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Debt Awareness Week Day 2: Creditors who shout the loudest aren't always the ones you should pay first

Day 2: Work out your priority debts

Having sorted through your bills and organised them into piles, the next step is to work out what to pay first. Once this is done, your debts should begin to feel more manageable. 

One of the biggest myths when it comes to debt is that you should pay back the creditors making the most noise, but there is a clear order when it comes to paying your bills. If you’re struggling to make payments to all your creditors, it’s important to be able to tune out the background commotion and focus on the priorities. 

Why are my creditors calling and sending me letters?

If you’ve fallen behind on payments to your creditors, you might find they contact you more regularly by phone or letter. This is a normal part of the debt collection process.

A common tactic some companies use to make people pay is to threaten to send someone to your house, which can be very distressing.

Here Allen, one of our web helpline advisors, talks about why some debts need to be paid first and why the threat to send someone to your home is usually empty…

Debt collection tactics

Just because a creditor is contacting you more frequently it doesn’t mean they're more important than the others. You should first focus on making sure your priority debts are paid, and then work out what you can pay towards any non-priority debts.

What are my priority debts?

You should always ensure you prioritise the bills that keep a roof over your head, keep you warm, and ensure there’s food in your cupboards. Everything else is secondary.

Credit cards, payday loans, unsecured loans, overdrafts and store cards are all non-priority debts. Priority debts include your mortgage or rent, utility bills, council tax, water bill and TV licence. 

There are a couple of reasons why these debts should be first on your list to deal with;

  • the consequences of not making the payments could be serious, or
  • it’s against the law to not make the payment, or
  • the debt is for a product or service which meets basic living requirements.

The graphic below shows what your priority debts should be and what could happen if you fall behind with these payments. priority bills and conseque

The advice in this graphic applies to debts owed in England and Wales only. For the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland please visit our Court Action pages.

Coming up tomorrow

On Day 3 of the programme you'll get to know your outgoings inside out and back to front. You'll find out how to put together an effective budget and use it to know where your money is going. 

If you can't wait until tomorrow you can skip ahead to Day 3 now.

If you do one thing today...

Identify which are your priority and your non-priority debts.

Yesterday: Work out what you owe

Today: What are priority debts?

Tomorrow: Skip ahead to tomorrow

Need help now?

If you need debt help now then go straight to our Debt Remedy tool for debt advice in 20 minutes.

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Read more

Find out more about facing up to debts on our MoneyAware blog:

What powers do your creditors actually have?

Why not paying your priorities is a danger sign of debt

Take one mindful minute...


As part of your 7 Days, 7 Ways journey, you can also learn more about mindfulness and the benefits it may have in your daily life. Visit Mental Health Foundation’s bemindful.co.uk for more information.

Day 2: Breathe in, breathe out.

If you’re curious as to how mindfulness can benefit you, this simple exercise can help.

Much of mindfulness centres around gentle observation of the present moment. A great starting point is to sit quietly and focus on your breath. You can do this for a minute or longer if you prefer. Tune into the sensations of your breathing, wherever you feel them. Focus only on the air moving in and out of your lungs without changing how you would normally breathe.

Try this exercise whenever your mind begins to feel crowded so you can regain and nurture a sense of natural calm.

Helping you become debt free...

“I wish to thank your staff for all the great help they gave me when I was in so much debt.
They were a pillar of support to me.” (Leslie, Essex)

Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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© StepChange Debt Charity 2018