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"It's easy to lose control in a very short space of time"

Carol had been in work since she was 16 years old. She'd been working as a freelance IT contractor/business analyst until 2009 when the recession hit.

Carol explained: " As a contractor, you always keep some money aside because you expect to be out of work at some point, so I used to keep around three months of money as a buffer, but the period of unemployment just went on. I tried to stretch the money out, but I ended up being out of work for five months.

"I was fortunate that my sister helped out with a couple of mortgage payments, and a friend tried to help me out with some bills – I was just trying to keep a roof over my head and keep myself fed. I had to buy some things on credit cards and borrow money, assuming that when I was back at work I would be earning the same money that I earned before and be able to pay it back easily. 

"But of course that didn’t happen. Even when I was fortunate enough to be back in work, I had to take a fixed-term contract which paid a much lower wage than what I’d been used to earning as a day rate contractor. I wasn’t earning enough to clear anything; I was barely keeping my head above water, let alone being able to pay off any debt that I’d accumulated over that time."

Pressure from debt collectors left Carol terrified

Carol delayed asking for help, hoping she could handle her difficult situation herself but struggled to keep on top of her finances as the pressure from her creditors increased.

She continued: "Unfortunately, because I’m on an interest-only mortgage, I couldn’t get any help from the state at all. I tried to avoid ‘signing on’ for as long as possible, but did have to for about a month.

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"During this time, I was getting phone calls from some of my creditors every half an hour, 24 hours a day with an automated message insisting that I call them and find a way to repay. I had to change my phone number. 

"I had debt collectors turning up at the door – I live alone and was terrified most of the time. I was doing everything I could, searching for jobs every day, and I didn’t know what they thought they could achieve from turning up like that.

"Even when I managed to get a job, I was still trying to dig myself out of a hole and with everything that was going on I just fell apart. I couldn’t take any more, and was signed off sick with stress. Finally, I told a friend the whole story and she said I had to get help, as there seemed to be no way out and I just wasn’t coping."

Talking to a friend helped her get the help she needed

After confiding in her friend, Carol contacted our debt advice team for free, confidential and impartial advice.

"When I found StepChange Debt Charity, they didn’t want anything from me except the truth. When I spoke to the first advisor on the phone I was in a bit of a state, but she made me feel a lot better and that I wasn’t being judged in any way, which made a huge difference. I’m now paying my debts back in an affordable way via a Debt Management Plan, and have about four years until I’ll be debt-free.

"It wasn’t a case of I could pay but didn’t want to – I wanted to, but couldn’t. I think a lot of people assume as soon as you’re in debt that it’s your fault, that you’ve overspent, that you’ve not managed your money and didn’t plan properly. 

"But that wasn’t my case at all - I just didn’t expect it to last as long as it did. I would class myself as a hard-working professional, but this still happened to me unexpectedly. Until you’ve been in that situation yourself you can't appreciate how easy it is to lose control in a very short space of time.”

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