debt: warning signs & what to do

Debt can easily creep up on us. Here, we reveal the early warning signs to watch out for. We also explain how our dedicated debt service can help you proactively tackle your debt, as well as share best practice advice on getting to grips with your financial issues.

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Debt can impact us all. It can easily creep up on us too. Before you know it, what was a manageable financial situation has spiralled out of control. You’re struggling to sleep; you can’t stop worrying and you feel ashamed and guilty about the situation you’re now in. 

The positive news is there are decisions you can take and measures you can implement that can help set you on the right path to tackling your debt. In order to do this, you must: 

1. identify the scale of your financial difficulties

The first step in tackling your financial difficulties is being honest with yourself. This involves asking some straightforward, but potentially difficult, questions, including: 

  • Do I have a problem? 
  • Who do I owe money to? 
  • How much do I owe? 
  • What should my budget look like? 
  • Which debt needs paying first? 

While having a more clear understanding of your financial issues is a key step towards assessing the scale of your problems, it can also make your situation feel incredibly daunting. However, there are certain tell-tale signs that can help alert you to the situation. Recognising any of the following signs early on, can potentially enable you to tackle your financial issues sooner. 

2. spot the early warning signs

The main debt indicators to watch out for: 

  • I can’t put a figure on how much I owe
  • I rely on credit to cover my living costs
  • the amount I owe is rising
  • I’ve been contacted by a debt collection agency
  • I’m making minimum payments    
  • there are arguments in my house about money
  • I sometimes hide purchases from my partner
  • my credit cards are near the limit
  • I have no savings left
  • I skip paying bills some months or pay them late
  • I’ve started to use payday loans
  • my debt worries interfere with my job and/or home life
  • I can’t sleep because I’m worry about my finances
  • I haven’t got any emergency savings
  • I don’t open my bills when they arrive

read our five step guide to tackling your debt

debt toolkit


our benefits calculator can help you understand what benefits you may be entitled to

access it here

3. find out how much you owe

It can be easy to lose track of how much you owe when you have multiple debts. But knowing exactly how much you owe is pivotal to addressing your financial issues. Plus, once you know the full extent of your debt, you can properly budget for it. 

You can easily find out what you owe by checking your credit file, which takes just a matter of minutes. It’s also something you can do for free too. For more on your credit score and how to improve it, read this article.  

4. contact us (and what to expect when you do) 

caba are here to support you if you are an ACA student, an existing or former ICAEW member or a close family dependent. Whatever your financial worries, big or small, you’re not alone. We’ll support you so you can access the best options. 

We’ll listen and offer advice and guidance in a safe and supportive environment.  And if we aren’t able to help you ourselves, we’ll point you in the right direction to one of our partner organisations who can. Either way, we simply want you to access the best options quickly and easily so you can carry on.  

As an independent charity, we don’t disclose any of the information you share with us to the ICAEW or your employer.  

Everybody’s circumstances are different, but generally speaking, we: 

  • provide you with a dedicated debt support officer - this is your main point of contact for however long you need us for - two weeks or two years - that person is there for you to reach out to and provide you with the dedicated debt support you need
  • check your benefits entitlement - one of the first things we always do, is trying to work out whether you might be able to access more income. Many people are entitled to benefits they don’t realise they’re entitled to, so we’ll carry out a benefits check for you. Additionally, you can check your benefit entitlements using our calculator here. At the same time, we also look into whether any areas of your expenditure can be reduced. For instance, if you can switch to a cheaper energy tariff
  • find the best options for you - we discuss various solutions, and the pros and cons of them, with you. Many people automatically fear they will have to declare themselves bankrupt, when really there may be several other options that might be more appropriate. If we find that bankruptcy is the best option for you, we will talk you through how it works and clear up any common misconceptions, which include how it impacts your ICAEW membership

5. be proactive about managing your debt 

Tackling debt is achievable, especially if you have a clear strategy for dealing with it. There are numerous proactive measures you can take, including:  

  • contact your creditors - many people put this off because they are too embarrassed to admit they have financial problems. However, your creditors will be more sympathetic towards you if you explain your difficulties rather than simply stop making payments without any explanation or warning
  • assess the scale of your debt - find out exactly how much money you owe by checking your credit report (as mentioned above)
  • keep a budget and stick to it - it’s impossible to get to grips with your financial situation if you’re unsure of what’s coming in and out. You’ll find yourself living from pay slip-to-pay slip. It’s also important to acknowledge there will be months were you do go off-budget because you’ve got to MOT and service your car or have a friend’s wedding to go to. Where possible, get back on track as soon as you can by keeping a budget


Like many chartered accountants established in their career, I'm a contractor. That means when I'm not working, I don't earn anything. Normally I would have built up a bit of a surplus, but it was the start of the recession so our finances were stretched anyway. I wasn't getting as many jobs as usual, which, as the sole bread-winner in our house was quite worrying. We have 4 school-age children and it costs a fair bit just to keep our household ticking along.


Wellbeing support

find out how our debt advice team can support you

We know being in debt can be a deeply personal matter, that's often difficult to talk about. Our friendly and non-judgmental debt advisers will give you the time and space to share your worries and provide you with free, confidential guidance and support.

talk to our debt team


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your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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