As we move out of the first weeks of 2012, for many people, the feeling continues that prices are rising far faster than salaries, and the latest round of public transport increases is just another factor in how the cost of living is taking up more of peoples' income than ever.
The squeeze is also making the cost of housing arguably the most essential of all regular outgoings prove to be a burden too tough for many to shoulder.
According to a new survey from Shelter, almost seven million people in total are relying on credit in some form to help pay their housing costs; using payday loans, unauthorised overdrafts, other loans or credit cards.
Dealing with your debts is the first thing you should do if you find yourself getting deeper into a financial mess, and one of the ways to do this is to check your credit report. This lists your credit accounts, from cards and loans to your mortgage. It will show you where your money's going, how well you are coping and whether there are any areas where savings can be made? You can see your Experian credit report for free with a 30-day trial of CreditExpert. (New customers only. Monthly fee applies after free trial ends)
There are steps you can take yourself in order to deal with your debt problems:
- Sign up to Money Dashboard, to get visibility of all your outgoings and incomings in one place, and see where you are spending, by category; go through all your recent spending daunting but worth it. Look for direct debits you no longer need, such as magazine or club subscriptions, and cancel them. Scrutinise regular payments and dump any you can do without.
- Go back to your credit report (checking it yourself won't affect your credit score) and ask the relevant lender to correct any errors or discrepancies. Register to vote at your current address and close joint accounts held with a previous partner (as well as ensuring they are removed from your credit report), as you could be penalised if he or she has money troubles.
- Target your most expensive debts the less you have to pay in interest, the further your pay will go. If you have any savings, use them. They're there for a rainy day and this is it. If you can't make serious inroads into your debts straight away, at least try to repay more than the bare minimum each month, so that you're eroding your debt rather than prolonging it.
- Get expert advice without paying a penny - The following urls point to sites which offer free advice: Citizens Advice, National Debtline and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.
If you need to talk to someone in person, arrange an appointment as soon as possible.