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Let's Talk About Debt: A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved

Jan 25, 2008
When people don't talk about their debt problems, they're missing out on support and advice from family, friends and professional debt specialists.

As a nation, we love to talk. At home, on the bus, at work, on the phone: even when we're not actually talking, we're texting, e-mailing and chatting through blogs, instant messaging and social networking sites.

It seems there's no end to the ways we'll communicate - and no limit to the things we'll talk about. Or is there? When fool.co.uk asked over 1,500 people about attitudes to money, a full 66% felt it was a personal subject and best kept private. 30% even felt that it was rude to talk about money.

Yet finance is a huge part of our lives. If people weren't so interested in money, the media wouldn't be so full of stories about making, managing, saving and spending it. It's as though we're eager to listen, but not to talk.

Maybe keeping quiet about our own finances is just part of our national identity. Perhaps we feel like we're boasting when we share good news, or looking for pity when we share bad news.

Silence is golden, but...

According to uSwitch, around 23% of the UK's residents say their borrowing is unmanageable or nearly so. And Unbiased.co.uk reports that over two and a half million don't even know how much they owe!

If we were better at talking about our debts, there's a good chance we'd be better at managing them. After all, pretty much everyone has some kind of debt, whether it's a mortgage, a loan or an outstanding bill. The more people keep their debts to themselves, the less they'll learn from the experiences of others.

If they were more open about their finances, they might be surprised to find out how many friends and acquaintances are in the same situation. They might feel less embarrassed, and pick up some useful tips on budgeting, debt management and legal rights, or find out what '25% APR', 'payment holiday' and 'debt consolidation' actually mean in real life.

They might also act more quickly when they need professional debt advice or help, and that's something that everyone would recommend, from government representatives and charities to public bodies like the Legal Services Commission.

Learning to loosen lips & tighten belts

Another thing we're all agreed on is the need for more education - a particularly important kind of communication. A recent report from youth charity Rainer discovered that 77% of the UK's under-21s already had experience of being in debt, with one in five passing the 10,000 mark.

So it's encouraging to see moves by the government and industry professionals to prepare tomorrow's adults for an increasingly complex financial world. From 2008, for example, the core GCSE mathematics curriculum will include personal financial education, helping pupils learn to manage their finances and live within their means.

And the Association of Business Recovery Professionals, known as R3, has developed case studies and other classroom materials designed to enhance pupils' financial judgement. As Insolvency Practitioners, its members have seen too many people overwhelmed by debt, and they're going into schools to share their experiences with 16-18 year-old pupils, teaching them about credit, debt and money management.

People all over the world are affected by debt, but it seems that UK residents are particularly likely to suffer in silence. Hopefully, initiatives like these could help us get over our reluctance to talk about debt. They might be aimed at youngsters, but they could easily benefit parents - at least the parents who ask "what did you learn at school today?"
About the Author
Melanie Taylor is associated with Debt Advisers Direct. For more information about debt advice, debt consolidation, debt management, Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs), basic bank accounts with a debit card facility, loans and remortgages, please visit http://www.debtadvisersdirect.co.uk/
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