additional payments into and you pay off first – then the next smallest balance, then the next smallest, and so on until your debts are paid off. This method helps get more accounts closed quickly, saving you interest and fees and gets you motivated by paying off debt. If two accounts have similar rates, pay off the higher interest rate account first. Remember to keep paying the minimum balance on all accounts and to consider early repayment fees for your personal loans.
  • Pay off your highest balances first. Another strategy is to pay your highest interest balances first. Paying off these accounts will save you money on interest repayments and have the same benefit as the "snowball" strategy in that it will help get your accounts closed. Start by writing down all your accounts, the balance outstanding on each and the interest rate. Remember to consider the balance of credit accounts when starting to pay them down and to keep making minimum repayments on all accounts.
  • Lose your loyalties. Finding the money to make additional payments can be a struggle. When was the last time you compared your savings accounts? Before making a purchase, have you looked to see if you could find it cheaper with a coupon code? Saving where you can and putting all your additional funds into your prioritised debt (according to the strategy you've adopted) is key to being debt-free.
  • Budget, budget, budget. Developing and sticking to a budget is of paramount importance when it comes to ridding yourself from debt. There are a wide amount of budgeting websites and tools available that can track your spending, saving and expenses, so see which one works for you.

If you're stuck in a debt rut, picturing yourself finally getting out of it can be difficult. However, it is possible. With the right tools and the right strategy under your belt, you can be debt-free.

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6 Responses to What you’re doing wrong that keeps you in debt

  1. Default Gravatar
    Patricia | February 1, 2016

    Hi. I am currently under a debt agreement and have been paying every fortnight for 2 years now without any defaults but I have a few other debts around the amount of $4,000 that have accumulated from a few months ago and am struggling to pay off.I am hoping that there might be some help available like a debt consolidation loan where i could pay these off and get my finances back on track. The stress is affecting my health. Please advise best solution for me.

    • Staff
      Elizabeth | February 2, 2016

      Hi Patricia,

      In your current situation it may be difficult to access a debt consolidation loan from a traditional bank or lender. However, you do have the option of varying your current debt agreement to possible include your current debt. You just need to contact the Australian Financial Security Authority to discuss your agreement.

      I hope this has helped.

      Thanks,

      Elizabeth

  2. Default Gravatar
    Marie | July 23, 2015

    I have several credit cards that I would like to consolidate to the lowest rate.

    What is the best way for me either Personal Loan or any other suggestions?????

    • Staff
      Sally | July 24, 2015

      Hi Marie,

      Thanks for your question.

      As a financial comparison service, finder.com.au cannot recommend any specific product, process or strategy to our users, as the ‘best’ option will depend on your individual financial situation and needs.

      Our Loans for Debt Consolidation, Debt Consolidation and Repayment, and Consolidate Your Debts guides could help you narrow your choices down to arrive at the best decision for you.

      I hope this has helped.

      Thanks,

      Sally

  3. Default Gravatar
    Kerry | May 19, 2015

    We are married couple M 56 F 59, both made redundant & business failed/closed Receiving approx $900 per fortnight total thru Newstart Allowance/Centrelink. F has picked up 5 hours per week ($150 gross per week) ON TRIAL ONLY at this time. Have total debt of $13,000 on two credit cards, GE Mastercard $2,000 & ANZ Low Interest Card $11,000. Own outright house and Land Rover 4WD 2004 model S Series 7 leather seats etc. Can we and how can we borrow some money or at least, consolodate our debts. As struggling with DD’s for health insurance, life insurance, house and contents insurance, credit card repayments, rates, other cost of living bills and trying to eat! What do you suggest please? Ray & Kerry Atkins

    • Staff
      Elizabeth | May 19, 2015

      Hi Kerry,

      Thanks for your question.

      We aren’t at liberty to give personal advice, but there are free financial counselling services in every state that you may want to get in touch with. The general call number is 1800 007 007. You can also do a search of free financial services available in your state. You might also want to have a read of our debt consolidation guide to see some of your options.

      I hope this information will be of use.

      Thanks,

      Elizabeth

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