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Dealing with debt

Few students receive enough income to survive without occasionally running into difficulty. If you are not managing, don’t just borrow more money as this can make the problem worse.

Debt concerns

Being in debt can affect you in a number of ways. It may cause you to be continually worried and suffer stress which has a negative impact on your work. If this happens, consider getting in touch with the Wellbeing Service. You may need to make radical lifestyle changes (e.g. cutting down on social expenditure) which can also be stressful. You may find yourself ignoring official correspondence and denying the need to act.

Three golden rules for coping

  • don’t panic - things are rarely as bad as they seem and there are many support services who can help you negotiate with your creditors.
  • don’t hide from the truth - debt is best dealt with immediately as the situation can deteriorate quickly.
  • talk to the people to whom you owe money - your creditors will often accept far more modest repayments if they know your true financial circumstances.

If you find yourself with bills you can't pay, you need to be clear about the relative importance of what is due. Debts are usually categorised in one of two ways:

Priority debts

These are debts which threaten your liberty or wellbeing and must be addressed immediately. Non-payment of taxes (including council tax), fines or a TV licence can, in extreme circumstances, result in prison sentences. Similarly, if you cannot keep up with your rent or mortgage payments you may find yourself threatened with eviction or repossession.

Both these processes are slow ones which take some months to complete, but you should seek advice immediately if this occurs.

The Money Advice and Funds Service, or the Students' Union Advice Centre may be able to help or they will refer you to a specialist agency who can.

Secondary debts

These are debts which are still important, but which are not an immediate threat to your wellbeing (e.g. utility bills, mail order debts, credit cards, unauthorised overdrafts).

You may find that your credit rating is affected if you do not keep up with the monthly minimum payments. You may be threatened with withdrawal of services or court action, but this is unlikely to occur if you begin negotiations with the creditor.

There are strict rules about cutting off essential services such as electricity, gas and water, and this will not occur unless you fail repeatedly to respond to correspondence.

Remember that unpaid debts to the University can cause problems, such as being subject to debt collection procedures, or if you fail to pay your tuition fees you may be excluded from the University. 

Negotiating with creditors

Once you have sorted your debts (or potential debts) into categories, follow these steps:

  1. Write out a clear statement of your financial circumstances. Include your income, expenditure, and all unpaid debts and payments due.  Be realistic; it is important that you and everyone else concerned knows the true position.
  2. Contact your creditors in writing, using the financial statement you have prepared. Make a repayment proposal based on your circumstances and a realistic estimate of what you can afford to repay. This can be a series of sums (e.g. when your student funding arrives) or a regular monthly amount (e.g. if you have a part-time job). Creditors may accept token payments of £1 to £5 per month from students. You can ask for interest to be suspended whilst negotiations take place.
  3. Remember to keep copies of any correspondence you send and never leave letters from creditors unopened an offer of help or a payment suggestion may not be repeated if you do not respond quickly.

If the steps given so far do not help you deal with the problem you should seek further advice or support. Contact a Money Adviser at UWE Bristol, the Students’ Union Advice Centre or the Students’ Union site office at your campus. Alternatively, agencies external to the University such as Citizens Advice or the National Debtline (freephone 0808 808 4000) can also help.

Money matters guide

Our Money matters guide contains key information about financial matters for students.

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