An estimated 3m people owe more than £10,000 on credit cards, overdrafts and loans, new research shows.
Among these people just over 2.5m have unsecured debts of more than £50,000, according to debt solutions company One Advice.
The research found that one in 10 people who owe five figure sums are worried about whether they will be able to repay their debt.
A fifth of people also admitted they had months where they found it difficult to meet their repayments, and 3% said they had problems affording repayments most months.
In 16% of cases people said they were planning to take action to address their financial problems, with 7% claiming they were considering going bankrupt.
London has the highest proportion of people with large unsecured debts, with 9% of the population owing more than £10,000, followed by the North and Yorkshire at 8%.
People in the Midlands were least likely to have big debts, with just 4% of the population owing more than £10,000.
Debt advisors are already braced for a surge in pleas for help when people realise the scale of their problems after Christmas.
Those worrying about their finances should seek professional advice, as taking out the wrong debt solution could make matters worse.
New Bankruptcy Rules have come into force which may enable people with severe debt problems to become debt free much quicker than previously. Bankruptcy may be a better solution than debt management, an IVA or Trust Deed
Indeed, bankruptcy can sometimes appear to be the easy way out for people with serious financial problems. But there are difficulties associated with this that can remain for some time.
Bankruptcy stays on your credit file for six years which can affect your ability to get a mortgage and credit.
An alternative to bankruptcy could be an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) (or a Trust Deed for Scottish residents). With these solutions you pay back an affordable amount over a fixed period (normally 5 years for an IVA or 3 for a Trust Deed). After this time the remainder of your debt is written-off. During this time no interest is charged on your accounts and all creditor action is suspended. If you have equity in your home you are normally expected to release this by way of a remortgage or secured loan. These solutions may not be available if you have too much equity (because your lenders would then quite rightly expect you to use this to pay your debts) or if your debts are mainly with 1 creditor (because this creditor may choose to vote against the process).
Other solutions available include getting a debt consolidation loan or remortgage. These can help reduce your monthly outgoings but can lead to your overall payments over the term of the loan increasing. You may also be converting unsecured debt to debts secured on your home. A consolidation loan can help save money if the interest rate on the new loan is lower than the interest being charged on your existing debts (especially if these are store cards or credit cards).
A short-term solution may be to transfer credit card balances to other credit cards that offer an interest free period or cash-back.
A less formal route than an IVA is s debt management plan. These can enable you to reduce your monthly outgoings to a more affordable level. A 3rd Party negotiates with your creditors to accept reduced payments and where possible to accept freeze interest / charges. Debt Management plans and advice are offered by Charities including CCCS, Citizens Advice Bureau and PayPlan and from a number of commercial companies including Harrington Brooks, AllClear Finance, Baines & Earnst and Gregory Pennington.
Your creditors may also accept a repayment proposal if you contact them direct.
The key to solving your debt problems is not to bury your head in the sand. Don't ignore calls and letters from your creditors and if you are unable to cope seek help.
Miles Grady BA (Econ) Hons ACA