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Festive Finances

As we put up our new calendars and open the first page of our diaries, many of us set ourselves a New Year’s Resolution, with the usual focus being on getting more exercise, drinking less alcohol or eating less meat. With the festive period often ending up a season of excess, this is understandable, but there is a more insidious side-effect to all this food and goodwill than the need to use that hole up on your belt.

The financial strain of Christmas is well known, with many having to save all year round to offer the perfect Christmas for their loved ones. Even if you’re not hosting a meal for 20, the pressure to provide gifts for friends and family alike is immense and all of this can lead to people taking on more than they can afford.

According to Citizens Advice Manchester, the last day of January is expected to be the busiest day of the year for people seeking help with their debts. Analysis of national data from the past 12 months reveals that on 31 January 2017 Citizens Advice helped 2,800 people, 30 per cent above the daily average. This means that one person sought help from Citizens Advice every 10 seconds.

But it’s not just Christmas overspend that’s the problem. The colder months lead to an increase in fuel costs and this means that those already on stretched budgets face the prospect of an incredibly tough start to the year. Debt and money problems can often lead to mental health problems too, none of which offers a particularly bright start to 2018 for those already struggling.

If you or someone you know is struggling in the post-Christmas period, it may be worth contacting Citizens Advice. Citizens Advice Manchester provide assistance to people seeking help for a wide variety of debt concerns, including council tax arrears, credit and store card debt, fuel and utility debts and unsecured personal loans.

Andy Brown, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Manchester, said: “There is a surge in demand for our debt advice towards the second half of January. Christmas in particular can take a heavy toll on people already struggling to make their money last and leave them with a debt burden in the New Year. But this needn’t become a crisis – problems can be taken care of if you seek advice early.”

To help people kick off 2018 on a stronger financial footing, Citizens Advice Manchester is sharing its six top tips to help people get their finances in order for the new year:

Make sure you’re getting everything you’re owed. It’s common for people to not realise that they are entitled to some kinds of benefits, which can make finances more of a struggle. Use a Benefits Calculator, or contact Citizens Advice Manchester, to check that you’re receiving everything you should.

Prioritise your debts. Bills which would cause you to lose your home or essential goods and services – such as your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax – are called priority debts, and should always be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe.

Work out how much you can pay. Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking away these from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards your debts. Citizens Advice budgeting tool can help.

Paying urgent debts. You may have several priority debts and can’t pay them all. Contact all your creditors to find out if you can negotiate on how much you pay, or when you pay them. Always pay first priority creditors who are taking action against you.

Paying non-priority debts. If you have any money left after paying priority debts, consider getting a free debt-management plan. You’ll make one monthly payment to the plan provider, who will handle paying your creditors. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay.

If you can’t pay your debts. If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your debts seek advice from us straight away.

It can be tempting to opt for the quick fix offered by different payday loan schemes, but time and time again these seem to add to the problem rather than solve it. By contacting Citizens Advice you can be sure of free, non-judgemental, impartial advice which will offer you a genuine chance of tackling your debts and easing the burden of money problems as you begin 2018.

For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice Manchester on 03444 111 222.

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