For many people, talking about debt is something of a taboo – a subject to avoid even when among close friends and family. However, although the topic can cause some discomfort, the reality is that financial problems are both extremely common and important.
Recently, KnowYourMoney.co.uk set out to find out exactly how Britons are managing their debt. We surveyed more than 2,000 UK adults and found over three-fifths (62%) are in debt, with women (64%) slightly more likely than men (60%) to be in this position. In terms of the forms of debt people have, credit cards (35%), mortgages (24%) and student loans (11%) are the most common.
The figures demonstrate just how common debt is. Yet as it stands, 41% of people do not feel comfortable talking about their finances with their friends or family; this figure rises to 44% among women.
Financial difficulties ought not to be something we shy away from discussing. Indeed, speaking openly and honestly about debt could help people manage their finances more effectively.
How to accrue debt responsibly
Despite the negative connotations that often surround the term, debt can in fact be a valuable financial instrument – if handled responsibly, that is. Using debt to pay off big purchases like property, holidays or even household appliances can offer an element of freedom for those unable to pay outright from their own savings.
So, what’s the trick to handling financial difficulties in a structured, controlled and manageable way?
Crucially, it’s important to consider whether your income will allow you to make repayments on time without these adversely impacting other essential expenses like rent or mortgage payments, bills and everyday travel costs. Strikingly, KnowYourMoney.co.uk’s aforementioned study revealed that a third of consumers (33%) admitted to buying items on a credit card without first thinking about how they will pay it off later.
Good types of debt are those which can be paid off in a manageable way and will provide long-term value (such as securing a property). When accruing debt, it’s therefore important to distinguish this from bad types of debt; those which either cannot realistically be repaid or will not offer any significant long-term benefits.
What is your debt-to-income ratio?
Importantly, for those striving to take on only good types of debt, there are valuable tools they can turn to for help – like the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.
In essence, your DTI ratio reveals how much debt you have in relation to your savings. The overall percentage can help a person get a clearer idea of what their financial situation is.
Especially for women with children, who might be struggling with debt as a result of taking time off work for childcare, calculating your DTI can offer peace of mind and indicate how much debt you can handle. To do this, there are online DTI calculators available, so it is advisable to take a moment to calculate yours.
Debt and mental health
Away from the pure money matters, there is also a clear link between debt and mental health; in fact, our research uncovered that 24% of people lose sleep over how much debt they have.
Constant worries about finances can trigger more serious problems like anxiety and even depression. Feeling in control of one’s financial situation is therefore vital to avoid it having a negative impact on his or her mental health.
There is no shame in having financial difficulties, and there is certainly no shame in struggling to cope mentally with the burden of repayments. But for those needing help or advice, there are many avenues of support available – charities like StepChange offer support to indebted households, and in the first half of 2018 alone it helped more than 325,000 new clients.
Ultimately, when it comes to sorting out your finances, it is important to actively engage in the matter, be that thorough due diligence before accruing or talking openly with others about the subject. Proactively taking steps to better understand their financial situation can help alleviate an individual’s debt worries, while also helping them get a firmer grip on their finances.
John Ellmore is the director of KnowYourMoney.co.uk, an independent financial comparison website that was launched in 2004. Run by a dedicated team, Know Your Money’s goal is to provide clear, accurate and transparent comparisons for a wide range of financial products.