A reader asked:
For 10 years now I’ve been racking up debt and then burying my head in the sand. I have had letters upon letters from debt collectors, I just bin them all. I’m sure I’ve had a few CCJs as well. I haven’t had any new credit or anything for three years.
I now have a new job and more disposable income – not a lot, but better than benefits!
Is there anywhere I can look to see exactly what I owe and who too? Can a debt adviser help? I want to find out so I can sort it all out once and for all.
You would think this should be simple! But there isn’t a complete list anywhere – or even two lists that you can put together and be sure that is all of them. A debt adviser doesn’t have any special sources.
It is easy to make a good start on this though by getting your credit record – and for some people this will give a full list.
Get your credit records
The best place to start is your credit reports from the three credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Not all creditors report to all three agencies, so they may have different data… and you want to know all of it. So that means checking all three,
You can check your credit records for free – there is never any need to pay for this. See The best free credit reports for how to do this.
These reports will show three things that you are interested in:
- debts still with the original lender – here you should recognise the name of the bank, card lender, catalogue, utility company etc.
If you see a debt that surprises you – a credit card or a mobile firm you have never used, you need to ask the lender for details about this to find out more. This may not be your debt at all or it could be a case of identity theft – but just ask for more details saying you do not recognise it.
- debts that have been sold to a debt collector – here you may not recognise the name. There should also be a debt showing under the original lender, but that should now show as settled – this may help you to work out that this debt you don’t recognise used to be that credit card or that loan.
- County Court Judgements (CCJs) – these are debts where the creditor went to court and got a CCJ.
A CCJ may also show as a defaulted debt, so if you are making a complete list, don’t count this as two debts, it’s just the same debt showing twice.
If this is the first time you knew about a CCJ, perhaps because you moved, then read Found out you have a CCJ? What can you do?
Old debts that have dropped off your credit records
Hard to get a list of these
Debts drop off your credit records six years after they have been settled. You don’t care about those as you no longer owe that creditor any money, although if they sold the debt to a debt collector you now owe that instead.
But debts also drop off six years after a default date. This happens whether they have been paid, you are still paying them or you haven’t made any payments since the default. CCJs also drop off six years after the judgment date, paid or not.
There is no easy way to get a complete list of these old defaulted debts and CCJs but you can often find some of them:
- look back through your bank statements to see if there are payments and try to find some from there;
- look back through old emails from lenders or debt collectors.
And you can start opening, and keeping, your post from now on!
Some of these old debts still matter, some don’t
You may want to start repaying all the old debts, but unless you have a lot of money, it’s better to sort out the debts you do have to pay and ignore the ones you don’t!
Some of these old debts may now be statute-barred – so old they are unenforceable in court. See Common questions about statute barred debt:
- if a debt is statute barred, you do not need to pay it;
- if you have made any payments in the last six years, this will have “reset the clock” so the six year started again. So any debts you are making token payments to after six years won’t show on your credit records but they will never become statute-barred;
- And statute-barring is complicated. Read that article which explains why you may not be sure a debt is statute-barred even if you know it’s been more than six years since you paid it.
If you are contacted about a CCJ which is over six years old and which you have never made any payments to, phone National Debtline on 0808 808 4000 for advice.
Although CCJs do not become statute-barred, it is much harder for a creditor to enforce them after six years. Again talk to National Debtline if you are contacted about an old CCJ.
Debts that are not reported to the CRAs
The third set of debts never appear on credit reports.
- Klarna and other buy now pay later debts – they should all be pretty recent though, so you should have records (emails?) of those;
- rent arrears – you probably know about those!
- local council debts such as council tax arrears, parking penalty notices.
- government debts such as benefit overpayments, tax debts, magistrates court fines;
- some utilities;
- other debts such as parking fines, money you owe for nursery fees, money owed to builders etc – these won’t appear on your credit record unless the creditor goes to court for a CCJ, which will show.
There isn’t much you can do to track down these debts if you can’t remember some of them.
One important exception is council tax arrears. If you think you might owe any, ask your council, not just for the current year but ask if there are any older debts as they keep them separate for each tax year. Council tax arrears are priority debts, so finding out the details is essential
You can get detail for DWP and HMRC benefits overpayments by filling out a Subject Access Request. This can take up to 4 weeks, but you get a complete list (unless they are investigating any of them for possible fraud). Ask for specific benefits and information relating to any overpayments between two dates:
- HMRC (Tax Credits, Child Benefit)
- DWP (Universal Credit, Income Support, Housing Benefit (if fraudulent), some other common benefits and they also sometimes collect other debts eg Tax Credits and third party debts)
For the rest, it again comes down to opening your post and seeing who contacts you.
What do you do when you have a pretty good list?
What you do next depends on what the debts add up to and how much spare income you have. This is where a debt adviser can be very useful, helping you assess the options.
The reader who asked this question said she didn’t have a lot of disposable income. And of course in 2023, inflation may eat away at what there is…
There is some good news:
- with defaulted debts, all interest should have been stopped;
- if the debts have been sold to debt collectors, they may well accept a low amount in full and final settlement offers; and
- for loans, credit cards and catalogues, if the debt has been sold to a debt collector, the debt collector may not have the right paperwork. See When to ask for the CCA agreement for a debt for details about this and why it matters.
So one approach may be to start saving up the spare disposable income each months and then wait to see who contacts you. Ask for the CCA agreement if that is relevant, and then offer a low settlement offer.
But if there is a lot of debt, including recent CCJs so your credit record is wrecked for a long while, and if you have little spare income, it may be better to talk to a debt adviser about your options. Getting a clean start through insolvency may be the best plan.