The stark figure – equating to £4,164 per person – emerged in research at the end of 2018 by MAS for Talk Money Week, a public awareness campaign designed to improve people’s money management skills.
Of those in a relationship, 29 per cent say their partner does not know about all the money they owe, and 5 per cent admit that their partner is completely in the dark about their debts.
Almost half (47 per cent) say their close friends don’t know they have any debts at all.
Credit cards accounted for the largest quantity of hidden debt (48 per cent), followed by personal loans from a bank or building society (17), an overdraft (16), money owed to friends and family (12) and store cards (11 per cent). Eight per cent of all those with debt hide payday loan debt.
Many say that they don’t want to burden others with their financial issues. For example, 51 per cent say they would prefer not to talk to their friends and family about it because they don’t want them to worry. Almost a quarter say they don’t have the confidence to speak to loved ones about their finances, and this is particularly the case for young people.
Almost half (46 per cent) of younger adults, aged 18-34, have had trouble sleeping as a result of thinking about their hidden debt.
Caroline Siarkiewicz, Acting Chief Executive at the MAS, says: “Sometimes it can be easier to pretend everything is alright and avoid opening up about our debt problems to escape the tough conversations. Not because we want to cause harm, but because we want to shelter those closest to us from our problems or are concerned about being judged. However, this rarely solves the issue. In fact, it often makes things worse.
“Debt can be a particularly difficult topic to broach, especially if you’ve fallen into a spiral and don’t know how to get out of it.
“But sharing a problem is the first step to solving it; it’s always better to be open with your loved ones when it comes to money.”
How to kick-start the M-word discussion
1 Go over your finances and understand what you need help with
Perhaps you feel so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to start. It’s important to take the first step – for example, asking a family member to look through your finances with you.
Gathering all the information you need together can also help. For example, if you are struggling to get a deposit together for a home, it will be easier to start the conversation if you know how much you’ll need to borrow. Once you’ve established all the facts, working out a plan will be much easier.
2 Be prepared to talk, but also be prepared
Understand and acknowledge the other person’s point of view. It’s only by listening that you’ll be clear on what’s important to the other person and be able to make a plan together. A calm exchange of views is a lot better than one person giving their point of view and not giving the other a chance to be heard.
3 Find a place where you feel comfortable talking
It may be that home isn’t the right place to have the discussion. A neutral location can often prove to be a good idea.
4 Feelings around money can be strong, but they don’t have to lead to arguments
It’s not unusual for families to argue about money. There can be a lot of intense feelings, but the important thing is to have a calm conversation about the issues. Imagine you were explaining the situation to a friend. Tell them how you feel rather than focusing on what they are doing wrong to avoid coming across as critical and accusatory.
5 Remember that talking about money can strengthen relationships
One in three couples did not talk at all about money before moving in together, but it’s never too late to start. Talking openly about money can help you to take shared responsibility in deciding how to handle your money, and make plans for the future. This can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
6 REACH AN AGREEMENT AND Make a FINANCIAL plan together
Reach an agreement about what to do next, and keep talking about it. Occasionally the relief of having talked about money is so overwhelming that people don’t mention it again, and don’t really convert words into action. Take the first step together and then keep talking about it.
Source: The Money and Pensions Service
This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Talking Money 2019 supplement.