Finding yourself in a position where you are unable to pay your bills or meet your repayments can be extremely crippling and stressful. It can quickly turn into a situation of feeling helpless which can have a knock on effect to causing many other things to go wrong. Most of this comes from not knowing who to turn to for help.
Unfortunately most people overcome with stress and anxiety will stick their head in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be fine. What then occurs is a quick out of control spiral of increasingly more debt and more trouble. If you do find that you have gotten into a sticky situation with your finances the most important first step is to act quickly.
Taking steps to resolve the problem from the outset will help you regain control over your debts (obvious isn’t it).
What to do
Once you have established what bills are outstanding and what loans you are struggling to repay, contact your credit provider. Banks and credit providers have procedures in place to help customers who are experiencing financial hardship. They may look at things such as halting repayments for a period of time, or working out a repayment plan that you can meet over an agreed period.
If you have not had success with negotiating a deal with the credit provider you do have the option of seeking a hardship variation. Under Australian consumer credit legislation, you can apply for a hardship variation when you are struggling to make repayments on a credit card, personal loan, car loan or home loan due to unemployment, illness or another reasonable change in circumstances.
The credit provider has 21 days from your application to provide you with a written response. There are usually three types of outcomes that could come from these negotiations. The loan may be extended which reduces the repayment amounts. For example your 15 year home loan may be extended to a 30 year loan. Another option is for the repayments to be postponed, and the third option incorporates both of the first two.
Going down this route does have a disadvantage in that you will have to pay more overall in interest payments. Despite this it does create a short term advantage to be able to meet your repayments. Negotiating a deal early on will also usually mean that your credit rating will not be negatively impacted.
If you are rejected or unhappy with your hardship variation
If your claim for hardship variation is rejected or you are unhappy with the outcome you can complain to one of the independent financial ombudsman such as the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Credit Ombudsman Service.
Some people may also look at refinancing options available for their loan. There are many things to consider before doing this including the extra fees and charges and whether or not you can afford the repayment structures of the new loan.
More: Refinancing, compare home loans
Also try an avoid going into more debt to cover bills and repayments. Again this will only add to your burgeoning debt pile, making it more difficult to resolve your financial difficulties in the long term.
If you have not had success with your credit provider and the ombudsman service you may need to look at selling your property. You want to be in control of this, because if the bank goes down a foreclosure route they are going to look at a quick fire sale to reclaim their money owed, thus you could be losing out on the sale price. So seek financial advice as to how to handle this quickly and efficiently while maximising your sale price.
You may also require counselling and financial advice to get through this tough period. This can be an expensive endeavour but there are free services available from some government agencies and community organisations. www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org has a listing of available counselling services whilst www.nla.aust.net.au will help you find the legal aid services in each state.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you cannot meet your repayments it is important to act quickly in response. Talk to your credit provider who can give you details about your first steps you can take. Most importantly stay positive and take action today.
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Alex Wilson is the founder and editor of Savings Guide, Australia’s number one saving money website. For regular money saving tips, visit Savings Guide or follow Savings Guide on Facebook.