'I was in £16k of debt and too ashamed to tell anyone'

Could you tell us about your life and career so far?

I’m 34 and have been with my partner for over 10 years. We live in the South of England in a 1-bed rented flat. After I graduated from university I worked in retail for a few years as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I worked my way up to management level but the pay was still quite low (around £18k).

In 2016 I moved into academic bookselling, which is where I discovered that I really enjoyed working in the higher education sector. In 2019 I moved to a different university to work in their careers service, and haven’t looked back! I really enjoy my job and supporting all the students that come in for help and advice. I earn about £30k now and have been promoted twice since I joined the department.

What is the story you’d like to share?

Since about 2013, I’d been racking up debt on credit cards. It started out small and I was able to pay them off, but got more and more reliant on them as time went on. I would try and move the balance over to a 0% credit card and then wouldn’t keep track of when the 0% period ended and be burdened with so much interest. I think in the end I had around 5 credit cards, all with high interest rates.

What did you use the credit cards for?

I can’t even think of a huge purchase (e.g. car, luxury holiday) that I actually made on a credit card. It was the smaller things, such as eating out, a night in a hotel here and there, or paying to attend friends hen dos/weddings. I did also take out a loan a few years ago to pay for a course I wanted to do, but then subsequently dropped out - so that is a big regret I have too.

How did it come to a head?

It got to a point last year where I was £16k in debt, with no savings, and I would say about 40% of my income was going on maintaining that debt - the interest was so high and the sum wasn’t coming down. I could pay for rent, bills and petrol but had little for anything else. By the end of each month I had no money, so was forced to use the credit cards for the above, meaning the cycle just continued.

What was the emotional impact?

Nobody, not even my partner, knew the extent of my debt and it felt like it was eating me up inside constantly. It was very stressful and gave me a lot of anxiety living paycheck to paycheck, and to not have any money to do the things that make life worth living. I even started to have suicidal thoughts, which is nothing I’d ever experienced before.

How did you work towards a solution?

Luckily I realised I needed help and managed to access both a mental health support system and and a debt management service who were able to recommend a debt management plan (DMP). I’ve been on my PayPlan DMP for around 9 months now. It was really easy to set up and they take care of everything and help you with a realistic budget. I now pay a manageable monthly amount, and every penny goes towards paying off my creditors. I’m even managing to save a little bit each month!

There are of course some downsides. I am not allowed to take out any credit, and I have a lot of feelings of shame and guilt. I feel like I’ve ruined mine and my partner’s chance at ever owning a house, and it feels like a wedding/child are out of the question, which is something I have struggled a lot with mentally.

Also, the only people in my life who actually know are my partner and my dad - I still feel ashamed of my friends and colleagues knowing. I also still have a long way to go before being debt free, but at least I can see it in my future!

Do you have any advice for those who are in a similar situation?

Talk to someone! There is so much good advice out there, and it really is true that a problem shared is a problem halved. even though it’s still only my dad and my partner that know about the full extent of my financial issues, it was such a relief to talk about it and ‘come clean’. Don’t let it become a debt spiral like I did - try and get help as early as you can when you realise there’s a problem.

Debt support

If you’re in a situation like this where your debt is unmanageable, please get free advice. I know there is a massive and unfair stigma around debt but there are brilliant and supportive services out there.

💬 Advice:

• Citizen's Advice are a great starting point

• CMA are great if you want to chat to someone in person

• StepChange offer online and telephone advice Avoid scammy texts offering to wipe your debt and any service which charges you

🤝 Community:

If you would like to speak to other people in debt, the GFY community space has a ‘Debt Support’ group; a judgement-free space for honest conversations and encouragement.

🧠 Mental health: In addition to getting good advice, you can also access something called The Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. You can find this online and ask your health or social-care professional to sign it. A debt adviser can also guide you through this process. Having this form means lenders will be more considerate of your situation. If you’re really struggling and need to talk to someone: Samaritans. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can call 116 123 If you need advice and support: