How and why do people get into debt?

People get into debt for lots of reasons: you may be on benefits, have a low income or have lost your job; you might not have enough money coming in to cover your outgoings; you might have a long-term health condition; or you might have a gambling habit.

Debt is often linked to mental and physical health problems – your health might have caused you to get into debt or your debt may have caused your health problems.

The best thing you can do if you are in debt is to face the problem and get as much help and support as possible. By taking action you will feel more positive and in control, reduce your worry and anxiety and feel better.

Big changes in your life/situation
You may lose your job or be made redundant, lose a close friend or family member, have a relationship break down, or you may have to borrow money or stop paying bills to deal with an unexpected situation.

Long term ill health
Mental or physical illness can mean that you need time off work or you may not be able to work at all, so won’t have as much money coming in. You may have more costs from travelling to health appointments or job interviews, paying for prescriptions or having the heating on more if you’re at home a lot. This can lead to debt.

Not getting paid benefits
Your benefits may change, be delayed or even stopped, meaning you can’t cover your bills and living costs. You might not be claiming all the benefits available to you.

Low income
If you live on a low income you are more likely to get into debt over the long term. Unexpected costs eat into your weekly budget so that you can’t afford the essentials and find that you can’t get by without borrowing money.

Unexpected costs
Having to replace a washing machine or have the car fixed can be a huge hit to a tight budget.

Spending money you don’t have
You might want to get a special present for a child or loved one, treat yourself to new clothes or go on holiday, and find yourself with debt repayments you can’t afford.

Many people get into debt through gambling and become obsessed with ‘chasing losses’, convinced they can recoup the money they’ve lost. This is a sign of serious gambling addiction and leads to bigger and bigger debt.

Ignoring the bills
Mental ill health might make it difficult for you to think about and get help with your financial situation and you may ignore bills and paperwork that need to be dealt with, which can lead to debt.

Alcohol and drug misuse
Spending increasing amounts of money on alcohol or drugs can mean you end up having to borrow money and get into debt.

Pressure from outside agencies
You may feel pressure from a bank, loan company or even a loan shark, to take out another loan, perhaps to pay off an existing debt, or to get a credit card. Your credit card company might increase limits, making you feel that it’s okay to spend more than you can afford to repay.

  • That the situation is out of control.
  • That there is nothing you, or anyone else, can do about it.
  • Hopeless, especially if your debt is getting bigger.
  • Too ashamed and embarrassed to talk to anyone about your financial situation.
  • Guilty – blaming yourself for your situation, even if it has been caused by something out of your control such as job loss or ill health. 

Debt can be extremely worrying and may cause you to feel, behave or think in ways that are unfamiliar to you. This is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean you are suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder.

What steps can I take to feel less worried about my debt?

It’s normal to feel worried or low when you’re in debt, but there are things you can do to help you feel less stressed about your situation.

If you have a mental health problem that affects your ability to repay your debts or that has arisen as result of being in debt, you may want to share this with your creditors (the people you are in debt to) and your money adviser if you have one. They should take this into account in their dealings with you.

Whatever your debt situation, the sooner you get to grips with it, the sooner you will resolve it.

The first thing is to talk to someone you trust – a friend, relative, colleague or mental health worker. Sharing will make you feel less worried, more hopeful and they may be able to advise you about who to get in touch with for help.

Money advisers are experts in tackling debt and can give you advice and support. Make sure you find an adviser who is free of charge, confidential and independent.

First, decide what kind of help you want from an adviser:

  • Advice only – these services will assess your needs and guide you through the things you need to do. They will not take-action for you.
  • Advice and representation – these services will advise you and do the work for you, including negotiating with any creditors.
  • Face-to-face advice – you may find it easier to talk to someone in person. Be aware that these services are popular and it can be difficult to get an appointment.
  • Telephone advice – this may suit you if you have mobility problems, caring responsibilities, live in a rural area or find it difficult to leave your home and meet people in person.
  • Internet advice – some services offer online, interactive and individual advice.

What will a money adviser do? They will:

  • talk with you to find out what the problems are and help you to sort out the most important ones to be dealt with first.
  • help you to create a budget planner – they may be able to help you find ways to increase your income or reduce your expenditure.
  • give you advice on how to deal with the debt, including bankruptcy, negotiating with creditors and any other arrangements you have organised yourself.
  • advise you on other sources of help or options.

They may also be able to:

  • help you to negotiate with creditors;
  • help you to fill in forms such as claiming social security benefit;
  • represent you at court hearings concerning your debt.

Getting support

If you feel worried or unsure about going to see a money adviser by yourself, ask a friend, relative or someone you trust to come along with you, even if only for the first session.

When you are faced with debt it can be difficult to know what to pay first. Knowing the difference between a priority bill from a non-priority debt will help you.  

Priority bills

Priority bills are where the consequences of not paying them are greater than the consequences of not paying others. For example, if you don’t pay your rent or your mortgage then you could lose your home. You must always pay these before your other debts. Priority bills include:

  • Mortgage repayments and loans secured on your home
  • Rent
  • Council tax
  • Certain payments ordered by the courts
  • Child support and maintenance
  • Tax, VAT or National Insurance
  • TV license

Non-priority debts

The consequences of failing to pay non-priority debts are usually less serious than for priority debts.

However, it is possible that your creditors (the people that you owe money to) may take enforcement action against you if you do not pay them. This could result in your debt being passed to a debt collection agency and a county court judgment (CCJ) being made against you. A CCJ could affect your credit rating. Non-priority debts include:

  • Credit or store card debts
  • Some hire purchase (HP) agreements
  • Unsecured bank and payday loans (these are loans that are not secured against your home)
  • Historic utility debts (gas, electricity or water)

Repay the debt
If you have any available income, you can make a repayment offer (but only one which you can realistically afford). In this instance a creditor should be asked to freeze any interest on the debt.

‘Park’ the debt
If you have very little available income, you can make a small/token repayment for non-priority debts (e.g. £1) or ask for payment suspension.

‘Full and final’ repayments
Creditors may accept a lump sum offer which is smaller than the original debt.

Write-off the debt
Whilst not standard practice, some creditors will write off the debt when a person has mental health problems.

Debt management plan
You make a single monthly payment to a debt management agency which then pays several creditors on your behalf. Please note, you may have to pay a fee for this.

In England, ‘Individual Voluntary Arrangements’ involve you paying agreed amounts over 3–5 years. The remaining debts are written off. This is an option to consider if you are able to make large payments. This is a useful option if you have assets to protect such as a house/car and if you have enough surplus income to repay some, but not all, of your debt.

Debt Relief Orders (DROs)
In England, this is a form of insolvency for people with very low incomes and/or very few assets. Only an accredited money adviser can apply for a DRO. This is the most popular and accessible form of debt solution if you do not have any assets to protect that are worth over £1,000 (i.e. car) and have less than £50 a month surplus income.  If you have debts of less than £20,000 then a DRO is always preferable to bankruptcy as it is much cheaper to apply for (£90 for DRO in comparison with bankruptcy that costs £680) They both have the same effect on your credit rating and a DRO lasts for 12 months.

This is an option if you owe a large amount of money and don’t have any assets. Bankruptcy lasts for up to a year (with restricted access to financial services). After this, debts are usually written off. However, the bankruptcy is registered with credit agencies for six years and can make it hard to get financial services in the future.

Remember that money advisers are the experts and can help you to work out what are your priority and non-priority debts.

Feeling low or worried is a normal response when you’re struggling with debt.

Face your fears
Talk to someone about your situation. This initially might be a friend, colleague or family member, then you may want to seek professional help from a money adviser. If you find you are avoiding doing certain things or losing confidence because of your debt worries, try to confront the situation early to stop it getting on top of you and get support.

Stay active
Keep seeing your friends and family, keep working on your CV and try to do some form of exercise. If you’re feeling low, physical activity can improve your mood and there are lots of free things you can do to keep fit – going for a walk, doing some gardening or turning the music on and having a dance.

Don’t overdo it on the alcohol
You may find you are drinking more if you are struggling with debt, perhaps because you’re unemployed and have a lot of free time, or because you’re using alcohol to try and stop feelings of anxiety. Alcohol will not help you to deal with your problems and could actually make the situation worse.

Stick to your daily routine
Look after your general mental and physical health by getting up at your normal time and sticking to your usual routine. Loss of routine can affect your eating habits and sleep. If you have more free time, learn some new low cost healthy recipes, good for your budget, your confidence and your health.

What can I do about my cost of living worries?

The cost of living is at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment. High energy bills, rising food prices, pressure on wages – it’s a really worrying time for many.

The good news is, lots of support has been put in place to help and there are positive steps you can take to help you feel more in control, worry less and get help if you need it.

Panic and fear can result in poor decision making. Give yourself some breathing space so you can think calmly about your situation. Speak to someone you trust before taking any action.

This will simply delay the time when you have to deal with your problems. The sooner you can get to grips with the situation, the sooner you will be able to get help and start to feel more in control.

Be positive and decide ‘Today is the day I will take control and make a plan.’

By resolving to do whatever you can – however small the steps – you are back in control and will start to feel less anxious and worried.

Constant worry only makes the situation worse, increasing your anxiety, reducing your ability to think clearly, making it hard to sleep and impacting your health and wellbeing.

Set aside specific time to worry. Write down your worries and empty your head of everything that is causing you anguish. Consider all of your worries and whether there is anything you can do to ease them. Think rationally about your financial situation. Research what support is available and make a plan to access this. Engage with your worries positively and logically instead of in panic mode and you may find you can resolve some of those worries.

Whilst it’s important to stay informed, too much negative news and ‘doom-scrolling’ can become overwhelming.

Stick to one trusted news source and cut down on the time you spend on social media and watching the news.

The City of Doncaster Council website has lots of information on what financial support is available. Check the website of your utility supplier for their latest information.

Don’t suffer on your own. Sometimes simply talking through your worries can help, whether it’s to a friend, loved one, a colleague or professional services. It can help to unburden and allow you to see the situation more clearly.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed of asking for help.

In the midst of anxiety and worry you can often reach for any solution that will give you some peace of mind. However, it’s important that any financial decisions you make are the right ones, that work for you and won’t cause more problems in the long run.

Be very cautious about taking on extra debt, such as loans or credit cards, and be sure you’ve budgeted appropriately. Speak to a financial planner, a trusted loved one or an independent third party to ensure you’ve taken action that is workable.

Take time to look over all your options and don’t be pressured into making snap decisions which could negatively affect you later on.

The cost of living crisis is not a personal failure. The external events which have created this problem are beyond our control. You haven’t failed. You are not a bad person.

Try to get some respite from your anxiety and worry through gentle escapism such as reading a book or getting out for a walk.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. None of us are superhuman and we’re all impacted by the situation we’re facing. You don’t need to suffer alone.

Concerned about someone else and their debt?

Often people in debt will not talk about it or ask for help until they get to a tipping point, such as an unexpected expense they can’t afford or a dramatic change in circumstances. Worrying about debt can have a huge impact on mental and physical health.

If you are worried about someone being in debt, here are some things to look for and ways you can support them.

Past debt. If you have been in debt before, especially at a young age, it can be difficult to escape from. A common debt is an overdraft which can be tough to get out of when your income doesn’t increase but your costs do.

A recent loss of income. This might be because of physical or mental illness, recently having had a baby, being made redundant, getting divorced or being bereaved.

Changes in behaviour. The person may seem anxious, withdrawn, secretive, low or depressed. They may not want to socialise, avoid seeing or speaking to you, or seem distracted. They may be secretive, avoiding opening bills and talking about their finances. They may avoid a social situation where spending money is involved.

Over spending or reduced spending. You might notice they’ve reduced their spending such as going on fewer holidays or eating out less. Or they might be overspending, buying more than they normally do or putting purchases on a credit or store card. They may begin to sell personal belongings to get some money.

Understand that people in debt often feel ashamed of their situation and withdraw from the people who are close to them to avoid having to talk about it. Whilst they may be pushing you away, this is actually the time when they really need your support.

Talk. Getting someone to talk about their debt is the first step in tackling it. Listen to them without judgement and help them to research local support services. Let them know they’re not alone, that they can get help to manage the debt. Online forums can be helpful so they can talk to other people in similar situations.

Don’t lend them large amounts of money. Whilst this comes from wanting to help your friend or loved one, it can put you in financial difficulty and damage your relationship. Don’t agree to be a financial guarantor on a loan. Instead, explain that you are there to help and support them and that there are professional people and services that can help them get their debt in order.

Make a realistic financial plan. Together you could explore ways for them to earn additional money or to reduce their spending in order to help with their debt. Encourage them to get some confidential professional debt advice.

Local Support

Find local debt support around Doncaster

Tel: 0344 499 4137


Citizens Advice Doncaster Borough offers free, confidential and impartial advice and campaign on big issues affecting people’s lives.

Local Authority providing more information and support on the cost of living including Money Management and Debt Advice, Benefits, Personal Budgets.

Please visit for more details

National support organisations

See what national support is available for debt.


Specialising in debt counselling for people in financial difficulty, including those facing bankruptcy or insolvency.

Services include Job Clubs, Fresh Start groups and Life Skills courses.


Mental Health UK, in partnership with Money Advice, have launched their new Cost of Living Hub to help those who might be feeling the strain as the cost of living continues to increase. Here you will find information about how you can maintain your mental wellbeing at this time, alongside information on how to manage your money as your bills rise.


Practical tips on managing your money and improving your mental health.

Tel: 0800 138 7777

Typetalk: 18001 0800 915 4622

WhatsApp: add 07701 342744 to your Whatsapp and send us a message



Online free resources for advice and guides to help improve your finances, tools and calculators to help keep track and plan ahead and support over the phone and online. Phone support available Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

Tel: 0808 808 4000


Independent charity dedicated to providing free debt advice by phone and online to people across the UK. Expert debt advisers who are supportive and trained to a high standard. Committed to providing free, impartial and confidential debt advice.

Phone support available Monday to Friday 9am–8pm, Saturday 9:30am–1pm.


Advice and information on how to cope with money worries.

Tel: 0800 280 2816


Monday to Friday 8am–8pm, Sat 9am–3pm

Free debt management service and advice guides on budgeting and alternative debt solutions.

Tel: 0800 138 1111


Monday to Friday 8am–8pm, Saturday 8am–4pm

Provides the UK’s most comprehensive debt advice service. Helping people with debt problems take back control of their finances. Offers services including advice, budget and debt management plans.

Tel: 0808 802 2000


Monday to Friday 09:00–17:30

National charity that helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and support services.

Support Apps

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