How to get out of debt - a guide

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Paying off debt isn’t always easy, but it’s worth persevering. Not only can being in debt affect your mental wellbeing, but it may also affect your savings goals and future plans. The good news is there are some simple strategies you can follow to help you get out of debt quickly and back onto a more stable financial footing. Read on to learn more about the best way to pay off debt and what your options are if you can’t afford to pay.

Key takeaways
  • Types of debt: There are two different types of debt; secured and unsecured debt

  • Money management: It might be a better idea to pay off any existing debts before you start to save money

  • Debt tips: There are five effective ways to pay off your debt

What are the different types of debt?

Debt can be caused by many different things, and is often the result of credit card spending, personal loans and hire purchase agreements. The below chart takes a look at some of the most common causes of household debt in the UK.


There are two different types of debt; secured and unsecured debt. 

Secured debt means that a lender will require you to place property, or something of high value, as collateral in the event you can’t repay your debt. This is why it is called ‘secured’ debt.  If you’re no longer able to repay your loan, the lender might take possession of or force you to sell your collateral to pay off your debt. 

The most common type of debt is unsecured debt. Unsecured debt includes overdrafts, payday loans, personal loans and credit cards. It doesn’t require collateral, just your promise to repay the loan. With an unsecured loan, you borrow money from a lender and make regular payments until it is paid back in full. Unsecured debt typically has higher interest ratesbecause of the lack of security and charges should you fail to make a payment. Failing to make repayments could also adversely affect your credit rating and may lead to insolvency or bankruptcy.

Problem debt vs. managed debt

When describing debt, you might hear the terms ‘problem’ and ‘managed’ debt. These terms describe the type of debt you have, based on the likelihood of being able to pay it back.

Problem debt is used to describe a situation in which you are ‘in over your head’ with debt, and your total debt payments equate to more than your income, meaning you are struggling to pay it off. 

Many people have managed debt. Managed debt includes things like the mortgage and loan payments you might make each month and any debt you can afford to pay back.

What’s the best way to pay off debt?

The best way to pay off debt is to firstly consider which of your debts is the most expensive. You can do this looking at how much you have left to repay and the interest rate. In most cases, the most expensive debt has the highest interest rate, and settling this type of debt first can provide more relief.

The quickest way to pay off debt

One of the quickest ways to pay off debt is to prioritise paying off the one that’s costing you the most money, which is normally the one that has the highest rate of interest. 

If your debts have similar interest rates, you could either tackle the largest amount first to make some headway into paying it off, or the smallest amount if it will give you a quicker sense of accomplishment and motivation when you make the final payment more quickly.

Is it better to pay off debt or save money?

Choosing whether to pay off debt or save money can be difficult because they are both important. However, it can make more sense to start by paying off your debt, because it’s likely to be accruing more interest than you would be earning on your savings. 

If you find yourself struggling with debt and have an emergency (or rainy day) fund set aside, you might want to consider paying off your debt with this fund to avoid building up interest on your debt.  

Can I get out of debt and save at the same time?

If you want to know how to get out of debt and save at the same time, there are a few things to consider. As we mentioned earlier, it’s probably best to prioritise paying off your most expensive debt first, like credit cards or store cards. 

However, if you do find yourself with some extra cash, you might want to consider opening a savings account that pays a competitive rate of interest. Fixed rate bonds tend to offer the most attractive rates, but if you want the flexibility to withdraw your savings whenever you need, an easy access savings account may be a better option.

How can I get out of debt?

There are many ways to get out of debt*, but the most common approaches include consolidating debts and readjusting your budget.

You could readjust your household budget and create a new budget plan. This will help you pay off your debt earlier and more effectively track your spending and handle your finances. With an organised budget and a commitment to sacrificing luxuries or nice-to-haves, you might find you can free up more money than you thought possible. That way, you can allocate more of your monthly income to paying off the debt. Learn more about how to stop spending money with our handy guide.

Debt consolidation means taking out a new loan to pay off existing debts. This might be the best way for you to pay debt if you have a loan or credit card with a high interest rate and payments that you might be struggling to keep up with. You could apply for a loan to consolidate these debts and make your finances more manageable.

Five tips to get out of debt

Five tips to get out of debt quickly

If you’re looking for practical ideas on how to get out of debt, consider the following tips.

1. Create a budget plan

Creating a budget plan is a good first step to take, as it allows you to monitor your monthly income and expenses accurately. It helps you understand where your money is going every month, and narrows down which expenses are essential and which can be eliminated. By eliminating any expenses that aren’t a necessity, you could free up money that can go towards paying off your debts. 

2. Pay more than your minimum balance

To positively impact your debt, it’s a good idea to pay more than the minimum payment requirements. If you find that you are financially able to do so, paying more off each month could mean that you pay off your debts faster, and you’ll pay less interest. 

3. Pay in cash rather than by credit card

It’s easy to incur debt by spending on your credit card. Try to avoid this temptation so you’re not increasing your debt, and you may gain more control over your finances and channel more funds into paying off your debt. If you can stop using your credit card, you may also find it easier to pay off existing credit card debt. 

4. Sell unwanted items and cancel subscriptions

Selling unused or unwanted items could generate money that you can then use to pay off your debt. You might also find that unused subscriptions are draining your finances without you even realising. Cancelling these subscriptions could be a quick and easy way to free up more money to pay off your debts. Discover more ways to save money on a tight budget here.

5. Remove your credit card information from online stores

If you often shop online, you may have saved your credit card information at an online store to make your transactions faster. You could avoid the temptation of online shopping by simply deleting your information and unsubscribing from any store emails.

If you’re in a lot of debt and you can no longer manage it, you may need to take a more advanced step, such as one of the following options. These ways of getting out of debt are last resorts, and it’s best to come up with a plan that could help you pay off your debt fast, before you get to that stage.

How to pay off debt quickly

Using simple maths, the fastest way to pay off debt is to use the ‘avalanche’ method. The avalanche method helps you get out of debt quickly because you start by listing all your debts in order of highest to lowest interest rates, and then make the minimum payment on each. 

After you’ve made the minimum payment on all your debts, use any other spare money you have to pay off the debt with the largest amount of interest. Doing this every month is probably the quickest way to get out of debt.

I can’t pay my debts - what options do I have?

If you don’t have any savings or enough money to pay off your debt, you still have some options available to you. These include debt management plans, individual voluntary arrangements, administration orders, debt relief orders and bankruptcy orders. Exploring each option below will help you decide which might work for you. 

Debt Management Plan

A debt management plan is an agreement between you and your creditors to pay off all of your debts. Usually, debt management plans are used when you can only afford to pay a small amount each month, or when you’re experiencing problems but will be able to make repayments within a few months. You can either arrange to do this yourself or through a licensed debt management company on your behalf. It’s important to be aware of any fees and not enter into an agreement before you know the details. While it might be more time-consuming, it’s often more cost-effective for you to make arrangements directly with your creditors rather than going through a management company.

Individual Voluntary Arrangement

An individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) is an agreement you reach with your creditors to pay part of or all of your debts. This requires you to make regular payments to an insolvency practitioner who will divide this money between your creditors. 

Administration Order

An administration order may be the best option if you have a county court or High Court judgement against you that you can’t afford to pay. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can make a monthly repayment to the court who will divide it between your creditors. 

Debt Relief Order

Debt relief orders are another way to help you get out of debt, providing you owe a lender less than £20,000, don’t have much spare income and don’t own your home. A debt relief order stipulates that creditors cannot recover their money without the court’s permission, and incurs a fee of £90. You may be discharged from your debts after 12 months if you are still unable to pay.

Bankruptcy Order

A bankruptcy order** may be your only option if you cannot pay off your debts. To pursue this process, you will have to make an application which is considered by an adjudicator, who will ultimately decide if you should be made bankrupt. During a 12-month period of bankruptcy, any non-essential assets may be used to pay your creditors. 

At the end of this period, most debts are written off, however, it’s important to be aware that declaring bankruptcy has a serious, long-term effect on your credit rating. Bankruptcy will remain on your credit file for a further five years after your debts have been written off, and during this time it will be extremely difficult to get credit. This could make it hard to run a business, get a mortgage or even open a new bank account.

Does being in debt affect my credit score?

Debt can affect your entire financial wellbeing, including your credit score. If you miss a payment, for example, there’s a chance your lender may report it to the credit bureaus. If you carry high balances or are at or near your credit limit on your credit cards on a monthly basis, this may also negatively affect your credit score.

Emotional support with debt

In general, coping with financial worries and debt can have a negative impact on your mental health. If you’re struggling to pay off your credit card debt, and it’s affecting your wellbeing, seek professional help. You can turn to some services for support, to speak to those who understand what you’re going through and who can offer advice. Services you can contact include:

Mind – Mental Health Charity

Phone line: 0300 123 3393

StepChange – Debt Charity

Helpful and free information about paying off debt, as well as phone lines and chat services for assistance and support.