Dealing with Debt and Knowing Your Options
Increasingly, debt is a part of the average Briton’s everyday life. It has recently been reported that despite Britain’s record low unemployment rate of 5.1%, wage growth is practically non-existent, so despite the fact that you might be in gainful employment, you might not be earning enough money to cover your outstanding bills. Ultimately, this will only serve to get you further into debt, making your situation appear bleak and unmanageable.
Personal debt can be a difficult area to navigate, particularly given the number of common misconceptions circulating about our debt management options but the more we know about possible solutions, the quicker we can get our finances back on track.
In the UK, we have a number of debt management solutions available to us should we find ourselves in a situation that appears at first insurmountable. The most commonly utilised in Britain are Debt Management Plans (DMPs), Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs), and bankruptcy.
Debt Management Plans (DMPs)
A DMP is a non-legally binding, informal agreement between an individual and their creditors. They are managed by a DMP provider and are used for paying back ‘non-priority debts’, such as credit cards, loans and store cards. All your debts are consolidated into one set monthly payment. This amount is then divided and distributed among the creditors in question. With a DMP, all debt is eventually repaid – there is no write-off involved as with other options.
If you utilise a DMP, one of the major advantages is that you will no longer need to have any contact with your creditors directly; all further contact will be done through your DMP provider. People tend to enjoy the flexibility inherent in a DMP; you are not tied into a minimum repayment period and should you choose to, you are able to cancel the DMP at any point. On top of this, while you are working on paying back payments, interest rates and charges are usually frozen.
However, the informality of a DMP works both ways; your creditors themselves may choose not to cooperate, may demand changes throughout the plan or decide to take further legal action against you. Another note to consider is that a DMP, as well as any relevant missed payments, may appear on your credit record which will inevitably negatively impact your future credit rating. When weighing up the pros and cons of a DMP, remember that some DMPs charge a fee that would be factored in.
Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVAs)
Unlike a DMP, an IVA is a legally binding agreement arranged between an individual and their creditors. A proposal for an IVA is made with a licensed Insolvency Practitioner, and it is suited for those with an unsecured debt in excess of £6,000 owed to more than two creditors. Using this alternative, wherein payments are also made in one monthly repayment, the debt is paid off within a set amount of time. The average time taken to complete an IVA is between five to six years.
IVAs have increased in popularity over the years. In 2013, IVAs comprised 48% of all individual insolvencies and in the first quarter of 2016, 9,916 IVAs were registered in the UK. People are likely picking IVAs as an option based on the many benefits they offer, key among them being the fact that after the set IVA period, the remaining debt is forgiven. On top of this, IVAs are legally binding, creditors are not able to circumvent the IVA or to take further legal action against you without court consent.
IVAs also offer a relatively high degree of security; you can safeguard certain assets, you will not be forced to sell your family home and once your IVA is complete, your credit score will be repaired. One benefit that individuals particularly enjoy is the level of discretion; the only way anyone would be able to discover the existence of your IVA would be if they were to specifically search online in an IVA database, or if you authorise them to perform a credit check on you
On the other hand, IVAs require a high amount of dedication. Terms can be quite strict and it is necessary that you adhere to them fully. You need to remain in gainful employment and you will be forced to stick to a given budget for six years. Additionally, IVA firms charge fees, which needs to be considered while budgeting.
Filing for Bankruptcy
This is possibly the most well-known debt management option, but it is one that should probably be your last option to pursue. However, if other alternatives have failed you and you have a significant amount of unmanageable debt, bankruptcy might be right for you. Bankruptcy is a formal insolvency procedure. There is no minimum amount of debt required, but it is highly likely that your appeal for bankruptcy will be denied if you have in your possession items that could be sold to repay your debt.
As with the IVA, following your bankruptcy order, your debt will be written off and your creditors will be unable to take legal action against you. Though it is likely that you will have to sell many of your possessions and certain restrictions will be imposed, you will likely be able to retain a few household goods, and you will always be left with enough money to live on. Generally, debtors pay less with a bankruptcy than they would with an IVA.
The downsides of bankruptcy, aside from the severe restrictions imposed, include a high degree of transparency – bankruptcies are still advertised in the London Gazette. Bankruptcies will also impact your credit score and your potential job prospects. You won’t be able to get credit of more than £500 without informing the lender of your bankruptcy history and unless you obtain permission from a court, you will be prevented from getting involved with setting up, promoting and running a company. It is also important to remember that certain debts, such as Student Loan Company debts, will not be included in your bankruptcy. Your house will most likely be sold and if you have a business, this could also be sold and any employees fired.
If you are still in doubt of which option is best for you and your particular situation, it is best to seek advice from an experienced Insolvency practitioner who will be best placed to point you in the right direction. No debt management option is inherently better than another; it is all a matter of evaluating individual cases and arriving at a solution that is best suited to get you back on steady financial ground.
About the author:
Yaakov Smith, a first class honours graduate of Oxford University, has almost twenty years’ experience developing and designing software. He is the CEO of Logican Solutions, a UK-based business management software company that serves to streamline processes and increase productivity. They offer a range of products, including solutions for claims management, debt management, and property portfolio management.