Consumer debt can be hard to get out of on your own, and many people wait years before they ask for help, racking up years' worth of late charges and interest along the way. Whether you have been in debt for a couple of years or for your whole life, it's important to get credit counselling if your debt is out of control. Wondering if you need help? Here are five signs that you do:
1. Your back-end debt-to-income ratio exceeds 36 percent.
Your debt-to-income ratio refers to the amount of debt you have compared to your income. Your back-end debt-to-income ratio includes your credit cards and other consumer debts as well as many other bills you pay during a month including rent or mortgage, car payments, child support, student loans and other debts. This ratio does not include utility bills, groceries or spending money.
To calculate your debt to income ratio, add up your monthly debt obligations and divide your gross monthly income (monthly income before taxes) into that number. For example, if your monthly debt obligation is $3,000 and you earn $4,000 per month before taxes, your back-end debt-to-income ratio is 75 percent. Under 36 percent is considered healthy, and anything above that can be financially risky. If your ratio exceeds 36 percent, you should seek help from a credit counselling company.
2. You are experiencing severe stress related to your debts.
Financial worries give rise to stress in a lot of people, and in many cases, this stress leads to physical issues such as migraines, anxiety and even heart attacks. If your debt is keeping you awake at night, reducing your interest in fun activities and making you worry constantly about the future, debt-related stress is encroaching on your life. By talking with a debt counsellor, you can learn about options that make it easier to approach your debt and your life with less stress.
3. One of your creditors has taken you to court.
If you owe money to a creditor, a business or a landlord, that person can take you to court to claim the debt. A credit counsellor can help you deal with the ramifications of a legal case, and they can help you understand your options.
These professionals can also advise you whether or not bankruptcy may be the right option for you. If you file a bankruptcy petition, all legal action is stopped immediately until the bankruptcy courts have finished dealing with your case.
4. You are ignoring your debt.
Do you keep your phone on silent so you don't hear the incessant ringing as debt collectors try to reach you? Do you throw your mail away without opening it? Both of these activities are common for people who are so deeply in debt that they cannot bear to face it.
On a financial level, this is a dangerous strategy. Ignoring your bills does not make them go away. Instead, they are likely to be growing from both interest and late fees.
On a psychological level, refusing to face your debts is also dangerous. This is a type of denial. Denial involves ignoring something in an attempt to make it disappear, and this is a natural defense mechanism in a stressful situation. However, if this behavior is extended to the rest of your life, it can lead to serious psychological problems
5. You have been trying to get out of debt on your own, and nothing seems to work.
Many of the people who get help from a debt counsellor have been trying to get out of debt on their own for years. Unfortunately, if you can only afford to make the minimum payments, your debts are likely to remain basically the same size for years. A credit counsellor, however, helps you to work with your creditors to lower interest rates so that the payments you make have a bigger impact on the principle of the debt.