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Eight signs that says a family member or friend is in debt

Friday, 23rd June 2017

Debt problems tend to build up over time, gradually getting to the point where finances reach crisis point. Often it’s not until this late stage that the full situation becomes clear. Yet there are symptoms of debt which, if noticed, could make the difference at an earlier stage.

With one in six people at risk, there’s a good chance you know someone struggling – even if they’re trying to hide their problems. The Money Advice Service (MAS) are calling on friends and family to keep a look out for any of these signs and potentially intervene to show there’s support out there, and to hopefully stop the debts getting out of control.

Symptoms of debt

It’s not always easy to notice someone you know is struggling with problem debt. Often when people have money worries they hide them due to embarrassment or to protect their family. Or perhaps they just don’t realise the severity of the situation – or want to admit it. But there are clues you can look out for.

The clues/signs:

  • They have been in debt before
  • They have had a recent life event (trigger) – such as new baby, being made redundant, illness, divorce or a death in the family
  • They are living beyond their means – always seem to have the latest ‘must have’ items, new clothes but don’t have the income to cover this
  • They seem anxious, withdrawn or depressed – less time socialising with friends
  • They may seem more secretive – starting to hide issues and avoiding talking about finances
  • They have changed their spending habits – either reducing spending (e.g. going on fewer holidays or eating out less) or overspending with no plan for repayment for example putting luxury items on credit
  • They seem tired or are having trouble sleeping
  • Their weight has changed suddenly – either increasing or decreasing

How to help friends you think might be struggling with debts

If you spot some of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are debt issues – but if you think money problems could be the cause, there are three simple steps you can follow to help.

  1. First up you could start a conversation talking about your own personal experiences to get the discussion started – but don't be judgemental, instead be supportive.
  2. Next up, let them know they aren’t alone and that there is help out there and it doesn’t cost money to get it. There’s easily accessible free debt advice available that can help them get their finances back on track. You could even offer to go along with them for support if it would help.
  3. Finally, see if you can encourage them to take the Debt test on the Money Advice Service website. The test will help them work out which option is the best bet to resolve their worries and show where they can get help for free.

MAS Debt test

Take the debt test here - external link to MAS website




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