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Why Do People Leave It Late To Take Debt Advice?

15th June 2012

Over the years our Scottish trust deed forum has frequently attracted comment from members that they wish they had taken advice about their debts sooner. Such comments often seem to emanate from a sense of relief (and regained control) after a very difficult period spent juggling an escalating financial problem. Good advice on debts really can help people to substantially improve various aspects of their lives.

From a professional point of view it makes sense that people should seek out debt advice as soon as they realise that they are struggling with their finances. Early advice typically leads to more choices for the client, shorter repayment arrangements, or less severe options being suitable (for example a debt arrangement scheme rather than a protected trust deed). Despite this very few people actually seek advice at the earliest realistic opportunity and the efforts to encourage this by the debt advice sector are often in vain.

The “professionals” have many varying theories why people delay taking debt advice. We were interested to hear the thoughts of our members on the subject so we recently asked a question in the trust deeds forum. Quite simply, we asked members what were for them the, “obstacles in the way of reaching out for advice when they first realised that there might be a financial problem”. The response has been illuminating, engaging and sometimes moving. You can read the thread here.

Here is a sample of comments from Trust-Deed.co.uk forum members (with the benefit of hindsight):

  • “My obstacle was myself!”
  • “I was the obstacle”.
  • “… the obstacle was me”.
  • “Myself, that was the problem… “
  • “I was the problem…”

What made it so tough to take advice for the first time that (with the benefit of hindsight) many people blame themselves in this way for the delay? There have been a wide variety of responses on this subject thus far, but perhaps they might loosely be grouped together as scenarios in which people were:

Busy managing:

  • “I did eventually re-mortgage but unfortunately I could not re-mortgage for the required amount. So my debt continued to rise as my mortgage payment had increased”.
  • “I kept telling myself when I pay the loan off I’ll put it on my credit cards”.
  • “I hoped I could just keep going for another few years until one of my loans was paid off which would allow me to then work on paying back another one”.
  • “When my outgoings for debt got too high I found new ways of consolidating which would take the pressure off for a year or so, but after a while I ran out of options”.

Hopeful:

  • “I didn’t feel that I needed advice – I thought I could deal with it on my own”.
  • “I thought I could get out of it, one bonus and its’ all gone”.
  • “…the “oh if I keep making the minimum payments, I MIGHT just be clear in 20 years”.

Fearful:

  • “The fear of the unknown was a massive factor…”
  • “…huge embarrassment factor that you need to tell a complete stranger that you can’t manage your money”.
  • “…I thought I would be unemployable if I had to enter into debt arrangements”.
  • “I was embarrassed and didn’t want to admit to a partner how bad it was”.
  • “…fear of admitting I can’t cope anymore not just to myself but to my wife as well”.

What can be learned that might be of benefit from this collective insight?

Firstly, we hope readers with current debt worries will better understand the professional view that taking advice early is the best option. It is one thing for a debt or Scottish trust deeds adviser to offer this wisdom, but perhaps it’s a much more powerful thing to hear it from people that have the benefit of personal experience and hindsight of the same issue?

Secondly, those that fund or directly provide debt advice must understand that human thought-processes are likely to lead many people to try to “manage” rather than “confront” a debt problem until there is little other option left. Human hopefulness and fearfulness also make it quite inevitable and natural that many people will not seek advice on problem debt until later than ideally would have been the case. The focus must therefore be on creating awareness of the options that are open, and the very best sources of advice available, so that people can access the services they need as quickly as possible once they are ready.


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