I remember it so clearly. My boyfriend (now husband) Nik and I had been together a few years. We were on holiday in paradise: Thailand to be more precise.
We were drunk and stoned and on a beach laughing and talking about our future. I told him I thought we should move out of our shared house, and buy a place together.
Our relationship was and has always been one of total honesty. There’s never been mind games, it was a case of what you see is what you get. But when I suggested buying a place together, Nik clammed up. I saw a shadow cross his face. He was totally non-committal, and mumbled something along the lines of “We’ll see how it goes.” I remember thinking, ‘what the fuck?’
After we returned from holiday, I looked into properties, getting a mortgage, all that kind of business and I talked about it a lot to Nik. He’d act weird, shut me down, and there was this panicked look in his face every time I broached the subject. In the end, I told him to give it up. What the hell was going on?
Here’s how that conversation went:
“I’m in debt”
“Ok, how much?” followed by silence.
“Ten grand?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, ten grand”. He said. He looked shifty.
“More? 11 grand?” I pushed.
“Yeah, yeah, 11 grand”.
And this went on for a while. We stopped when we reached 14 grand, cause truth be told, he didn’t know how much debt he was in. All he knew was that he got paid at the end of the month, and he had no money left within a matter of days.
Time passed and I bitched at him to sort shit out. I remember sitting at my desk while Nik was going to meet with his bank. He called me with the ‘good news’. He’d taken out a bank loan to pay back all his debt! Fantastic!
That was until I combed through the paperwork where he’d signed on the dotted line. The loan was for something like £15k, but with the ridiculous amount of APR whacked on top, it ended up Nik would be paying back somewhere in the region of £35k.
The bastards at the bank – HIS bank – had sold him stupid payment protection insurance on top of it too and gave him a ‘special rate’ if he signed there and then. No pressure then. My man is great at many things, but as I’m sure you’ve already sussed, money is not one of them.
He didn’t understand what he was being sold, he didn’t understand the APR, he didn’t understand the payment protection bollocks (which added on almost a quid for every pound borrowed), the lot of it. When I broke it down for him, he actually cried.
We tried to cancel the loan but by the time we’d figured all of this out, the ‘cooling off’ period had expired so not knowing what else to do, I called the National Debt Helpline. They were fantastic. They explained how to do everything, from writing down his outgoings every month to a complete breakdown of where and what he spends his money on.
Sitting down and seeing everything in black and white – working out the debt, it was truly horrifying. Here’s why. This massive amount of crazy arse money he owed stemmed from one thing: a holiday to Ibiza from maybe six years earlier with an ex-girlfriend. So literally £1k whacked on a credit card (for a holiday I wasn’t even part of!) and only making minimum payments ended in this hell.
He had nothing to show for all this debt. No flash car, no nice wardrobe, no bling, absolutely nothing.
Back to the national debt helpline, I talked them through the math and they explained to me, he had more going out than was coming in – et voila, he’s the perfect candidate for bankruptcy. They explained what to do and so I got on with it.
One of my strong points is administration (yeah, yeah, I’m bragging, I’m great at admin – check me and my skills), but this was admin hell. And get this: when you apply for bankruptcy, you have to pay the court somewhere in the region of £150! So to be officially broke, you have to pay to do so!
We figured out which county court to apply to for bankruptcy. Then the immense amount of paperwork. Then you turn up at the court first thing in the morning, go to various different locations, your paperwork goes before a judge of sorts (though you’re never face-to-face with the judge) and after about eight hours, or so, providing everything tallies up, you are officially pronounced Bankrupt. Hooray!
And how’s this for irony (in the loosest Alanis Morrissette definition of irony). While we were sat around waiting for hours upon hours to return to court to be declared broke, I bought over the phone a pair of Chloe platforms shoes (having seen them in the US Jane magazine!) I’d been eyeing up for months for the grand sum of £335 – well it wasn’t me being made bankrupt was it?
From here we went to the Insolvency Agency which is in a separate office in London. We handed in our paperwork, cheque book, debit cards which they charmingly destroyed in front of us. And that my friends is it. You are officially broke.
My husband wrote off a grand, grand sum of money, (fuck you Lloyds TSB for practicing irresponsible lending and taking advantage of someone in despair and sorry Mastercard. I’m sure you’ll get more money out of us in the future). It’s only now, six years later he’s finally got his credit rating back on track.
It’s taken a lot of work and here’s the kicker: to get any credit cards again, you have to have had debt - to be able to get in more debt! But under my frugal guidance, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In all honesty though it was the best thing we ever did. We weren’t pulling a fast one, trying to work the system, he was in genuine debt hell, and had I not held his hand through the process, I have no idea what shit he’d be in now.
Being bankrupt allowed us to start afresh. We bought a flat, then a house (albeit in my name) but now, companies are desperate to hand him over credit cards and loans, none of which we take, cause we know how these things can so easily spiral out of control.
Bankruptcy isn’t as scary as people think. That fictional ‘black mark’ on your name lasts for a year and then you can slowly start putting your life back together. I guess I’m saying don’t bury your head in the sand, help is out there for you.
Dani's on Twitter - follow her @danigraph.